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Toward a critical technical practice in disaster risk management: lessons from designing collaboration initiatives

David Lallemant (Asian School of the Environment, Nanyang Technological University Earth Observatory of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore)
Rebecca Bicksler (Co-Risk Labs, San Francisco, California, USA)
Karen Barns (Arup San Francisco, San Francisco, California, USA)
Perrine Hamel (Asian School of the Environment, Nanyang Technological University Earth Observatory of Singapore, Singapore, Singapore)
Robert Soden (Department of Computer Science, University of Toronto, Toronto, Canada)
Steph Bannister (Co-Risk Labs, San Francisco, California, USA)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 10 October 2022

Issue publication date: 14 June 2023

261

Abstract

Purpose

Despite decades of social science research into disasters, practice in the field continues to be informed largely from a technical perspective. The outcome is often a perpetuation of vulnerability, as narrowly defined technical interventions fail to address or recognize the ethical, historical, political and structural complexities of real-world community vulnerability and its causes. The authors propose that addressing this does not require a rejection of technical practice, but its evolution into a critical technical practice – one which foregrounds interdisciplinarity, inclusion, creativity and reflexivity, as means to question the assumptions, ideologies and delimited solutions built into the technical tools for understanding risks.

Design/methodology/approach

The authors present findings from three events they designed and facilitated, aimed at rethinking the engineering pedagogy and technical practice of disaster risk management. The first was a 2-day “artathon” that brought together engineers, artists and scientists to collaborate on new works of art based on disaster and climate data. The second was the Understanding Risk Field Lab, a 1-month long arts and technology un-conference exploring critical design practices, collaborative technology production, hacking and art to address complex issues of urban flooding. The third was a 4-month long virtual workshop on responsible engineering, science and technology for disaster risk management.

Findings

Each of these events uncovered and highlighted the benefits of interdisciplinary collaboration and reflexivity in disaster risk modeling, communication and management. The authors conclude with a discussion of the key design elements that help promote the principles of a critical technical practice.

Originality/value

The authors propose “critical technical practice” which foregrounds principles of interdisciplinarity, inclusion, creativity and reflexivity, as a means to question the assumptions, ideologies and delimited solutions built into the technical tools for understanding climate and disaster risk.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors and event organizers are part of Co-Risk Labs, a small worker-owned cooperative run by technical experts in disaster risk management and response. Organizing assistance was also provided by the World Bank’s Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and staff and students from the Earth Observatory of Singapore. Funding for the event came from the World Bank, the Understanding Risk Community, Facebook, and the National Research Foundation, Singapore under the NRF-NRFF2018-06 award. Other collaborators included Nanyang Technological University in Singapore (NTU), the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team (HOT), Arup and the Natural Capital Project of Stanford University. Local organizers and partners included the Chiang Mai University School of Public Policy and Department of Computer Science, the Foundation for Older People’s Development (FOPDEV), and the Weave Artisan Society.

Citation

Lallemant, D., Bicksler, R., Barns, K., Hamel, P., Soden, R. and Bannister, S. (2023), "Toward a critical technical practice in disaster risk management: lessons from designing collaboration initiatives", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 32 No. 1, pp. 100-116. https://doi.org/10.1108/DPM-08-2022-0160

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2022, Emerald Publishing Limited

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