Lindsey McEwen, Andrew Holmes and Joanne Garde-Hansen

It is well known in the research and policy literature that there can be a large gap between public awareness of flood risk, and the move towards preparedness and action.  This Knowledge Exchange (KE) project explored how the research outcomes of the ESRC Sustainable Flood Memory project could be materialised and cascaded in ‘communities’, and with other stakeholders in flood risk management (FRM) by co-developing community-generated digital storytelling (CDS) practice.  A digital story normally comprises 2-3 minutes audio with accompanying images selected by the storyteller. The KE project involved close co-working between the original interdisciplinary project team, an inter-professional Stakeholder Competency Group and the national lead in FRM, the Environment Agency, for mutual knowledge exchange, reflections on organisational practice and increased impact.  The ESRC Sustainable Flood Memory research project had previously been exploring the concept of sustainable flood memory (SFM) and its relationship to the development of lay knowledges and social learning for increased community resilience to flood risk.  SFM had been conceived as an approach to memory work that is community focused, archival, integrating individual and collective experiences, involving inter- and intra-generational communication and strategies for its future.

The original project had involved semi-structured interviews in four different floodplain settings, with different prior flood experiences, socio-economic settings and including an urban/rural contrast.  Drawing on this evidence-base, diverse themes were explored including different discourses around preparedness and coping or adaptive strategies that could be viewed through different resilience lenses (institutional, infrastructural, social, community capital etc.).  This project generated a large archive of flood narrative and materialisation (66 extended audio recordings and transcripts; photographs; media cuttings etc.).  The KE part of the project drew on this original research experience and its resources to explore how an approach using community-generated and owned digital stories (CDS) for knowledge exchange could inform how lay flood knowledge was archived and shared, and how it could be drawn on in social learning to build preparedness in communities.  Such stories (21 in total) were co-created within three flood risk settings through individual and group engagement with the processes, the latter through community-based digital story telling workshops.

The KE process allowed a fresh exploration of strategies to promote social learning for adaptation and transformation that are vital components of flood risk planning for community preparedness – both for communities themselves, and for other FRM stakeholders (like Local Authorities, Rural Community Councils etc.) who work with communities in resilience building.  More traditional means of knowledge transfer operate outwards from an organisation to the public. In contrast, the project’s design initially involved sharing and exchanging resilient knowledge encapsulated within CDS with other flood risk communities in the lower Severn catchment.  The Environment Agency had proposed Gloucester as one setting for this work as it was already carrying out community engagement work there related to a new flood warning area.  The KE project then trialled the CDS as interventions for learning in new catchments distinct from the lower Severn catchment that were either similar or different hydrologically, and did or did not have recent flood experience.  The case study areas for these knowledge exchanges were selected to be catchments where the Environment Agency was already carrying out strategic work (e.g. national programme of work on ‘rapid response catchments’ in SW region).

All learning gained from co-working and exchanging digital stories was shared within the Stakeholder Competency Group and nationally within the Environment Agency (e.g. through an online workshop).  The project has contributed to sharing of new active participatory approaches to community engagement within the Environment Agency, local government and other FRM agencies that co-work to increase local community resilience to risk. The impact of the KE project has been high in policy, process and practical terms, in regional, national and international contexts that focus on how organisations work with communities and on how to increase social learning that underpins adaptation in the face of increasing flood risk. The latter can be facilitated by communities themselves or in working with FRM organisations. This is important in the organisational and community capacity building required for the ownership of distributed approaches to flood risk management that devolve increased responsibility to floodplain groups/communities in dealing with residual flood risk.

Learning from the KE research has cascaded to inform narrative approaches in other projects (e.g. in the development of a proto learning tool to promote small business resilience to flooding in EPSRC SESAME, and in the use of storytelling in a multi-stakeholder resource for decision making in drought risk management within the RCUK DRY project – DRY – Drought Risk and You).

Here are the relevant links for the project resources:

ESRC Flood Memories Project website:

ESRC Flood Memories Project Twitter: @FloodMemories

Flood Memories YouTube channel:

CFCR Research page (Flood Memories):


If you would like additional information about this case study, please contact:

Professor Lindsey McEwen
Centre for Floods, Communities and Resilience
Department of Geography and Environmental Management
University of the West of England
Frenchay Campus
Coldharbour Lane
BS16 1QY
United Kingdom

Telephone: 0044 (0)117 32 83383

Centre for Floods, Communities and Resilience