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Environment Agency announces actions as a result of recent public dialogue on Communicating Risk

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The report of the recent Environment Agency public dialogue on Risk Communication (supported by Sciencewise) was published on 3 December 2015. Publication was supported by a blog the same day by John Curtin, Director of Incident Management and Resilience at the Environment Agency, and chair of the Oversight Group of the dialogue.

John Curtin's blog was titled: 'What the public have taught me about flooding', and it provides lots of detail on the dialogue and referring to "working alongside Sciencewise" during the year long project, working with five communities to consider the way the Agency communicates flood risk. He says:

"The sessions produced some thought-provoking recommendations and were a fantastic experience for me personally, forcing me to take off my ‘expert’ hat, see our work from other perspectives and think about how we can use those perspectives to improve the work we do."

He goes on to describe how the Agency is using the dialogue findings in their everyday work:

"We are already using them to assist in our work with community groups, in the redesign of our new flood warnings system and our flood maps.

One thing you may have noticed about the Environment Agency is that we love maps. We use them all the time to monitor rainfall and its impact around the country, to plan our flood defences and to better understand flood risk areas across the length and breadth of England.

But although maps are crucial to the work we do, one of the findings of the workshops was that the public may be less keen. The groups told us that, first and foremost, they want to know whether flooding will affect their community - not necessarily what is happening right across the country.

We’ve taken this feedback and used it in the redesign of our live flood warnings service, launched earlier this year. Now when you land on the page, you’re given an option to enter your postcode to search for warnings and river levels in your location. Although, the map is still available for those interested in the bigger picture. We’ve also taken on another recommendation by combining this information with advice on how to prepare for a flood.

This project is an important step to improving public understanding of flood risk and encouraging people to take action."

The dialogue report includes further details of the actions proposed and taken to date as a result of the dialogue. The Environment Agency have published a summary of the project reports which includes the actions identified at the final (review) meeting during the project, of the Oversight Group with key stakeholders, to discuss the dialogue outputs and consider future actions. The Agency's summary notes that:

"The review [meeting] produced lists of current actions (things that have already happened or were in the process of happening) and future actions that would or could happen as a result of the dialogue outputs. Current actions included: work on revising flood maps; feeding dialogue outputs into the Flood Re process; and finalising a film of the dialogue process. Future actions include: producing a simple document clarifying roles and responsibilities before, during and after a flood; working to better link flood maps and warnings; and producing new communication documents based on feedback from the dialogue.

"The results of this project will inform the way in which the Environment Agency presents its maps of flood risk and the way it coordinates with other agencies over these kinds of communications. The results will also help all agencies working with communities at risk of flooding to be more consistent and joined up in their communications and action."

The results of (and lessons from) the project were presented to the Third UK Resilience Conference: Enhancing Capabilities to Absorb, Respond to and Recover from Emergencies, which was held in London on 8th December 2015. The dialogue report had been published just a few days earlier.

In the unexpected absence of John Curtin, one of the keynote speakers expected at the conference, Sciencewise Dialogue and Engagement Specialist Alison Crowther stepped in and spoke about the results of the project and the experience of hearing directly from the public participants.

BIS Science and Society team themselves said that the project was "a stand-out dialogue and one that we should use as an example".

The dialogue report is also available here.

See related project page: Public communication and engagement on risk