Rethinking flood resilience: from policy to practice. The case of flood risk management in England.


Supervisor: Francesco Pia Vantaggiato

Non-accademic partner: Environment Agency

Studentship start date: 01/10/2023

Application deadline: 31/03/2023

Application details: Further information on how to apply will be detailed from January 2023, in the meantime if you have any questions about the project or application process please get in touch with the supervisor.

Despite an annual budget of £1 billion to manage flood risk, the Environment Agency cannot offer total protection from flooding to all households in England. Difficult decisions must be made over which communities receive funding, what level of protection those communities receive, and what to do when at-risk communities fail to meet the funding criterion.

Realizing that it can no longer act alone on flood risk, the Environment Agency has increasingly involved local communities in carrying out flood risk management tasks,e.g. assessing their vulnerability, applying for funding, and proposing flood schemes. Recently, the Agency set out its vision for “a nation ready for, and resilient to, flood and coastal change – today, tomorrow, and to the year 2100”where floods “cause much less harm to people, do much less damage, and ensure life can get back to normal much quicker” (Environment Agency, 2020). For that to happen, communities and individuals within those communities must develop resilience. This involves people taking responsibility for their exposure to flood risk via the use of flood maps and/or alert systems to raise awareness, as well as being empowered to act such as purchasing door guards or retrofitting their home to speed up recovery. Yet who has the capacity, commitment, time, resources, and/or social capital to be resilient is not always clear, nor what happens to those unable to adapt.

Helping communities increase their resilience may do more to address inequality in exposure to flooding than just focusing on ‘vulnerability’: a comparatively small flooding event may prove hard to cope with for communities with low resilience. Yet, the true meaning of these words in the practice of policy implementation depends on the definition and understanding of them in the eye of the policy-makers and stakeholders.

We ask: how do the Agency and the (affected) public understand the implications of measuring and increasing ‘resilience’? Can we quantify the change in public spending on flood defences that results from setting ‘resilience’ as a policy goal? Besides spending money, what other interventions can increase local resilience?

Drawing on insights from political ecology, geography, and policy studies, this project aims to:

1. Define resilience in the context of flood riskmanagement;

2. Identify the variables that measure resilience to flooding;

3. Study how the goal of increasing resilience to flooding is implemented on the ground.

The project will fulfil its aims via a mixed method approach to compare perceptions of policy-makers and stakeholders, find and test the variables that operationalise the different conceptualisations, and outline the relevant implications. The policy goal of the project is to maximise the impact of the Agency’s resources, broaden the range of ‘resilience’ practices, and foster a successful decentralisation of flood risk management.