Doing flood risk science differently: an experiment in radical scientific method

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Abstract

In this paper, we describe an experiment in which the position of scientists with respect to flood risk management is fundamentally changed. Building on a review of three very different approaches to engaging the public in science, we contrast the normal way in which science is used in flood risk management in England and Wales with an experiment in which knowledge regarding flooding was co-produced. This illustrates a way of working with experts, both certified (academic natural and social scientists) and non-certified (local people affected by flooding), for whom flooding is a matter of concern, and where the event, flooding, is given agency in the experiment. We reveal a deep and distributed understanding of flood hydrology across all experts, certified and uncertified, involved in the experiment. This did not map onto the conventional dichotomy between ‘universal’ scientific expertise and ‘local’ lay expertise. By working with the event we harnessed, produced and negotiated a new and collective sense of knowledge, sufficient in our experiment to make a public intervention in flood risk management in our case-study location. The manner in which the academic scientists involved in the practice of their science were repositioned was radical as compared with normal scientific method. It was also radical for a more fundamental reason: the purpose of our experiment became as much about creating a new public capable of making a political intervention in a situation of impasse, as it was about producing the solution itself. The practice of knowledge generation, the science undertaken, worked with the hybridisation of science and politics rather than trying to extract science from it.

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