Our experiment in doing flood risk science differently explicitly addressed the fundamental purpose of scientific contributions to flood risk questions. If one sort of knowledge is being mobilised to sustain a particular sort of institutional logic, then one role for science, albeit a radical one because of the traditional assumption that science should be divorced from politics, is to provide a means by which other sorts of knowledge might be mobilised to sustain other logics. This is what we attempted to do in our experiment, through the kind of CKM envisaged by Callon (1999). Mirroring the distinction we make above between Science and science, it is not an Experiment as an act that has become formalised as a part of Scientific enquiry but an experiment where, using the origins of the term, we try something out through experience.18
An Environmental Competency Group: the Ryedale Flood Research Group
Our experiment was based on a novel form of public engagement called an Environmental Competency Group which, in the case of the experiment reported here, chose to call itself the Ryedale Flood Research Group (RFRG). Our approach is distinctive for five reasons (Ryedale Flood Research Group 2008). First, there is a focus on the practice of knowledge-production as well as the knowledge produced itself. This makes the approach distinctive from approaches to public engagement like focus groups, where the focus is on what people think or believe about the products of knowledge. Second, we take the emphasis on knowledge production as being about more than talking about how knowledge is produced. Rather, we see research as a collaborative process in which participants work together and with other ‘things’.19 Third, we place an emphasis on the role that an event can play in bringing into sharp focus the prevailing framings associated with a problem, and the people and things bound to it, so mobilising and enabling those people and things otherwise excluded from the process. In our case, our focus was on academics and local people for whom flooding is a ‘matter of concern’ and who, by virtue of this concern, are able to make active contributions to the progress of, in this case, flood risk science. By bringing them together over a sustained period, we aimed to generate new collective knowledge and skills (competencies). Fourth, it is unusual for academics and local people to work together on projects associated with flood risk estimation. Local people, in particular, as we noted above in relation to Pickering, are engaged with flooding in particular ways, emphasising the end points of events (post-flood surgeries to explore options; option appraisal over ways forward) and not what happens between these end-points. There is a dominant and wider tendency for applied environmental scientific research to be driven by those with statutory responsibilities (e.g. the Environment Agency or local government), commonly intermediaries in Callon’s terms, rather than those who have to live with the consequences of those responsibilities, whether local people or academics. Fifth, and following from this, we did not set out to be representative of pre-existing stakeholder groups (e.g. land managers, flood victims, public bodies, local politicians and officials etc.). Explicitly, this recognises that there is no such thing as a ‘representative’ group because any attempt at representing the complex social-economic-political composition of communities is itself an act of framing around a preconceived notion of what that composition is.20
Ryedale was chosen as our focus before the floods of June 2007. We recruited eight local members through advertisements placed in shop windows, community notice boards, including in a supermarket and a doctors’ surgery, the local library, and museum networks as well as the local press. Five academics, a facilitator and a meeting manager and recorder completed the group. All local members were offered four things, but were not promised that the RFRG would actually make progress with reducing Ryedale’s flood risk:
an opportunity to ‘make something together’– though we stressed that we did not then know what
an opportunity to be part of, and help shape, a national project about how scientists and local residents can work together more effectively
intellectual engagement in a collective endeavour, learning about different experiences and understandings of the local water environment and
an opportunity to produce some oral testimony (through life history recordings) of people living in Ryedale at the time of the 2007 floods.
In other words, the framing that we brought to the experiment was a wider context of trying out a different means of practising science, in which both academics and the public worked together to co-produce knowledge rather than starting out to address a particular flood risk problem using a particular sort of method.
Once the eight local members were recruited, six meetings of the Group took place at two-monthly intervals between September 2007 and July 2008 (CG1 through CG6). Contact with Ryedale-based members included regular e-mails and telephone calls and working together to produce written resources for the Ryedale Flood Research Group’s website, which was password protected, with access restricted to members. The facilitator met individually with each local member between meetings. As the meetings progressed, local members became actively involved in generating materials, initially including records such as photographs, subsequently data such as estimates of Manning’s n values for river roughness from photographs for water-level determination. Most local members also attended a reading group on consultants’ reports. Meetings were video-recorded and transcribed with the permission of all members. All meetings were attended by all members except for two, each on one occasion due to family/personal commitments. Initially, meetings were structured by the facilitator, but as the collective competence of the RFRG developed, so the meetings started to structure and direct themselves. Table III summarises the broad activities covered in each meeting.
Table III. Summary of RFRG activities
|CG1. Starting the Narrative. Introductions; explanation of the wider project, discussion of ‘brought objects’ within break out groups (we were all asked to bring an ‘object’ to illustrate our connection to flooding); discussion of flooding as a matter of concern; co-production of a history of flooding in Ryedale.|
|CG2. Working with Crossing Points 1. Discussion and explanation of the social science elements of the project, including research into how flood science is undertaken by academics and consultants; discussing Environment Agency flood inundation maps in break out groups and plenary; plenary discussion of how these are produced, introducing models; marking up of maps in terms of solutions for reducing flood risk; plenary discussion; discussion of what needs to go into models, hydrology and hydraulics.|
|CG3. Trying Things Out. Round up of activities from all; plenary discussion of computer modelling; trying out the ‘bund model’ to look at upstream storage in break out groups; plenary discussion, including limitations; identification of research needs, including data, and plans for collecting it.|
|CG4. Working with Crossing Points 2. Round up of activities from all; reports on data gathering; discussion of wider developments in flood risk policy; working with video imagery produced by local member; discussion of river maintenance and its relationship to flood risk; discussion of next phase of modelling; planning for what the RFRG might go on to ‘produce’.|
|CG5. Trying Things Out. Round up of activities from all; plenary discussion of hydraulic models; working with a hydraulic model to explore maintenance impacts on water level in break out groups; plenary discussion of findings; reflection on flood risk policy in relation to maintenance; decisionmaking over what the RFRG would produce; allocation of tasks.|
|CG6. Where next? Round up of activities from all; plenary discussion of how to intervene in Ryedale flood risk management more generally; finalisation of a ‘going public’ event; completion of ethical and data permission agreements.|
Two elements of the work in Ryedale need particular mention in order to inform subsequent discussion. First, from CG3 onwards, the RFRG’s sense of collective competence grew to the point where it wanted to make an active intervention in the flood risk management in Ryedale. We had agreed to work confidentially throughout the project. But, after discussion, the Group decided to ‘go public’ through an Exhibition of our work. This was mounted in October 2008 and attended by approximately 200 people. Over the same period, Ryedale became the focus of a bid to Defra as a demonstration project in using rural land management to reduce flood risk, in which the solutions generated by the RFRG would be further explored alongside others. This bid was successful, and the project is now underway.
Second, through the RFRG we developed a new model, the ‘bund model’. We make no claims to the innovation inherent in this model, but rather the process by which it was developed and used by the RFRG. When we embarked on the project, we had expected to take an existing, physically based, hydrological model (see Lane et al. 2009) to explore the effects of general upstream land management impacts on downstream flood risk. Before the first meeting of the RFRG we had focused on synthesising relevant data together, including digital elevation data, and coding some key data management routines needed for that model (algorithms to calculate catchment boundaries, extract relevant topographic data from national datasets, calculate flow routes over the surface of the landscape). Following from CGs 1 and 2, the modelling activities began to get a different steer from two important directions. First, frustrations were expressed among local members regarding the failure of previous modelling efforts to capture upstream storage processes, especially those associated with a large number of smaller storage areas. The physically based hydrological model that the modellers were working with focused on predicting changes in river flow allowing for changes in processes like infiltration but, as is standard in physically based hydrological models, it forced small-scale storage out of the model through use of a pit-filling algorithm that made sure that all water flows downhill. Second, a more detailed qualitative understanding of flood-generating processes in Ryedale began to develop, generated by both local members (e.g. through personal accounts of flooding) and academic members (e.g. analysis of discharge records, especially as the 2007 event data became available). By the end of CG2, it was clear that the group wanted a focus on upstream storage. Initial considerations were given to developing a detailed hydraulic model of the river network but, aside from the absence of necessary boundary condition data (notably inflow discharges from many tributaries), such models do not allow for feasible assessment of multiple small management activities nor for the active ‘trying out’ of solutions by members of the RFRG.
In the most extreme flood events the Pickering Beck catchment is largely close to saturation, and losses to evaporation and soil storage appear to be negligible: all rainfall is translated into runoff. The shallow nature of the soils (discussed in CG2) in the Pickering Beck catchment partly allows this assumption, along with more detailed consideration of the characteristics of the 2007 flood: the amount of rainfall estimated to have fallen on the catchment was similar to the amount of runoff that left the catchment during the storm event, such that little rainfall was lost to soil storage. The primary focus of the model was then to route this rainfall across hillslopes and through the river channel network, while allowing the user to place small bunds within floodplains that can hold water back as long as the storage areas that they define are not full. The model was coded by an academic member of the team between CGs 2 and 3 and a fuller description of the model is provided in Odoni and Lane (2010).
We tried the model out in CG3, which prompted discussion about the wider nature of the modelling process as well as the decision in CG4 to look at the additional issue of sediment and vegetation management in rivers. In turn, we used a different model in CG5 to look at how river maintenance influences water levels and flood risk. The models were both produced by the RFRG but also in themselves became objects through which the RFRG established its own collective competence.