Community meets academia

On 4 November three of us participated in a workshop hosted by Oxford University’s School of Geography and the Environment. The other ten participants included representatives from Pickering flood group in North Yorkshire, from Flood Network, from CAG (Community Action Groups) Oxfordshire, academics from Oxford, Lausanne and London, and communicators.

The workshop focused on the ‘Environmental Competency Group’ concept developed by the Oxford academic team (Prof Sarah Whatmore and Dr Catharina Landström) and exemplified in their working with the local community in Pickering in Yorkshire to develop a flood scheme.

Hydrological and hydraulic computer modelling of flooding are key tools in designing flood alleviation measures. We learnt about the importance of considering, and if needs be challenging, the assumptions underlying the modelling, and the possibility that the terms of reference given to consultant modellers may on occasion be rather restricted, meaning that potential alternatives could be missed. Nor is modelling a perfect process, the quality depending (of course) on the people doing the work. For these reasons independent scrutiny is important. While this could be by a another commercial consultant modelling team, review by academics can add further, expert and independent assurance to the process.

A further check would be a review of the model by community members to see, as far as possible, whether it matched local observations.

More generally we were able to set out how OFA has developed and worked over the past eight years. Likewise, we heard how the Pickering group had worked successfully, with help from the Oxford academic team. There was discussion of how such experience might be shared with others developing community flood groups.

The workshop was both interesting and useful: we thank the organisers and look forward to further collaboration in future.