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prof. dr. Brian R. Cook | Community Engagement for Disaster Risk Reduction (CEDRR): a learning approach to flood risk mitigation in Melbourne, Australia.

When:Fr 08-12-2023 12:00 - 13:30
Where:Department of Sociology (Grote Rozenstraat 31) in Gadourekzaal (B126)

The Risk, Crisis and Resilience theme of the Rudolf Agricola School is delighted to host prof. dr. Brian Cook from the University of Melbourne for a short research visit.

Prof. Cook will talk about his work on 'Community Engagement for Disaster Risk Reduction (CEDRR): a learning approach to flood risk mitigation in Melbourne, Australia.'

Public behaviour is central to risk mitigation – both as the basis for the production of risk and as the ideal impact pathway for risk management.

Behaviour change has historically been a top-down effort undertaken by experts with the aim of influencing ‘at risk’ individuals. These efforts have followed a deficit-based approach, in which awareness raising is presumed to drive enlightenment, which is thought to flow into behaviour change.

While social scientists have effectively criticised deficit-based approaches – criticising ‘tokenistic’ forms of false participation – they have not presented compelling evidence of the impacts of targeted community engagement. Furthermore, the small case studies that characterise community engagement research means that efforts to affect change ‘resurface’ the deficit model when up-scaling is attempted.

Over 3 years, the CEDRR project has undertaken engagements with 1291 flood prone households in the Melbourne suburb of Kingston, resulting in 444 completed engagements and 292 completed follow-up engagements. Findings from these combined quantitative-qualitative engagements uncover a ‘learning-based impact pathway’ whereby cognitive and normative learning correlate with enjoyment of the engagement, household flood risk mitigation, and spillover effects in which participants share learning and behaviours with non-participants.

The findings demonstrate an effective and economical approach to community engagement at scale, providing those interested in flood risk mitigation with a community-based alternative to top-down, deficit-based approaches.


Prof. Cook is originally from Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada.

He completed a PhD from the Institute of Hazard, Risk, and Resilience (part of the Geography Department) at Durham University, UK. He is presently an Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne.

Brian’s research explores the topics of water, risk, agrarian change, and sustainable development. He leads large-scale, interdisciplinary research projects in Australia on flood risk management and drowning prevention, as well as in Cambodia on agrarian change. He is an associate editor at the Journal of Flood Risk Management.

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