Upon arrival at the Humanitarian Futures Programme (HFP) offices in London I met with Emma Visman of HFP and Susanne Sargeant of the British Geological Survey (BGS) who would be overseeing my placement that week. We discussed my itinerary for the week as well as the following day’s NERC workshop on identifying concrete opportunities for further integrating science across humanitarian and development planning to support community resilience. Early discussion introduced the organisations that were participating in the workshop, their interests, what they work with and how they operate in this sector. These included the HFP, BGS, Natural Environmental Research Council (NERC), Bond DRR Group, CAFOD, UK Collaborative in Development Studies (UKCDS), AfClix (Africa Climate Exchange) and the Interagency Resilience Working Group. Throughout the day I met with members of the HFP who gave an insight into their roles within the organisation, a general overview of the humanitarian sector and how HFP operates within it, works with the government and other NGO’s, as well as the military, in particular the Australian Civil-Military in humanitarian aid.Australia
As well as this I contributed to, finalised and prepared the evaluation forms that were to be distributed to attendants of the workshop the following day in order to gain feedback from it.
The second day in London consisted of the NERC workshop held at the Wellcome Trust Centre where I helped with preparations before the first guests arrived. My role for this day was to be a note taker for sessions of the workshop which comprised: An overview of opportunities for integrating science across humanitarian and development planning; Critical opportunities and barriers to science integration and communication for humanitarian and development decision makers; Examining the operational landscapes: the systems that help and hinder collaborations; Reviewing the credibility and reliability of scientific information and advice; Monitoring, Evaluation and Accountability; Longer term issues to consider to promote sustained integration. In particular I contributed to the discussion on North and South Kivu, Democratic Republic of the Congo, within the ‘reviewing the credibility and reliability of scientific information and advice’ session. Whilst taking notes I rounded up our discussion and as a group we identified our key elements to be included within guidelines supporting more effective integration of science with humanitarian and development decision making. This I then presented to the workshop in the following session.
The third day of the placement saw me travel to Edinburgh with Susanne Sargeant who would be overseeing my time at the BGS offices there. Upon arrival at Edinburgh we headed for the BGS offices for 1P.M. where Susanne introduced me to members of staff within the seismology department, among others we happened to see within the offices. At lunch we had a brief chat with Sue Loughlin, head of BGS Volcanology, who was also at the workshop and now hosting Dr Charles Mandeville, head of the USGS Volcanic Hazards Program with whom we had the opportunity to discuss our previous day’s workshop findings and hopeful impacts.
On my fourth day of the placement Susanne introduced me to Professor Dave Tappin who is a specialist on tsunamis at the BGS. We had an interesting and lengthy discussion about his previous work and the stage he is up to now regarding a report from a joint BGS-UCL hazards workshop in 2012, with the theme of tsunami disasters and how effective has science been for mitigation planning and disaster relief. As this workshop entailed similar aims and objectives to that of the NERC workshop, with an underlying aim to increase resilience to vulnerable communities by the integration of science, we had a lot to talk about and what we each desired to be an outcome of these workshops. Dave went on to explore the possibility of another workshop following on from the previous but to have greater focus and specifically to a particular location at risk from tsunami disasters. Later on in the afternoon Susanne and I had an arranged a conference call with the other key collaborators for the NERC workshop to have a ‘wash-up meeting’ looking back and thinking how to strive forward implementing the workshop findings. We discussed the feedback from the evaluation forms which overall were very positive, how the workshop went, if it had been as impactful as intended, and how to keep the momentum going for key guidelines integrating science across humanitarian and development planning to be established.
What did you learn during the placement?
Through this placement my knowledge of the humanitarian and development sector has been widened greatly by learning how organisations operate within their respective sectors. Humanitarian organisations often collaborate with others during times of disasters to enable maximum aid relief, the private sector to achieve goals that are two way benefiting to vulnerable/disaster hit areas, the government and military through various programmes. I have learnt how these sectors’ operations are not plain sailing but often involve many obstacles in the way of achieving their aims. This includes obtaining funding, communication at different levels, fine lining a common strategy among various collaborating partners and implementing them to their idealised outcomes. Most notably on my placement I discovered how there is a general consensus on the content being discussed and what outcome is needed but when it came to the question of how this is to be achieved, great complexities emerge. The academic, humanitarian and development sector is vast and when it comes to change it doesn’t come easily as each university, institution, NGO and other organisations have their own particular way of doing things. Recognised through discussions on this placement and at the NERC workshop was the need for key collaborators to come together on key issues with regard to their processing of strategies. They must work together to ensure the utmost is done to integrate the most relevant, credible and up-to-date science across the sectors to further support community resilience, both on paper and work at ground level interacting with people at all levels.
Geology can be integrated into international development through many means, by understanding its science, recognising what purpose it can hold and then how it can best be applied to make a difference and aid the cause for development. With regard to my placement there are many case studies where geology is being used either to benefit water security, identify climate change impacts to therefore create strategies to adapt, to understand earthquake risk and then implement building codes, hazard maps, produce and dissemination of knowledge and so fourth. My placement supervisors Emma Visman and Susanne Sargeant, being part of the NERC Knowledge Exchange (KE) fellowship programme are clear examples of how geology is integrated into international development, by understanding the science and using that knowledge to identify what strategies are most suitable to increase resilience in vulnerable communities. Susanne in particular is working on increasing resilience to those at risk from seismic hazards as well as another Knowledge Exchange fellow working with increasing the resilience to communities at risk from volcanic hazards.
To make a contribution to development in the future I have realised on this placement there are a whole range of methods that organisations may use, and that in all likelihood one method alone will not be able to cater for all scenarios and so it is important to keep an open mind about how things should be done, by keeping things adaptable according to subject. The most important thing in terms of trying to implement a strategy is to involve key collaborators that have their specific knowledgeable input that will come together with others to create something that works. Using key people’s knowledge and experience is important, but also including the latest beneficial science and people that are actually going to be living locally and trying to see the strategy is implemented sustainably is just as important. Communication in this sector is also a must, doing so at all levels so that a wealth of knowledge is able to be collected and filtered into a working strategy that all collaborating partners can see eye to eye that it is the best way forward. Whilst the development sectors priorities may differ from organisation ideals to key partners, science should always be a high priority. Organisations and people that have an influencing position should always be actively seeking the latest and most relevant science to help guide them in the strategy making process for it to be most suitable and sustainable for each particular issue.
How has this placement influenced your view of the role of geology in society?
Before undergoing this placement I knew geology held a key role within society. Being involved with the ongoing work at the HFP and BGS however enhanced my view towards the great lengths gone to implement geology and science as a whole in society. These efforts are proving and have proven to be very effective and beneficial in all strands of society, further adding to my respect for the science.
Would you recommend a similar placement to other students, and why?
I would most definitely recommend a similar placement to other students interested in development or interdisciplinary science. It has been a great insight into the work in the humanitarian/development sector and how strategies are processed as well as their complexities. It has provided me with a first-hand experience to help develop skills to which I hope to add more in the future working in this sector.