Find Out More About This Project


Community Engagement for Disaster Risk Reduction (CEDRR) from Faculty of Science - UoM on Vimeo.

Project Summary

  • CEDRR is a community engagement project that seeks to build ongoing relationships with local emergency services and communities
  • Recent social science research shows that distributing information and ‘educating’ people are often not effective community engagement strategies
  • Instead, CEDRR encourages deeper conversations, listening, learning about community needs, and knowledge sharing
  • It is through these conversations and ongoing relationships that CEDRR seeks to support risk reduction behaviours and resilience
  • Previously CEDRR has been a face-to-face engagement using the online survey. With COVID-19, the project is now transitioning to an online format. We look forward to meeting face-to-face again when it is safe to do so.

There is widespread agreement in the risk management sector that existing approaches to community engagement fail to generate interest, trust, learning, or the behavioural changes needed to increase resilience. Despite growing acceptance that community engagement is a prerequisite for resilience, risk managers and organizations remain locked into a paradigm in which engagement is synonymous with education. Education, however, is not synonymous with engagement, and there is growing acceptance that education-based activities are ineffective. This necessitates the development of alternate approaches, and the CEDRR project is one such effort. While the message that ‘education is not engagement’ is beginning to be accepted by practitioners – evident in the changed language emanating from government – there remains a significant barrier to such engagements: there are few alternatives and even fewer empirically tested alternatives that can replace education-based practices. This lack of ‘proven’ alternatives inhibits governments, organizations, and individuals from breaking from existing, failing practices, and is the basis of this project: ‘Community Engagement for Disaster Risk Reduction’.

This project will test an approach to disaster risk reduction that draws on recent social science. Specifically, it incorporates research of learning, knowledge transfer, knowledge communication, expertise, power, and participation to develop an alternative approach for the agencies and organizations involved in disaster risk reduction in Victoria, Australia. Existing community engagement is developed by experts and disseminated to publics, using ‘engagement’ and ‘participation’ as tools to convince the public to accept expert planning and management. In such contexts, efforts to partner with publics are disingenuous because the experts are in control, have a predetermined objective, and dictate the ways that publics can contribute. In addition to being common, this approach is also ineffective. Similarly, the opposite ‘bottom-up’ approach is equally fraught because of its detachment from the practitioners with expertise and from the bureaucrats who understand government operations. Neither top-down nor bottom-up risk reduction is likely to succeed. Instead, Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) requires a collaborative approach in which both experts and publics are necessary but insufficient partners.


The CEDRR project is led by Dr. Brian Cook from the School of Geography at the University of Melbourne. It involves collaboration with the Victorian State Emergency Service (SES), The Australian Red Cross Society, and Melbourne Water, as well as academic partners from the University of New South Wales, University of Sydney, and Deakin University.

The CEDRR Approach

The CEDRR approach is a mixture of face-to- face engagement and online app, which is designed to ‘flatten’ the power-relationships that tend to characterise risk management. Our hypothesis is that egalitarian partnerships are more likely to generate interest and therefore result in risk reduction activities amongst publics. Simultaneously, we believe that those egalitarian engagements are likely to alter the perceptions of risk managers. We have developed an interview template that uses an online app. This app, developed by a team from the University of Melbourne’s Learning Environments, is designed to collect information from the interviewees, while also growing and adapting to the data generated. In this way, the public has control over the topics and range of available answers available to subsequent users.

The engagement uses a risk reduction ‘Cupboard Door Poster’, which has emergency contact information, advice from emergency services, and space to draw emergency escape plans. The engagement also asks publics to help ‘spread the word’, using the ‘CEDRR Card’, Facebook posts, emails, and Tweets. Each respondent has a unique identifying number, and we are able to map and trace the circulation of that number, which may show us how risk reduction knowledge circulates within a community. Ideally, we may also be able to uncover what actions the circulation of that knowledge prompts.


The CEDRR project has received clearance by the Human Research Ethics Committee (HREC) of the University of Melbourne: 1545694.2 . If you have any concerns about the conduct of this research project, you can contact the Executive Officer, Human Research Ethics, The University of Melbourne, ph: 8344 2073.

Project team

Dr Brian Cook - University of Melbourne

Concept by Brian Cook

Brian Cook

Dr Maria de Lourdes Melo Zurita – University of Sydney

Maria de Lourdes Melo Zurita is a Lecturer in Geography in the School of Geosciences at The University of Sydney. Her research focuses on governance configurations for disaster management, with a particular focus on local governments. Her work pays particular attention to the ways knowledge and practices are transferred amongst the multiple groups and individuals participating in disaster risk reduction.

Dr Maria de Lourdes Melo Zurita

Susan Davie – Victorian State Emergency Services

Susan Davie is the Manager of Community Connections at VICSES. Her role focusses on disaster risk reduction and disaster resilience. She is keen to explore innovative ways for emergency service volunteers to engage with communities.

Susan Davie

Isabel Cornes – University of Melbourne

Isabel Cornes is a research assistant for the CEDRR Project and has a Master of Environment from The University of Melbourne. Isabel’s research interests are situated in the field of human geography, and include exploring relationships of power, knowledge, culture, and governance in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation, contributors to risk reduction (in)action in the community, and broader relationships between society and the environment.

Isabel Cornes

Dr Paula Satizábal – University of Melbourne

Paula Satizábal is a research assistant for the CEDRR Project in the School of Geography at the University of Melbourne. She completed her PhD in human geography at the University of Melbourne. Her research uses a critical political and cultural ecology approach to examine human-environment relations. In particular, she studies how regional political economic processes have shaped environmental governance institutions, power/knowledge dynamics, and how communities respond to these transformations.

Dr Paula Satizábal