Banyule Case Study: Trialling remote engagements
The primary purpose of our pilot study was to trial a remote (as opposed to traditional doorknocking) community engagement methodology in response to Covid-19, and determine whether meaningful relationship building was possible using online engagement techniques.
The pilot was undertaken in partnership with The Banyule City Council and the Victoria University of the Third Age (U3A). These groups identified a shared interest in empowering communities to be more resilient, informed, and prepared for disasters and emergencies, especially in the context of flood risk.
Participants were recruited from the University of the Third Age in the Banyule City Council area. U3A identified 60 members who were willing to participate, and shared their contact details with the CEDRR team to schedule suitable engagement times. Engagements were conducted during July and August 2021 via Zoom or telephone, according to participant preference.
- 45 completed initial engagements
- 30 completed follow up engagements
Measuring impact through Learning, Action & Spillovers
CEDRR has developed a model to measure impact which focuses on learning, action & spillovers (for more detail, see our model for impact page).
In general, participants in this case study considered their household exposure to flood risk as low. However, many participants shared information learned during the engagements through their networks with people they cared about (known as ‘spillover’), demonstrating that they valued learning from participating in CEDRR, even if they didn’t implement actions themselves.
Learning in this case study also took on a wider context due to the senior demographic of our participants. Participating in our engagements helped seniors experience several aspects of ‘successful ageing’, including being open to new challenges, learning, taking intellectual risks, and developing new skills (such as how to use Zoom).
When asked about actions they had already taken to reduce flood risk, many participants expressed ongoing and frustrating interactions with local council to address faulty infrastructure such as clogged drains. Taking the time to listen to the previous experiences of our participants allowed us to understand potential barriers to taking action in the future, such as not wanting to relive frustration, and assigning responsibility to council rather than focusing on actions that can be taken at the household level.
After our follow ups, we found that participants who had experienced environmental hazards (such as floods and clogged drains) were consistently more likely to take mitigation actions compared to those who had not. Among our participants, age was seen as both as a limiting factor in terms of physical capacity to implement desired actions, and as a motivating factor to reduce risk in light of these limitations.
One third of our participants spoke to families, neighbours, and friends about risk following our initial engagement, diffusing risk preparedness into their communities. We were also surprised to find instances where participants had chosen not to take personal actions, often because they did not feel exposed to flood risk themselves, but had still shared information to help their loved ones.
Our project demonstrates that after being engaged in a meaningful way, seniors can, and did, take flood risk reduction actions where they were under their control (i.e., occurred via changes to their household) and affordable.
Contributing to wider community resilience
Due to the nature of conducting virtual engagements with a senior cohort during extended Covid lockdowns, this case study generated a range of co-benefits that further contributed to successful ageing and the resilience of this community.
Several participants expressed gratitude for being involved in the project, especially during a period of prolonged social isolation due to COVID-19 lockdown measures in Melbourne, Australia. Our relationship building method allowed us to take to the time where participants were interested in sharing their past experiences and reflections, and offered an opportunity for social connection. One participant even suggested it was a good idea to continue to follow up with ‘old people who may have few people to chat with’.
Our participants also reported enjoying participating because it challenged them to interact with technology through the use of Zoom. Participants described how this allowed them to interact in other online meeting contexts, such as better engaging council and accessing telehealth.
The engagements created opportunities for seniors to demonstrate care for others by sharing information about reducing flood risk with their social networks and families. It is well documented that loneliness is correlated with poor life course outcomes, but to date there is no recognition that loneliness also robs individuals of opportunities to demonstrate care and usefulness to their peers, social relations and families.
Reflected by the sample of participants referred by University of the Third Age, the results of this study focused on the perspective of senior citizens. This sampling means that the findings of the study cannot be extrapolated to the general population, however they do provide rich insight into seniors’ experiences and perceptions of risk at the household and community scale, while also confirming that online engagement methods can enable deep and insightful interactions between researchers and communities.
Summary of findings (for more detail see Research Outputs):
Meaningful community engagement and relationship building can be achieved through online engagement. Regardless of whether engagements happened on zoom or phone, they were consistently engaging, and often deeply personal conversation, with high levels of enjoyment expressed by participants. Perhaps most importantly, in many instances participants noted explicitly having enjoyed the interactions and potential relationships built with members of the research team.
Prior experience of emergencies and disasters is likely to prompt effort within households to reduce risk. Participants who have experienced environmental hazards were consistently more likely to put at least a ‘little’ effort into household risk reduction, in comparison to those who had not previously experienced environmental hazards.
Spending the time to create quality engagements leads to stronger intentions and decisions to act. During the follow up engagements, our participants generally remembered our researchers and their conversations more than the risk related content. It was the personal relationship that resonated most with participants. The prompt of the follow up, and the opportunity to reflect on inaction and whether they were interested in these actions saw many participants give stronger indications of wanting to act.
Quality engagements that focus on learning generate impactful spillovers: One third of participants had spoken to families, neighbours, and friends about risk following their initial engagement, significantly extending the impact of engagements and dissemination of risk mitigation information and action.
Older communities are not passive recipients of risk. Despite identifying ‘the elderly’ as vulnerable, nearly three quarters of participants (almost all aged over 65) did not consider themselves to be vulnerable. Vulnerability was highly linked to independence, regardless of age. Many participants felt connected, cared for, and supported by at least some of their neighbours and communities, and these highly active networks of care formed through organisations like U3A serve to mitigate vulnerability.
Covid was largely absent from perceptions of risk among our elderly participants. At a time when the media was full of portrayals of the elderly as vulnerable, catching Covid was rarely mentioned as a risk of primary concern. Many participants were more concerned about the isolation and breakdown of social networks of care due to lockdowns than the health risk of Covid itself. This is not to suggest indifference, but that the participants – like society – were struggling with the complex risk-reward decision making that all members of society undertake.
There are many exceptions to the 'rationality' that is assumed to guide decision making in disaster risk reduction policy and practice. These exceptions include a higher priority given to managing health issues, a lack of incentive to take risk reduction actions when living alone without loved ones to care for, spiritual or superstitious behaviours such as not wanting to summon risk by thinking too much about it, and not wanting to waste time preparing for risk one might not be alive to experience. By listening to the views and values of participants, we were able to understand the motivations behind decisions to engage in risk reduction behaviour, or to actively avoid it. This approach sheds light on the participant inaction often reported by risk reduction practitioners. It may also suggest collaborative pathways in which multiple risks are addressed by emphasising participant’s priorities (e.g., helping with health-related risks in ways that also benefit flood or other disaster mitigation).
Relationship building models can have powerful co-benefits. Due to a lack of familiarity and confidence with technology, it was necessary to incorporate an element of digital literacy training to achieve the CEDRR engagements. In the follow up engagements we heard that participants subsequently felt empowered to use digital services such as telehealth. Through these engagements, CEDRR researchers were also able to provide conversation and a sense of support to people who were very isolated during Covid, as was often appreciated by participants. We also found that relationship building is an enjoyable form of community engagement able to promote learning, skill development, and intellectual risk taking (i.e., elements of successful ageing).
Our research has impacts on our researchers. Engaging communities in relationship building is a two-way dialogue that affects the community members and researchers involved. While practitioners have traditionally measured the ways that participatory methodologies affect the public, our research has shown that relationship building research also supports greater risk reduction and community resilience amongst the researchers involved. Through the process of conducting community engagements, researchers critically reflected on and changed their risk perceptions, intentions, and behaviours in much the same way that the projects supports participants to do. Moreover, these impacts ‘spilled over’ to affect researchers’ households, social networks, and wider communities by increasing social practices associated with disaster risk reduction and community resilience. By self-reflexively analysing the ways that researchers’ also ‘participate’ in community engagements, we can better understand how relationship building is coproduced by, and beneficially affects, both sides of the engagement. Measuring the ways in which community engagement spills over to affect researchers can also help us better appreciate how doing ‘good’ research spills ‘back’ over to improve the facilitation and objectives of the research program.
In our participants’ words
“Thank you very much. I've enjoyed it.”
“Okay, well thank you very much, it was very, very easy. Thank you for your time.”
“Oh, I appreciate it. Like I said, being home now, especially with this lockdown. Maybe they should ring us once a month and have a chat… Yeah put it down to the university, that all those old people want somebody to talk to once a month.”
“I just thought it was nice that people were interested in what was going on in the community. And that we're people at risk and everything too.”
“No, no, no - you don't have to have that knowledge. It can be taught. None of us have ever had Zoom. We've never had Teams…We've never had to use (online meeting tools). Well I have. I've only used WhatsApp, that is what I use for my family. But half of them have never, ever. Most of us have never, ever heard of those platforms. The council are using Teams. The council are sending things out. And no, they've all had to be taught. Or encouraged to learn, that's a better one.”
“And the survey makes you think, makes me think about, oh my gosh! You know? We do need to prepare a little bit more. Thank you so much.”
This case study confirms that relationship building is a viable and enjoyable form of remote community engagement for seniors that creates the conditions for flood risk reduction actions while also contributing to successful ageing.
The findings of the pilot were used to inform the Mount Alexander case study.