A practical approach to resilience

by Karin de Bruijn and Marjolein Mens
Societies face increasing complexity and uncertainty in decision making to cope with extreme weather events. Therefore oversimplified risk approaches should evolve to much richer resilience strategies. Yet, resilience is often more a policy buzzword or topic for theoretical debate than an actual operational paradigm. It is often not clear for policy makers and practitioners how they can translate the main notions of resilience thinking into practical implementation.

A team of researchers have translated the scientific debate on resilience into practical principles. These five principles can be used by policy makers and practitioners to develop strategies that enhance resilience to extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods and typhoons.

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2017 annual meeting: DMDU across mulitiple scales. Submit an abstract and register

Please save the date for the 2017 DMDU meeting. The meeting will be hosted by the Oxford Martin School in Oxford, UK, on 14-15 November 2017, with a training on DMDU methodologies scheduled for 13 November 2017. For more information on the workshop, visit the website. The 2017 annual meeting theme is dealing with deep uncertainty in decision making across multiple scales. The workshop will tackle the challenges of decision making at many different scales, from the perspective of deep uncertainty. The theme of multiple scales embraces spatial scales, temporal scales and scales of governance.

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Preparing transport for an uncertain climate future: I don’t have a crystal ball, but I have a computer

by Julie Rozenberg, Economist at the World Bank in the Chief Economist Office for Sustainable Development.

This blog is a reposted from the World Bank.

In 2015, severe floods washed away a series of bridges in Mozambique’s Nampula province, leaving several small villages completely isolated. Breslau, a local engineer and one of our counterparts, knew that rebuilding those bridges would take months. Breslau took his motorbike and drove the length of the river to look for other roads, trails, or paths to help the villagers avoid months of isolation. He eventually found an old earth path that was quickly cleaned up and restored… After a few days, the villagers had an alternative to the destroyed bridge, reconnecting them to the rest of the network and the country.

What happened in the Nampula province perfectly illustrates how a single weather event can quickly paralyze transport connections, bringing communities and economies to a screeching halt. There are many more examples of this phenomenon, which affects both developing and developed countries. On March 30th, a section of the I-85 interstate collapsed in Atlanta, causing schools to close and forcing many people to work from home. In Peru, food prices increase in Lima when the carretera central is disrupted by landslides because agricultural products can’t be brought to market.

How can we help countries improve the resilience of their transport networks in a context of scarce resources and rising climate uncertainty?

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Uncertainty Assessement in Ecosystem Services: Seven Challenges and Practical Responses (2017)

Hamel, P. and BP Bryant (2017). Uncertainty assessment in ecosystem services analyses: Common challenges and practical responses. Ecosystem Services 24, 1-15. doi:10.1016/j.ecoser.2016.12.008

Abstract: Ecosystem services (ES) analyses are increasingly used to address societal challenges, but too often are not accompanied by uncertainty assessment. This omission limits the validity of their findings and may undermine the ‘science-based’ decisions they inform. We summarize and analyze seven commonly perceived challenges to conducting uncertainty assessment that help explain why it often receives superficial treatment in ES studies. We connect these challenges to solutions in relevant scientific literature and guidance documents. Since ES science is based on a multiplicity of disciplines (e.g. ecology, hydrology, economics, environmental modeling, policy sciences), substantial knowledge already exists to identify, quantify, and communicate uncertainties. The integration of these disciplines for solution-oriented modeling has been the focus of the integrated assessment community for many years, and we argue that many insights and best practices from this field can be directly used to improve ES assessments. We also recognize a number of issues that hinder the adoption of uncertainty assessment as part of standard practice. Our synthesis provides a starting point for ES analysts and other applied modelers looking for further guidance on uncertainty assessment and helps scientists and decision-makers to set reasonable expectations for characterizing the level of confidence associated with an ES assessment.

Readers interested in uncertainty and ES may also find a recent workshop report on “Motivating and Improving Uncertainty Assessment in ES” interesting as well:

Finally, those having or seeking to produce good examples of such assessment are encouraged to submit to a new special issue on the topic, with submissions due September 30, 2017.

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Environmental Realism: Challenging Solutions (2017)

Cockerill, K., M. Armstrong, J. Richter, J. Okie. 2017. Environmental Realism: Challenging Solutions. Palgrave MacMillan 145p. ISBN 978-3-319-52824-3.

http://www.springer.com/us/book/9783319528236

Abstract from Chapter 1: Why Challenge Solutions?

Labeling a problem ‘environmental’ creates a pervasive belief that science and technology can, should, and will generate solutions for issues ranging from pandemic disease to stream functions to nuclear contamination. These, however, are ‘wicked problems’ that defy simple or long-term solutions, but rather must be continually managed. Further, what are defined in the 21st century as ‘environmental problems’ are often the consequence of perceived ‘solutions’ implemented in a previous era.The perception of these issues as problems is derived, in part, from Enlightenment ideas segregating Homo sapiens from nature and a belief that humans can contain or control biophysical processes. Solutionist thinking and language perpetuates a self-referential problem-solution-problem cycle that begs the question of what constitutes a ‘solution’ and simultaneously elides the reality that human systems and biophysical systems are inseparable.

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Robust decision making in data scarce contexts: addressing data and model limitations for infrastructure planning under transient climate change (2017)

Shortridge, J., Guikema, S. & Zaitchik, B. (2017) Robust decision making in data scarce contexts: addressing data and model limitations for infrastructure planning under transient climate change. Climatic Change 140: 323. doi:10.1007/s10584-016-1845-4

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10584-016-1845-4

Abstract: In the face of deeply uncertain climate change projections, robust decision frameworks are becoming a popular tool for incorporating climate change uncertainty into water infrastructure planning. These methodologies have the potential to be particularly valuable in developing countries where extensive infrastructure development is still needed and uncertainties can be large. However, many applications of these methodologies have relied on a sophisticated process of climate model downscaling and impact modeling that may be unreliable in data-scarce contexts. In this study, we demonstrate a modified application of the robust decision making (RDM) methodology that is specifically tailored for application in data-scarce situations. This modification includes a novel method for generating transient climate change sequences that account for potential variable dependence but do not rely on detailed GCM projections, and an emphasis on identifying the relative importance of data limitations and uncertainty within an integrated modeling framework. We demonstrate this methodology in the Lake Tana basin in Ethiopia, showing how the approach can highlight the vulnerability of alternative plans across different time scales and identify priorities for research and model refinement. We find that infrastructure performance is particularly sensitive to uncertainty in streamflow model accuracy, irrigation efficiency, and evaporation rates, suggesting that additional research in these areas could provide valuable insights for long-term infrastructure planning. This work demonstrates how tailored application of robust decision frameworks using simple modeling approaches can provide decision support in data-scarce regions where more complex modeling and analysis may be impractical.

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Testing the Scenario Hypothesis (2017)

Gong, Min , Robert Lempert, Andrew M Parker, Lauren A. Mayer, Jordan Fischbach, Matthew Sisco, Zhamin Mao, David H. Krantz, and Howard Kunreuther. “Testing the Scenario Hypothesis: An Experimental Comparison of Scenarios and Forecasts for Decision Support in a Complex Decision Environment.” Environmental Modeling and Software 91 (2017): 135-55.

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1364815216305060

Decision support tools are known to influence and facilitate decisionmaking through the thoughtful construction of the decision environment. However, little research has empirically evaluated the effects of using scenarios and forecasts. In this research, we asked participants to recommend a fisheries management strategy that achieved multiple objectives in the face of significant uncertainty. A decision support tool with one of two conditions—Scenario or Forecast—encouraged participants to explore a large set of diversified decision options. We found that participants in the two conditions explored the options similarly, but chose differently. Participants in the Scenario Condition chose the strategies that performed well over the full range of uncertainties (robust strategies) significantly more frequently than did those in the Forecast Condition. This difference seems largely to be because participants in the Scenario Condition paid increased attention to worst-case futures. The results offer lessons for designing decision support tools.

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Why pay attention to paths in the practice of environmental modelling? (2017)

Lahtinen, T. J., J. H. A. Guillaume, and R. P. Hämäläinen (2017), Why pay attention to paths in the practice of environmental modelling?, Environmental Modelling and Software, 92, 74–81, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envsoft.2017.02.019

Taking the ‘path perspective’ helps to understand and improve the practice of environmental modelling and decision making. A path is the sequence of steps taken in a modelling project. The problem solving team faces several forks where alternative choices can be made. These choices determine the path, together with the impact of uncertainties and exogenous effects. This paper discusses phenomena that influence the problem solvers’ choices at the forks. Situations are described where it can be desirable to re-direct the path or backtrack on it. Phenomena are identified that can cause the modelling project to get stuck on a poor path. The concept of a path draws attention to the interplay of behavioral phenomena and the sequential nature of modelling processes. This helps understand the overall effect of the behavioral phenomena. A path checklist is developed to help practitioners detect forks and reflect on the path of the modelling project.

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Understanding the failure to understand New Product Development failures: Mitigating the uncertainty associated with innovating new products by combining scenario planning and forecasting (2017)

Derbyshire, J. and Giovannetti, E. (2017) Understanding the failure to understand New Product Development failures: Mitigating the uncertainty associated with innovating new products by combining scenario planning and forecasting, Technological Forecasting & Social Change: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0040162516302980

In this paper we show that New Product Development (NPD) is subject to fundamental uncertainty that is both epistemic and ontic in nature. We argue that this uncertainty cannot be mitigated using forecasting techniques exclusively, because these are most useful in circumstances characteristic of probabilistic risk, as distinct from non-probabilistic uncertainty. We show that the mitigation of uncertainty in relation to NPD requires techniques able to take account of the socio-economic factors that can combine to cause present assumptions about future demand conditions to be incorrect. This can be achieved through an Intuitive Logics (IL) scenario planning process designed specifically to mitigate uncertainty associated with NPD by incorporating insights from both quantitative modelling alongside consideration of political, social, technological and legal factors, as-well-as stakeholder motivations that are central to successful NPD. In this paper we therefore achieve three objectives: 1) identify the aspects of the current IL process salient to mitigating the uncertainty of NPD; 2) show how advances in diffusion modelling can be used to identify the social-network and contagion effects that lead to a product’s full diffusion; and 3) show how the IL process can be further enhanced to facilitate detailed consideration of the factors enabling and inhibiting initial market-acceptance, and then the forecasted full diffusion of a considered new product. We provide a step-by-step guide to the implementation of this adapted IL scenario planning process designed specifically to mitigate uncertainty in relation to NPD.

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Dealing with deep uncertainties in landslide modelling for disaster risk reduction under climate change (2017)

Almeida, S., Holcombe, E. A., Pianosi, F. and Wagener, T. (2017). Dealing with deep uncertainties in landslide modelling for disaster risk reduction under climate change, Nat. Hazards Earth Syst. Sci., 17, 225-241, doi:10.5194/nhess-17-225-2017.

http://www.nat-hazards-earth-syst-sci.net/17/225/2017/

Landslides have large negative economic and societal impacts, including loss of life and damage to infrastructure. Slope stability assessment is a vital tool for landslide risk management, but high levels of uncertainty often challenge its usefulness. Uncertainties are associated with the numerical model used to assess slope stability and its parameters, with the data characterizing the geometric, geotechnic and hydrologic properties of the slope, and with hazard triggers (e.g. rainfall). Uncertainties associated with many of these factors are also likely to be exacerbated further by future climatic and socio-economic changes, such as increased urbanization and resultant land use change. In this study, we illustrate how numerical models can be used to explore the uncertain factors that influence potential future landslide hazard using a bottom-up strategy. Specifically, we link the Combined Hydrology And Stability Model (CHASM) with sensitivity analysis and Classification And Regression Trees (CART) to identify critical thresholds in slope properties and climatic (rainfall) drivers that lead to slope failure. We apply our approach to a slope in the Caribbean, an area that is naturally susceptible to landslides due to a combination of high rainfall rates, steep slopes, and highly weathered residual soils. For this particular slope, we find that uncertainties regarding some slope properties (namely thickness and effective cohesion of topsoil) are as important as the uncertainties related to future rainfall conditions. Furthermore, we show that 89 % of the expected behaviour of the studied slope can be characterized based on only two variables – the ratio of topsoil thickness to cohesion and the ratio of rainfall intensity to duration.

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