In mid-November, villages in Cornwall were severely affected by flooding. After 33 mm (1.4 in) of rain in 24 hours, flood waters rose up to 2 m (6 ft) in some areas, forcing the evacuation of around 100 homes.
One interesting reaction to this event was an experimental project created by BBC Cornwall. The Cornwall Floods Crowdmap allowed internet users to submit and map reports of the flooding. BBC News articles and Environment Agency flood forecasts are presented alongside local insights from other organisations and the public.
The result is a resource that challenges the conventional dichotomy between ‘certified’ facts (e.g. journalists, scientists, local officials) and ‘uncertified’ knowledge (e.g. local individuals). Instead, all sources of knowledge are given legitimacy and, in many cases, independently verified.
In a forthcoming paper in the Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Stuart Lane and others discuss another experiment in public participation and flood risk management.
The authors, all academics, describe a project in which knowledge about flood risks was ‘co-produced’ with local residents in a North Yorkshire town. Lane et al. seek to include local understanding, priorities and politics in their research. To do otherwise, they argue, is itself a form of politics, since it gives preference to one form of knowledge (science) over another. These projects move public consultation beyond a box that must be ticked on form, to an engagement with the affected people on an equal footing.
BBC News (18th Nov 2010) ‘Cornwall village Altarnun at mercy of flood waters.’
BBC Cornwall Flood Map Project
Lane, S. N. et al. (2011) ‘Doing flood risk science differently: an experiment in radical scientific method.’ Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 36 (1): 15-36 [Early view]