Communicating Climate Change Adaptation: Perceptions of Flooding and Flood Risk in the Aire Valley West Yorkshire, England

18:00 Tuesday 28 May




Emma Stevens (United Kingdom) 1

1 - University of Sheffield


This study seeks to understand representations of flood risk and climate change adaptation by contextualizing the phenomenon within the broader framework of flood risk and experience, a tangible and salient object. The potential role of events attributable to climate change in promoting engagement and action on related issues has been highlighted across the theory, debate, policy and media spheres (Spence, Poortinga, Butler, & Pidgeon, 2011). Yet, how, individuals and communities make sense of these events and the possible insight this could provide for climate change communication remained relatively under-researched.


Social Representations Theory provides a way of meaningfully explaining the differences in the development of dominant and peripheral discourses present within the public narrative. Understanding how flooding and climate adaptation has been socially represented offers a new perspective to analyse the effectiveness of current climate messages and inform new methods of communication about climate risk that are more socially robust.

The research was undertaken in the Aire Valley in West Yorkshire, England. For the data collection, fifty-two episodic interviews were conducted with residents in four case study sites situated along the River Aire. The interviews were subsequently interpreted using a thematic analysis.


The research is currently in the analysis stage and the current research findings are preliminary. The research has found that accountability and responsibility are key points of concern for individuals at risk of flooding. Residents do not feel adequately informed of how the responsibility for flood risk management is divided, decided or what progress has been made. The perception of those at risk is that the agencies responsible for managing flood risk do not communicate effectively with one another.

Whilst residents vocalised their concerns about the seemingly imminent flood risk in their area (and to their own property), the primary focus of much of the discussion was to blame those responsible and highlight areas that in which failings have occurred (e.g. local drainage issues). When discussing flooding at a more individual level, concerns were largely pushed down the list of priorities. That is, when flood risk was measured against other issues e.g. family pressures and work, then the level of concern for flooding was deprioritised. Therefore, concern for the issue seems to low, despite an awareness and understanding of the present risk.


Current communication of flood risk management does not adequately meet the needs of residents at risk of flooding.