Social innovation in effective flood risk communication

Fiona Henderson*, Karin Helwig, Paul Teedon, Sophie Beier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


The escalating global climate crisis requires effective communication systems to empower and inform individuals, communities, stakeholders, governing institutions and organisations across the private, public and third sectors. Climate change is significantly increasing the number and severity of UK flood events. In England, over 5.2million homes and businesses are at risk of flooding (Environment Agency, 2020), while in Scotland 284,000 properties (approx. 11%, NRS, 2018) are at flood risk (SEPA, 2018) and this is projected to rise to almost 400,000 properties (approx. 15%) in 60 years (SEPA, 2018). Despite this increase in risk, and significant attempts globally and nationally to communicate the urgency of preparing for the impacts of a changing climate, public awareness of their flood risk remains stubbornly low (Rollason et al., 2018; Percival et al., 2020).
A rapid improvement in the public’s understanding of flood risk and flood-related climate change impacts is urgently needed. Concerted attempts have largely failed to ignite widespread action in many local communities at risk, and this has been attributed in part to a focus upon messages that use occasionally complex, technical flood risk visualisation tools (particularly maps) despite their inherent ‘peculiarities’ (Percival et al, 2020). A clear opportunity exists for social innovation to drive change in communicating flood risk and flood-related climate change.
This paper draws from a study that aims to 1) examine gaps in the Scottish public’s understanding of flood risk, flood-related climate change, and managed adaptation; and 2) examine effective ways of communicating it better. The study began with a Rapid Evidence Assessment of relevant academic and grey literature in July 2020 to determine a) what is known about flood risk communications; b) what gaps are consistently appearing in the public’s understanding; and c) what examples of good flood risk communication practise exist. At the time of writing, a sample of key stakeholders in the flooding and climate change communication system in the UK are being interviewed. The study also intends to run a workshop with community representative and key stakeholders to examine and evaluate examples of current flood risk communications.
The findings of this investigation will give greater insight into how social innovation might break down silos of thinking and practice that prevent a more cohesive communication of flood risk, which could bridge academia, practice and policy to effect change and empower communities to prepare for inevitable climate change impacts.

Environment Agency (2020) Flood and coastal erosion risk management report: 1 April 2018 to 31 March 2019. Last accessed 26/2/21. Available at:
NRS (2018) Estimates of households and dwellings in Scotland. Last accessed 26/2/21. Available at:
Percival, S. E., Gaterell, M., & Hutchinson, D. (2020). Effective flood risk visualisation. Natural Hazards, 104(1), 375-396.
Rollason E, Bracken LJ, Hardy RJ, Large ARG (2018) Rethinking flood risk communication Nat Hazards 92:1665–1686. https :// 9-018-3273-4
SEPA (2018) Risk of flooding from rivers, sea and surface water 2018 to 2080. Last accessed 26/2/21. Available at:
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2021
EventInternational Social Innovation Research Conference - Milan, Italy
Duration: 8 Sept 202110 Sept 2021


ConferenceInternational Social Innovation Research Conference
Internet address


  • communication
  • social innovation


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