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Urban Africa: Risk Knowledge (Urban ARK)

Academic beneficiaries

Urban ARK is transdisciplinary in ethos; work is both interdisciplinary and co-produced. Conceptual work draws from interdisciplinary work in human & physical geography, development studies, peace studies and disasters studies as well as cognate disciplinary work from institutional economics, ethnography, the sociology of science and development sociology. Conceptual advances will improve theorising of science-policy communication, both through the analysis of learning experiences (e.g., by working with urban planners to consider consequences of new down-scaled climate data on decision-making and existing plans) and through novel historical research (e.g., on trajectories in the co-evolution of science, technology and urban development and its governance). Findings will make a general contribution to risk management, climate change adaptation, natural hazards understanding in both the physical & social sciences, and science-policy communication studies. More fundamental advances in understanding vulnerability will also be made, especially through inductive work to help better conceptualise the multifaceted interactions between conflict - as context and hazard - in shaping vulnerability to environmental hazard.

The problem focussed nature of Urban ARK emphasises methodological innovation. The programmatic research structure provides a rare opportunity to compare the utility of contrasting methodologies for vulnerability, capacity and loss assessment. A concentrated review of methodologies will be important across disasters studies research beyond the African and urban contexts, showing the degree to which meaningful results can be derived from a range of input data, varying in quality and coverage as well as content. For some methodologies, especially those built around action learning principles, the precision of results may be less important than the process of coproduction. Learning from these processes of knowledge and data generation will be of value to those studying research methods across the applied social and physical sciences.

In these ways, the project is positioned to work through disaster analysis to make more fundamental intellectual advances, e.g. in discussions of governmentality, co-production and in the balance between policy processes as smooth or uneven, punctuated by tipping points and critical junctures or more measured trajectories; and on multi-hazard relationships. These debates are very new to disasters studies and climate change adaptation; the proposed work will have the opportunity to develop a leading position in these debates.

To facilitate intellectual exchange beyond the consortium, data will be freely available (see data management plan). An Open Science Conference (year 1) is designed to bring ideas from the wider community into Urban ARC and to alert the wider community to our research agenda. Consortium members sit in advisory positions on international scientific bodies providing wide scope for academic influence. For example, Pelling sits on the scientific steering committees of the International Scientific Union (ICSU) project Integrated Research on Disaster Risk (heading work on risk identification and action), and Land Ocean Interaction on the Coastal Zone, an ICSU project in transition to Future Earth (with responsibility for coastal urbanisation). Individual partner budgets include support for attending international conferences (e.g., the Association of American Geographers, European Geosciences Union).

The academic publication plan will see publications across a range of social, physical and applied science journals and includes a special edition of Environment and Urbanization and co-authored book. The weight of these publications is intended to mark the opening of a considerable research frontier that can indicate the diversity of analytical work needed to fully understand the driving forces behind urban risk in sub-Saharan Africa.

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