Waterproofing Data: Engaging citizens for data-driven sustainability
Published: 3 August 2022
Climate change is causing extreme weather events such as extreme rainfall and flooding to become more frequent and more severe. Some communities are more at risk such events than others, for example in poorer neighbourhoods in Brazil. Professor João de Porto de Albuquerque talks about the Waterproofing Data project, which is engaging Brazilian communities in the usage of flood-related data.
By Professor João de Porto de Albuquerque
Climate change is causing extreme weather events such as extreme rainfall and flooding to become more frequent and more severe. Some communities are more at risk such events than others: for example, deprived neighbourhoods (or favelas) in Brazil are often located in flood-prone areas, while lacking durable housing, and infrastructure for water, sanitation, and drainage.
However, major data gaps exist about both the likelihood and impacts of flooding on such communities. This lack of information hampers efforts to establish effective strategies for improving resilience, including better early-warning systems and community-based risk reduction.
The Waterproofing Data project has been designed to engage Brazilian communities and stakeholders in the generation, circulation and use of flood-related data.
Typically, data about floods and extreme rainfall flows up from local levels to scientific “centres of expertise”, where it is processed and synthesised; and then flood-related alerts and interventions flow back down through local governments and into communities. However, the information itself remains mostly invisible to the communities who are most likely to be affected.
This project aimed to help rethink the flow of information between “top-down” (e.g. policy makers and flood experts) and “bottom up” (e.g. local citizens) sources, in order to build sustainable, flood resilient communities. To do this, the project team developed innovative methods around data practices, including improving the visibility of existing flow of flood-related data, engaging with local communities and schools to generate new data (for example, measuring rainfall and recordings its impact on their neighbourhoods), and integrating this citizen-generated data with other sources of “big data” (e.g. geo-computational modelling) from centres of expertise.
A key output of the project is a mobile phone app which creates a ‘citizen scientist’ monitoring network by enabling local people to generate data about rainfall and local flood impacts, while accessing the entire data set (including previously inaccessible official data) through visualisations. The community generated data will be crucial to flood management agencies aiming to better predict local flooding and identify strategies for adaptation and mitigation.
You can watch an animated video about the app here.
Professor João de Porto de Albuquerque, University of Glasgow, SPS
Professor Maria Alexandra Cunha, Getulio Vargas Foundation, Brazil
Professor Alexander Zipf, Heidelberg University, Germany
The full research team is listed on the project website.
The Waterproofing Data project received funding via the Belmont Forum from an international coalition of funders (Economics and Social Science Research Council in the UK; FAPESP in Basil; and BMBF in Germany)
First published: 3 August 2022