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Rebuffing the ‘hard to reach’ narrative: how to engage diverse groups in participation for resilience

McEwen, Lindsey, Holmes, Andrew, Cornish, Flora ORCID: 0000-0002-3404-9385, Leichenko, Robin, Guida, Kristen, Burchell, Kevin, Sharpe, Justin, Everett, Glyn and Scott, Matt (2023) Rebuffing the ‘hard to reach’ narrative: how to engage diverse groups in participation for resilience. Journal of Extreme Events. ISSN 2345-7376

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Identification Number: 10.1142/S2345737623500021


Across three years (2017–2020), the ESRC Seminar series, “Civil Agency, Society and Climate Adaptation to Weather Extremes” (CASCADE-NET) critically examined the changing role of civil society in extreme weather adaptation. One full-day seminar explored “less heard voices” within Civil Society, considering ways of engaging diverse groups in resiliency, knowledge exchange, and capacity building. A small interdisciplinary group from the seminar followed up with a roundtable discussion, conducted online, discussing first who the less-heard voices in society are, and how labels, such as “vulnerable” and “hard to reach”, might need to be reappraised, and concluding that it is often those in power who make themselves “hard to reach” and who fail to listen. The group then discussed how deeper engagement with citizens and communities can be achieved through improved relationships and networks. Finally, the roundtable discussed how the succession of crises affecting the UK (and other settings) could, paradoxically, present an opportune moment to press the case for a more joined-up and inclusive civil society. The concluding section summarizes key insights from the roundtable and identifies opportunities to rethink engagement with “hard to reach” groups. To answer our question of “how to” engage diverse groups, we conclude with the action points to change the orientation of the powerful to (i) be genuinely open to listening to, and acting upon the voices of less heard groups; (ii) listen on the terms of groups who are voicing their experience, rather than force them into pre-arranged consultation formats; (iii) engage early, widely and frequently; (iv) build trust by demonstrating willingness to listen, through actions; (v) tackle historical mistrust, unequal resources, experiences of neglect or exploitation that undermine groups’ interest in engaging with the powerful. A transformation in orientation to community engagement is in order if we are to produce effective, locally attuned, collective action in the face of social shocks.

Item Type: Article
Official URL:
Additional Information: © 2023 World Scientific
Divisions: Methodology
Subjects: H Social Sciences
H Social Sciences > HT Communities. Classes. Races
Date Deposited: 12 Jul 2023 09:03
Last Modified: 16 May 2024 04:10

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