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The University of Southampton
Public Policy|Southampton

Opportunities for Local Involvement in Transformational Adaptation on the English Coast

Project Team 

Project lead: Sien van der Plank, SCDTP Research Fellow 

Project funding: ESRC Grant No: ES/W006189/1

Policy and research support: Dr Wassim DboukRebecca Walley



Project Overview

Our coasts are facing unprecedented changes, with climate change driving rising global mean sea level and exacerbating extreme sea level events and coastal hazards. Coastal communities are particularly exposed to risks of submergence, coastal flooding, and coastal erosion. Whilst adaptations to change have been central to coastal life for millennia, climate change brings a speed and intensity of change not previously experienced. Researchers are noting that community level adaptations are needed that are large scale, systemic, and requiring significant changes to lives and livelihoods – Transformational Adaptations (TA) – yet there is little evidence of this in practice. Research questions remain: where are transformational adaptations happening, how are they being delivered, how are communities being engaged or empowered to take transformational action; can transformational adaptations create community resilience to climate driven changes? This research aims to overcome that challenges by engaging with key stakeholders in coastal disaster risk reduction, planning and adaptation, to identify how households and community groups can be engaged in these processes.

In summer 2022, Sien interviewed key local stakeholders in coastal flood risk management in Hampshire and Norfolk, to answer the question: How can households influence the decision-making processes of transformational adaptation to coastal flood risk? TA offers fundamental challenges to contemporary engagement processes, and to enhance community-centred adaptation the interviews will explore

  1. Identifying how local stakeholders can proactively initiate TA processes, building on their capacities and resilience.
  2. Assessing whether the process of transformation can be grounded in the lived reality of local residents.
  3. Identifying whether vulnerable populations have the political power to influence transformational adaptation decision-making processes.


Initial findings

In this exploratory research, Sien builds on her PhD research (2016-2021), which encompasses a cross-scale analysis of national policy, organisational and household involvement in coastal FRM in England, to develop a more integrated understanding for decision-makers of the challenges facing household adaptation to coastal flood risk. This work identifies a discrepancy between policies and sub-national experiences in establishing, resourcing and sustaining long-term plans for the coast. There remains a paucity of interactions between professions, despite the acknowledged benefits of interacting across boundaries and sectors. Sub-national organisational stakeholders could be empowered by capacity-building and financial resources to be part of the conversation, decision-making and implementation of coastal flood risk management. The work also concluded that households who feel capable to act, and who are aware of local flood risk management, are more likely to take preparedness measures themselves. It is a critical and opportune time for policy makers to set clear goals and provide direction for the role of and engagement of the public as a coastal FRM stakeholder.

Outputs of project

Van der Plank, S., S. Brown and R.J. Nicholls. (2021) Managing coastal flood risk to residential properties in England: integrating spatial planning, engineering and insurance. International Journal of Disaster Risk Reduction, 52, 101961, DOI: 10.1016/j.ijdrr.2020.101961

Van der Plank, S., S. Brown and E. Tompkins. (2021, May 17-21). Responsibilities in coastal adaptation to climate change: the complex role of households in English coastal flood risk management [Conference poster]. Climate Exp0: A Fusion of Science and Policy Advancing a Resilient, Zero-Carbon World, online.

Sien’s work to engage local community groups on adaptation to flood risk has featured in the March 2022 University of Southampton publication Business Boost: How PhD Students can Collaborate with your Business, and the April 2022 University of Southampton Research and Enterprise magazine Re:action


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