Journal Papers


Social Responsibility and Disaster Management


Ethnic differences in perceptions of social responsibility: informing risk communication strategies for enhancing community resilience to flooding

by Dr Aaron Mullins and Dr Robby Soetanto

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This research investigated ethnic differences in perceptions of social responsibility, in relation to flooding, for householders, local businesses and policy makers. The data were obtained via a questionnaire survey of three communities in Birmingham and one community in South East London, UK. A total of 481 responses used in the statistical analysis.

The interpretation of the findings was aided by cognitive mapping to synthesise the data transcripts from 174 responses to the open-ended questions. Comparisons were made between communities in different locations and with different experience of flooding. Ethnic differences consistently exist within the perceptions of householder and business groups within communities (in different locations) which have recent experience of flooding, but not in the policy maker group or in a community without recent flood experience. The findings suggest three different levels of resilience and their association with different ethnic groups. The findings contribute to the understanding of the influence of demographic factors in disaster management field, and can provide useful knowledge for targeted and tailored strategies of communication of flood information.

Published in: Disaster Prevention and Management: An International Journal:

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Enhancing Community Resilience To Flooding Through Social Responsibility: “Social and Economic Impacts of Flooding”

by Dr Aaron Mullins and Dr Robby Soetanto

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Climate change has increased the threat of flooding to communities and presented the need for greater understanding of barriers and drivers to community resilience. This presents a significant research challenge due to complex interdependencies between the built environment, flooding, and the decisions of individuals within the community.

The decisions of individuals that make up key community groups are of vital importance to this area because these decisions affect their perceptions, behaviour and cumulative resilience at community level. The decision making of community groups could be positive, resulting in resilience-enhancing actions, or negative, resulting in resilience-reducing perceptions and behaviour. Therefore, understanding the factors that influence the decision making process will help to overcome barriers and promote drivers for community resilience.

This paper explores the literature in one of the main areas that has been highlighted as having the potential to affect decision making at community level, i.e. perceptions of social responsibility. Differences between social responsibility and corporate social responsibility and public relation models are explored. Examples from recent flooding events suggest the important role of social responsibility in influencing community resilience. Main considerations for future research are described, including the need for establishing a common framework for measuring and monitoring social responsibility within the community. Such a frame-work would provide a platform for integration and joined-up thinking between key community groups.

Published in: Special issue of the International Journal of Safety and Security Engineering:

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The impact of perceptions of social reponsibility on community resilience to flooding events

by Dr Aaron Mullins and Dr Robby Soetanto

aaron-mullins-psychology-impact-resilience-perceptions-social-responsibilityDefinitions of resilience have often described communities dealing with the effects of an extreme weather event and then returning to their normal functioning prior to the event. However, if a community returns to its previous state, then it may have bounced back from the event but it may not have actually increased its resilience to similar events. Instead, resilience must be thought of as containing elements of learning and adaptation to events so that community resilience can be increased (Daly 2009, Peek 2009, Norris et al. 2008). This is because the resilience of a community is determined by the interconnected system’s ability to absorb disturbance, self-organise and contain the capacity to learn and adapt (Norris et al. 2008, Walker and Salt 2006). It is acknowledged that other definitions of community resilience exist, many of which are tailored to personal agendas, or have become outdated. For example, Klein, Nicholls and Thomalla (2003) defined community resilience as primarily being  the amount of disturbance a system can absorb while still remaining in the same state. While Klein, Nicholls and Thomalla (2003) recognised the need for self-organisation and the capacity for learning and adaptation, overall community resilience is represented as possessing somewhat less flexible attributes than the more dynamic adaptive capacities described by Norris et al. (2008). What this does highlight is the progression that conceptualisations of community resilience have made since early, rigid perceptions of community resilience as simply being the ability to withstand external disturbances. For example the definition provided by Adger (2000), which describes community resilience as being the ability to withstand external shocks to social infrastructure.

The current investigation proposes that it is the attitudes, perceptions and behaviours that members of a community adopt or display prior to an extreme weather event that can determine the ability of that community to absorb the disturbance. Furthermore, these aspects may also then determine their motivation and ability for self-organisation during the event and how much they are willing to learn from the event in order to change their perceptions and behaviours. The current investigation will therefore utilise the definition of resilience provided by Walker and Salt (2006) (and other recent supporting researchers, e.g. Norris et al. 2008), as it accounts for interactions at the community level, providing support for the focus of the current investigation.

Exploring explanations of resilience itself, it is widely accepted that there are four main stages to the resilience process, collectively known as the social resilience cycle (Maguire and Hagan 2007). This is similar in nature to other resilience cycles, containing the same core components as the disaster risk management cycle (Keim 2008) and the emergency management cycle (Fillmore et al. 2008). It can be thought of as a cycle because after the final recovery stage, a community returns to the mitigation stage in order to try and prevent future disasters, preferably having incorporated new knowledge from the previous event. .

Proceedings of TIEMS Conference, 7-10 June, Bucharest, Romania:

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Flooding in the Built Environment: The Roles of Social Responsibility and Risk Perception in Extreme Event Decision Making

by Dr Aaron Mullins and Dr Robby Soetanto

aaron-mullins-psychology-roles-social-responsibility-risk-perception-floodingThis papers established the most appropriate definition of social responsibility for vulnerability and resilience research, highlighting that tackling the physical environmental aspects of climate change is only a small part in becoming a socially responsible business. Furthermore, this chapter highlighted that the majority of social responsibility research has focused on corporate social responsibility, which fails to adequately integrate the perceptions held by key community groups into resilience promoting measures.

In order to counter the failings of corporate social responsibility, this investigation created the community social responsibility framework, which can account for the effect of perceptions upon behaviour within and between a number of key community groups. This framework was supported by both theory and real world examples of the way in which perceptions of social responsibility influence decision making and behaviour.

This paper also highlighted that climate change perceptions in general are not well understood, such as perceptions of risk, indicating that further research is required to explore these perceptions. It was demonstrated that perceptions of social responsibility may differ between community groups and research should therefore explore and compare perceptions in a number of different communities. The importance of social responsibility was indicated by its inclusion within institutional aims and agendas, with further research required to inform policies at both national and international levels, as well as policies aimed at local communities.

Proceedings of CIB World Congress, University of Salford:

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Investigating the relationship between perceptions of social responsibility and community resilience to flooding: a definition, context and methodology

by Dr Aaron Mullins and Dr Robby Soetanto

aaron-mullins-psychology-community-resilience-social-responsibility-definition-methodologyThe philosophical framework within which the investigation outlined within this paper is situated is based upon the understanding that communities are more vulnerable to EWE’s and that our perceptions can affect our decision making and behaviour, in relation to EWE’s. The investigation is empirical in nature, adopting the epistemological standpoint that statistics and interviews can generate knowledge.

This investigation is based on exploring a specific type of EWE, and determining how it relates back to other type-specific empirical findings and the more general findings of EWE’s as a whole. The research is concerned with interactions, the way some variables (age, gender and ethnicity) may condition the relations between other variables (perception of social responsibility), attempting to understand the complex picture of the circumstances attending someone’s participation in resilient behaviour. The point is not to prove, beyond doubt, the existence of particular relationships, but to describe a system of relationships between these variables, to show how these aspects may mutually influence or support each other.

The ontological standpoint of this research also believes that perceptions exist, which can influence decision making and eventually behaviour. In addition, further factors exist which can influence perceptions. These aspects can be studied and the relationships between these concepts explored. A mixed methodological approach is used, as the key aim of exploring perceptions does not lend itself readily to either an exclusively nomothetic or ideographic approach (it is also possible for these two approaches to complement each other). In addition, it is also desirable to attempt to replicate some of the findings of previous research, particularly given that this is of a multi-disciplinary nature, in order to support or refute the strength and accuracy of these previous findings. The mixed methods used in this investigation consisted of two main research methods, these being analysis of questionnaire responses and cognitive mapping analysis of qualitative transcripts.

Proceedings of FRIAR Conference, Milan, Italy:

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Enhancing community resilience to flooding through social responsibility

by Dr Aaron Mullins and Dr Robby Soetanto

aaron-mullins-psychology-enhancing-community-resilience-social-responsibilityReid, Sutton and Hunter (2010) define households as being at the meso level of research, in-between the micro (individual) and macro (national) levels, characterised by interactions within and between people in these social units which can create and support pro-environmental behaviours. The current investigation suggests that communities can therefore also be considered to be at the meso level of research because, similar to households, they contain a smaller group of people (than the macro level) in a social unit, whose interactions and interdependencies may affect levels of pro-environmental behaviour.

Categorising communities and community groups in this way provides an important platform for investigation because it has been suggested that the future of disaster research should be to explore the social processes within communities (Spence et al. 2011, Tapsell et al. 2010, Quarantelli 2005). This is supported by earlier calls for research in this area by Fordham (1998) and Blaikie et al. (1994) who highlighted the importance of exploring the underlying social aspects within communities. However, while there has been much research conducted on a number of aspects of extreme events and climate change, such as resilience, adaptive capacity and vulnerability at the national, regional and sector levels (Gallopin 2006, Dahlstrom and Salmons 2005, Adger and Vincent 2005, Adger and Kelly 2000), assessing the impacts of extreme weather events at a local level is less well developed.

One suggested explanation for the slow uptake in community level research is that, while it is possible that interactions can occur across the theoretical levels of research (micro, meso and macro), research has often tried to generalise too much from individual behaviours straight to national trends (Reid, Sutton and Hunter 2010). Macro level approaches have been criticised for making sweeping generalisations that relies too heavily upon top down analysis and policy making (Schenk, Moll and Uiterkamp 2007). Furthermore, macro level research often fails to fully incorporate the diversity of perceptions and behaviour present within society as they often explore the behaviours of a single organisation and generalise this as being the norm for organisations at the national level (Tudor, Barr and Gilg 2007). Findings are taken and applied out of context. These generalisations do not account for perceptions and behaviours further down the chain, as they are focused upon even further up scaling to try and discover international trends (Schenk, Moll and Uiterkamp 2007, Haanpaa 2005). Therefore, the macro level offers limited scope for providing a detailed understanding of factors which can affect community resilience, supporting the view that further research is required at the meso (community) level, which can provide a useful platform for exploring perceptions and behaviours (Reid, Sutton and Hunter 2010).

Meso level research would allow the behaviour of individuals to be contextualised within a social unit, while also allowing a deeper understanding of how to make changes at the macro level (Reid, Sutton and Hunter 2010). In the context of the current investigation, this approach would allow the effect of individual perceptions of social responsibility (micro level) to be contextualised within the social units of community groups (meso level), representing the community itself. It is acknowledged that the aim of Reid, Sutton and Hunter (2010) was to discuss a new way of conceptualising pro-environmental behaviour and represents a break away from the previous dichotomous (micro and macro) view. Despite being portrayed as a new way of thinking, it shares many similarities with other calls for community level approaches already discussed (e.g. Tapsell et al. 2010). Therefore, this community (meso) level approach would allow a more thorough exploration of the effect that perceptions may have upon community resilience.

Further support for investigating community groups in this manner can be found when we consider the importance of understanding the complex interactions associated with perceptions and behaviour of individuals within these groups. Researchers understand that community resilience involves complex interdependencies between key community groups, but the precise nature of the relationship within and between these groups, particularly behavioural and perceptual aspects, is less well understood (Spence et al. 2011, Spence and Pidgeon 2009, Smit and Wandel 2006). Therefore, further research is required into perceptions and behaviours that can affect resilience at the level of the community (definitions of the term community itself are discussed later in section 2.6., p.20). Psychological research has suggested that perceptions of climate change as a distant issue may leave people more vulnerable to their impacts (Spence et al. 2011, Swim et al. 2009, Lorenzoni and Pidgeon 2006). This is due to people having reduced ability to make judgements and react to distant threats (Willians and Bargh 2008). Therefore, highlighting the impact of climate change at the local level may improve engagement with environmental issues (Spence et al. 2011, Weber 2006).

This is supported by research which states that people’s visual expressions of climate change are often related to local examples, which can enhance their perception of the importance of climate change issues as people seek to identify the complex phenomena of climate change with more familiar surroundings (Tapsell et al. 2010, Nicholson-Cole 2005). The current investigation proposes that a localised approach would provide a better context for understanding the perceptions that lead to resilience related decisions and behaviours, particularly for members of the community who fail to engage in resilience promoting actions. Researchers support this view, stating that, although there is concern regarding climate change present in Europe and the USA, it is not a high enough concern to change behaviours in daily lives and therefore saliency of risk must be increased by concentrating on research at the community level (Tapsell et al. 2010,  Lorenzoni and Pidgeon 2006). This view is also supported by the Social Amplification of Risk Framework which states that the interaction of a number of psychological, social, institutional and cultural factors combine with the physical aspects of an extreme weather event (Renn 2008), indicating that the localised nature of risks in the community, where these factors combine, would be the most appropriate place to explore these interactions and responses. There is a large amount of support then for investigating resilience at the community level. However, there are a number of issues regarding definitions of the terms ‘community’ and ‘resilience’ which first require consideration.

Proceedings of the 3rd International World of Construction Project Management Conference, Coventry University:

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