Security, risk and resilient places

Humanity faces massive environmental challenges in the 21st century, including climate change, population growth and scarcity of resources.

The emerging risks which these present demand policy responses, technologies, physical infrastructure and governance arrangements, which are sustainable, scientifically robust, and democratic. This programme brings a variety of disciplinary approaches to bear on these shared problems, focusing on three key themes:

Understanding and improving the use of science in policy-making

This work focuses on scrutinising the use of models and other sources of scientific knowledge in governing threats to environmental and public health. 

One focus is on developing and applying a novel conceptual approach for scrutinising the strengths, limits and functions of formal risk assessment – and one that offers practical ways of improving it. Another looks at the way that different philosophies of governance shape ideas about what constitutes good decision-making, sound data, and proper use of evidence. 

The main contribution has been to develop a new typology of governance regimes, and to have shown how each regime type benefits from, and in turn helps to justify, particular forms of scientific knowledge. This has implications for how we build models, how we scrutinise them, and how policy-makers can and should use them.

Public understanding and engagement with sustainability issues

This work focuses on individuals' understandings and beliefs in relation to sustainability and risk issues. Much of it deals with the impacts upon individuals and communities, and acceptability to people, of environmental and technological risk within everyday life. 

A related strand looks at people's perceptions about agency and responsibility in relation to environmental crises, how those perceptions relate to dominant frames and discourses, and with what implications for attempts to foster more sustainable behaviour. 

A key idea is that the dominant discourses, techniques, and governance arrangements surrounding climate change have created a widespread perception that responsibility for the problem rests with abstract, global systems, and that this is profoundly disempowering and partly responsible for the value-action gap. 

One way of narrowing this gap may be to use place as an organising concept in how we think about and govern climate change, although this faces serious practical and political barriers.

The design and management of engineering systems

This work focuses on the sustainable design and management of infrastructure systems and public buildings, taking a socio-technical approach. 

The idea is that the way that systems work – or fail to work – is shaped by a mixture of technical, physical, governance, organisational and behavioural factors. The research ranges from the construction of real-time decision support models, to psychological studies of crisis management in water supply systems.

This programme is linking existing international expertise at Cardiff working in issues of natural and human risk, resilience and sustainability, primarily located in the Schools of Engineering, Psychology, Medicine, and Earth and Ocean Sciences.

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