Major funding win for environmental planning professor

7 June 2016

Professor Iain White

Professor of Environmental Planning Iain White has been awarded nearly $200,000 to assist research into how cities can become more resilient to natural hazards.

Professor of Environmental Planning at the University of Waikato, Iain White, has been awarded nearly $200,000 to assist his research into how cities can become more resilient to natural hazards.

The funding is part of a $20 million government National Science Challenge – Resilience to Nature’s Challenges. National Science Challenges are cross-disciplinary, scientist-led programmes that aim to tackle New Zealand’s biggest science-based problems.

Professor White will contribute to the project from a social sciences perspective alongside researchers from Opus and Massey, Otago, Canterbury and Victoria universities. The team will address the role played by governance, policies and institutional relationships so New Zealand can build inter-generational resilience to nature’s challenges in the face of disruptive shocks and global change.

A new approach

Professor White says National Science Challenges are important because they help break down disciplinary silos which aren’t well-suited to addressing the kinds of problems New Zealand now faces – from an ageing population, to housing supply and natural hazards.

“As a country we’re exposed to a huge number of natural hazards and the social and economic costs of these can be huge. We can’t predict or avoid many of them, so the focus has also turned to resilience – increasing the capacity to withstand shocks, to recover, and to adapt our systems.

An interdisciplinary challenge

As part of the project, researchers will look at resilient governance.

“Governance is a useful term to frame resilience research, as it goes beyond formal actors or institutions to include all those with decision-making power. It’s not just a matter of the state and formal policies or regulations any more, in practice many aspects of society can work together to increase resilience, from individuals to insurers and community groups,” says Professor White.

He says the research will take a “co-creation approach” to work with the various actors and agencies to develop and test new strategies, processes and practices that can reduce risk and facilitate the ability to cope or recover from shocks.

“This approach is valuable because the reality is, to make research have influence and to implement change we need to be working together better. This means better collaborations across government, policy-makers, local and regional councils, the private sector and the people affected by natural hazards.”