UCL Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy


Invisible Threads: Informal Governance Systems for Disaster Risk Reduction

Exploring the role of informal governance systems (IGS) in disaster preparedness response and recovery, in order to inform disaster risk reduction policy-making in hazard-prone cities across the world

Informal governance systems (IGS) are comprised of networks of individuals and groups connected to each other by non-institutional channels, such as family, neighbours, churches or schools.

IGS can have a vital role in the flow of information, knowledge and goods during and after a disaster, and yet this role has not yet been explored. A better understanding on IGS is therefore critical to launch effective actions for disaster risk reduction.

As a result of three pilots in Nepal, Japan and The Philippines (see below) this project aims to generate evidence on the role that informal networks have played in disasters in different geographical and socio-political contexts. The aim is to facilitate a dialogue and knowledge exchange between different actors involved in DRR - from international bodies and national governments to grassroots organizations - about how informal processes and practices can be acknowledged and effectively incorporated into DRR strategies, plans or community-led actions.

Pilot I (2016): Kathmandu (Nepal)

This pilot examined the role of Informal Networks during disaster 'respond'. We investigated the disaster caused by Gorkha earthquake, which left over 5,000 casualties and estimated 3 Million people displaced in Kathmandu valley in 2015. A fieldwork campaign was conducted during June-July 2016, collaborating with a local Nepalese research team, and different universities and organisations. Preliminary results show Informal Networks provided access to varied components of crisis relief (e.g. shelter, medicines, food, water, energy, psychological support). In addition, evidence from Kathmandu suggest informal channels might be equally important than formal interventions from government or international organisations under certain circumstances.


Pilot II (2016): Sendai (Japan)

This pilot focused on the role of Informal Networks during disaster 'response and recovery'. WE analysed the case of the devastating Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, which caused over 15,000 victims and countless material and not material losses in the Northeast of Japan in 2011. A fieldwork campaign was conducted during July-August 2016, collaborating with different Japanese Governmental Bodies (including the Sendai City Government) and over a dozen local NGOs and grassroots organisations as well as Japanese universities. Preliminary results indicate that Informal Networks were not only fundamental during the initial response, but also facilitated access to other needs (e.g. psychological support, legal advice, housing reallocation) in the recovery phase. Evidence from Sendai also shown Informal Networks are able to respond, react and rapidly adapt to the specific and mutable local needs.

Pilot III (2017): Manila and Quezon City (The Philippines)

This pilot will analyse the potential of Informal Networks for disaster 'preparedness' in fragile urban communities. Keeping the collaboration with our global partners together with new local partners in The Philippines, this pilot intends to increase our understanding on the processes by which Informal Networks emerge and operate in different urban communities, before and after disasters.  A fieldwork campaign will be conducted during Spring 2017 and cases such as typhoon Haiyan-Nov 2013- or the recent typhoon Nina-Dec 2016) would be taken into account in this research).

STEaPP contributors

The project is led by STEaPP's City Leadership Laboratory

Rocio Carrero
Dr Rocio Carrero
Project lead

Acuto 2016
Professor Michele Acuto
Professor in Diplomacy and Urban Theory

Asaf Tzachor
Asaf Tzachor
DPA candidate