The kids are alright

Last November I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Transforming Vulnerability Conference hosted by the Global Challenges Program at  the University of Wollongong to be part of a panel on Children and Disasters. Wollongong is one of my favourite cities, having spent quite a bit of time there during my Uni days. It is stunningly beautiful, pinched between the escarpment and the Pacific Ocean.

I was humbled to share the panel with Christine Eriksen, who has done some fabulous work around gender, Scott Mckinnon, who has also done some fantastic work on LGBTQI  issues and disaster, Briony Towers , one of the leading researchers on child preparedness, Emma Calgaro who has done some fabulous work on disability, and Kat Haynes, who has done amazing work on understanding death in disaster, as well as children’s preparedness work. What was most exciting was that we were going to use the day to develop a The Conversation paper on children and disasters. We were also fortunate to be joined by Avianto Amri who is doing some terrific work on schools and children in Indonesia as part of this PhD.  I’ve written previously on this topic a couple of years ago, so I don’t propose to go over old ground. And I not going to summarise the article, because you can read it.

Making research accessible. One of my tasks in my new(ish) role is to translate research and policy so our people have the best available information, on which to deliver good activities, or argue for key policy change. And one of the great things is many of my colleagues have a real thirst for knowledge. Only this week I was contacted by one who asked for a reading list. I love it!

One of the challenges of research and researchers, is that they are often writing for themselves. The journals that they write for demand a certain standard. Some must use impenetrable language. Which is appropriate when you are progressing a research agenda. But when punters like me seek to use the research to inform policy, practice, its hard to access.

There are exceptions, of course. The Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC, whom I’m involved with, makes sure that research is accessible through the publication of Hazard Notes, and guidance from end users. The Beyond Bushfires team, whom I’m also part of, also looked at ways of translating research, through forums, through attending meetings, through accessible reports and newsletters. They also went one step further to ask the question, how can we take this back to the people that we extracted the knowledge from, and have done that. The Australian Journal of Emergency Management is also an important platform for the translation of knowledge, as it is widely read within the sector, and widely cited. It may not have the “impact value” of a British Medical Journal, but in some ways it has more impact, because people read it.

This is where I also love The Conversation. Academic rigour and journalistic flair. Being able to explain things, often in response to the events of the day or week. I’ve used Conversation articles for policy submissions, as I figure that those that are reading them are more likely to respond to this type content. The comments at the end of the articles are often strange. While they don’t quite fall into the outright rude slanging matches of the mainstream media, sometimes its not far off (although this is symptomatic of society where we generally filter what we say face to face, but once we hide behind our keyboards and think its OK to say some truly awful things).

Our sector is maturing. It must. If you are arguing for a great slice of the funding pie, you can no longer rely upon the moral “it’s the right thing to do” argument. You need to be able to use evidence to compete with the equally compelling claims of education, health, roads, and defence. Skilling us all up is so important. And one place to start is to listen to the kids.


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