Re-imaging disaster response, recovery and resilience with a place-based lens. - DisasterWISE
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Re-imaging disaster response, recovery and resilience with a place-based lens.

Last month, Sumarlinah and I had the opportunity of travelling to Mildura for the annual Changefest: Rivers of Change; People, Places and Possibilities. The DisasterWISE submission had been accepted and ‘smooshed’ together with other disaster-type submissions from The Australian Centre for Social Innovation (TACSI), Hands Up Mallee and Moreno Family Services. Together, we would host a yarning circle, sharing stories and insights from our lived and learned experiences of disaster events.

For the past two years, I have been working as a network convenor for the Fire to Flourish program. Over this time I have seen the initial concept of a national learning network evolve into the DisasterWISE Communities Network; an adaptive, emergent space for connection, learning and influencing change. DisasterWISE was co-designed with people of both lived and learned experience through an innovative process centering story, seeding change and learning by doing. After the initial co-design phase, a dedicated team of community folk formed the Network Action Group to drive key actions and work together to further develop the network concept. I was looking forward to sharing this part of the DisasterWISE story with the broader audience at ChangeFest, along with some of my personal reflections from community-led recovery in Strathewen post Black Saturday.

The yarn began with Lauren and Aunty Vickey sharing insights about the power of reimaging futures after disaster. We spoke about the opportunities this presented for communities as part of a collective healing process, and also the importance of hope.

Next, Aunty Jemmes and Jane from Hands Up Mallee shared stories about the process of rolling out covid vaccinations in Aboriginal communities around Mildura. The importance of communities and organisations developing strategies together ensured a successful program for community safety during the peak of the pandemic.

Pauline then shared stories about Moreno Family Services acting as a hub in community, both before and after disaster. As a trusted source of community connection, support and engagement, local organisations play a pivotal role in response and recovery, but are often overlooked by stringent funding processes.

I then shared a story about how Strathewen came together as a community post Black Saturday, navigating through a unique community-led process with self-determination and real collaboration.

We spoke about how DisasterWISE was initiated, centring lived experiences through an innovative design process. As a group, we have shared stories, seeded ideas for change and have began the process of learning by doing. We talked about how listening and learning to stories of communities that have gone before, whilst also now reimagining what changes will be required to shift mindsets, challenge the status quo and enable stronger, just and thriving communities.

We all finished our yarn by posing a ‘what if’ question to challenge the current system, reflecting on the stories shared. Everyone present was also invited to contribute.

Some of the ‘What if’ questions raised were;

  • Relationships were centred in creating trust and change?
  • We funded community for pro-active work, not just responsive work?
  • We embedded the role of community into the system before we need to respond?
  • All voices and perspective were embedded into practice, as a living, transforming practice of change?
  • We build community organisations into policy/funding and other interrelated services?
  • What if the community facing side was equally valued in emergency response?

What I learned from this process was that;

  • Communities need to be centralised in all processes that affect them most. To achieve this, start with building trust and relationships.
  • Local organisations need to be involved in local processes, with enabling support from flexible funders who value diverse community contexts and varying solutions.
  • Communities know their strengths and needs best and are best placed to develop ideas to grow change.

It was an incredible feeling knowing that good people are out there doing good work. As I dragged my awkward suitcase to the shuttle bus bound for Mildura airport, I was leaving ChangeFest with a full heart and mind. What if… this was the start of something new?

Written by Kate Fawcett

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