Issue 1 – Editorial: Communication as a conversation

Destructive bushfires aren’t all that common in New Zealand, not on the same scale as they are in Australia or North America. We’re well practiced at earthquakes, tsunami, floods and there is a growing awareness of associated hazards like landslides and liquefaction, but large scale forest fires threatening 1000s of people and causing the evacuation of entire townships in one afternoon are not the norm in Aotearoa.

However, as this, our very first issue was preparing to go live, I found myself evacuated as New Zealand’s largest bushfire in 64 years bore down on my home town and threatened our family farm.

Communication is key. Tasman Fire Wakefield. Source: Alice Lake-Hammond, 2019

Tasman Fire Wakefield. Source: Alice Lake-Hammond, 2019

I hadn’t intended to write an editorial, the intention of The Design Between (TDB) has always been that the individual articles speak for themselves, as is the spirit of interdisciplinary collaboration. But, as this past week has unfolded, I’ve found myself on the other side of the communications. No longer responsible for enabling the sharing of information, but instead hanging on to every word the experts from the multi-agency emergency response could share with me, to try and make sense of what was happening in my community.

Today’s world of social media, live news feeds and broadcast media can be difficult to navigate. In a disaster response, add to that emergency mobile alerts, community meetings, meteorological reports, media briefings and GIS mapping updates, and there is no shortage of information sources. But in this complex communication-scape, how do we maintain a conversation and ensure information needs are being met on both sides of the bridge between responders and community?

In this particular personal scenario, I watched and listened closely as this communication challenge was met with a dedicated effort to maintain and improve conversation mechanisms and facilitate a two-way information flow, in every way possible.  This experience has reinforced to me the importance of listening, and not just telling. Working with communities requires patience and respect, this builds trust and enables all involved to work within the uncertainty and the discomfort of the unknown.

The experience also provided another timely reminder that climate change is happening and with it an increased risks from natural hazards, globally. We need to talk about how we respond, recover and ready ourselves and others. And, we need to listen to what others have to say.

This issue feature articles from two MoDDD graduates, Robyn Mansfield and Zoë D’Arcy, offering insight into two of the themes we will be exploring here on TDB  – wicked problems and community engagement. Do you have something to contribute to our conversation from the field of disaster, design and development? We’ll be welcoming submissions for Issue 2 from Friday 1st April until Sunday 30th June 2019 (for publication in August 2019), check out our submission guidelines and find out how.

Alice Lake-Hammond

Alice Lake-Hammond believes communication should always be a conversation, and specialises in design which enables knowledge sharing and interdisciplinary engagement. Alice has over 10 years experience consulting as a communication design specialist for NGOs and IGOs in Europe, Asia and New Zealand. Her practice is grounded in human-centred design thinking, community engagement and participatory research. In her spare time, Alice dreams of the perfect feedback loop, and loves yoga, drawing and travel.