by Cornelia Jöbstl, Ines Fordinal, Clemens Liehr, Albert Schwingshandl–  riocom

What’s the gap all about?

Imagine the following situation: A huge flood is occurring. Numerous houses are deeply inundated and the water level is rising. There are still people inside the buildings. The fire service is already on the spot to evacuate people endangered. They utilize a mobile decision-support-system which is providing information about the building and their residents. Unfortunately this mobile system is not very user-friendly and it’s complicated to retrieve information out of a housing database. The mobile system just provides long lists with various data and it takes time to find the relevant information. Valuable time is lost – time which can decide between life and death.

Although this is a fictional example, things like this are occurring. This is when the gap between needs and tools come into play. Tools can be highly-sophisticated but often the world of practical work is a different one. In case of the example, a tailored, easy usable interface and a focus on relevant information could contribute to an undelayed response.

How could a gap bridging look like?

There are several concepts and approaches to consider:

  • An early exchange between developers and users
  • Using bottom-up instead of top-down processes
  • A stronger consideration of the user’s perspective

In this article I want to present two useful approaches in more detail.

One approach puts the user’s perspective into the main focus of a product development. It’s called ‘design thinking’.

“Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that grows from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success”, according to  Tim Brown, president of IDEO, an international design and consulting firm.

This approach is already successfully used in many big companies, e.g. Microsoft and IBM. The goal is to develop a tailored product for users. That is precisely what tools for flood risk management are aiming for.

In January 2016 I had the pleasure to chair a session at the conference Understanding Risk Austria. The title was “Necessity is the mother of invention – innovations in flood risk management”. This is what I consider to be the second approach. We heard about the newest developments taking place in Austria. Beside all the crucial technical information, I was interested in the audience’s approach to this topic. I posed three questions via online-poll and the results were quite surprising.

Q: According to the risk management circle with the action fields provision, protection, awareness, preparation and recovery, in which field innovation is needed?
A: 45% stated in the field of awareness

Q: If you would own €1 Mio. for investments in innovation, in what kind of innovation would you invest?
A: 46% answered in education, awareness and communication activities.

Q: What is needed in order to apply innovation in practise?
A: Simplicity, courage and communication where the most stated words.

Of course, these numbers are not statistically firm. However, they are an atmospheric picture of the perception of Austrian experts in disaster risk management. I believe this clear focus allows conclusions regarding where to set future action in Austria. The question is: Is the international community sharing the same opinion? What gaps do they identify and what solutions do they propose?

To figure this out, a side event entitled ‘Flood risk management – bringing needs and tools together’ will be held at the UR-Forum in Istanbul. It is designed as interactive workshop in the form of a Pro Action Café. Conversations that matter to the people that attend are hosted and will allow creative and action-oriented talks in small groups. By bringing together developers and users with different technical, cultural and social backgrounds and exchanging their points of view, important contributions to further development can be obtained.

What are the benefits?

The list of benefits out of this gap closing process is a long one. I will limit myself to presenting the – in my opinion – most crucial ones.

  • to understand the needs of the users and the challenges of the developers in providing the right tools
  • to support the users in the best possible way in dealing with floods
  • to be able to design a product, that is demanded on the market, and
  • to save lives and values

More details about these topics will be discussed at our side event ‘Flood risk management – bringing needs and tools together’, 17th May 2016, 09:00 – 12:00.

For more on this session and others, please see the full UR2016 Session Topics and Focus Days.