RIA World Social Science Fellows

World Social Science Seminar on Risk Interpretation and Action

A key issue emerging from recent disasters is understanding the ways in which people interpret risks and how they respond based on these interpretations. Decision-making under conditions of uncertainty is inadequately described by traditional models of ‘rational choice.’ Instead, attention needs to be paid to how people’s interpretations of risks are shaped by their own experiences, personal feelings, values, cultural beliefs and interpersonal and societal dynamics. The IRDR’s Risk Interpretation and Action (RIA) project working group has proposed a conceptual framework to guide future research on these issues. RIA also intends to make these concepts and theories more accessible to a range of disciplines and practitioners in the field of natural hazards, and to promote better integration of behavioural and social sciences in disaster risk research, especially in regard to decision-making.

In October 2013, 25 early career researchers were selected as World Social Science Fellows to participate in a World Social Science Seminar on “Risk Interpretation and Action: Decision-making under conditions of uncertainty” in Wellington, New Zealand. During the seminar, held from 9-13 December 2013, the Fellows joined a number of senior scientists – including David Johnston, Chair of the IRDR Science Committee and Director of Massey University’s Joint Centre for Disaster Research (JCDR), and Richard Eiser from the University of Sheffield and co-chair of the RIA Project working group – to explore if and how the RIA framework can be integrated across scientific disciplines and cultural contexts.

WSSFellows 2013
Pictured are 21 of the 25 RIA World Social Science Fellows at the start of the seminar, “Risk Interpretation and Action: Decision-making under conditions of uncertainty” on 9 December 2013. (Photo credit: ISSC)

The seminar was co-sponsored by the ISSC’s World Social Science Fellows Programme; IRDR; IRDR ICoE-Taipei; the Global Change System for Analysis, Research and Training (START) International Secretariat; United Nations International Short Term Advisory Resources (UNISTAR); and the Royal Society of New Zealand. The host institutions were Massey University in Wellington and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu and University of Canterbury in Christchurch.

The Next Steps

The Fellows will produce a co-authored paper of the seminar’s discussions for publication in a peer-reviewed journal, and will have further opportunities for involvement in IRDR’s research activities generally, and the RIA project specifically.

One of the major outcomes of the seminar was the formation of four collaborative research projects, with seed funding provided by the ISSC, on:

  1. Building More Resilient Megacities in the Developing World: Exploring the Case Studies of Mexico City, Beijing, Lagos and New Delhi
  2. Integrating Indigenous Knowledge into Decision and Policy-Making for Disaster Risk Reduction
  3. Multi-Scale Policy Implementation for Natural Hazard Risk Reduction: Preliminary Results
  4. Communication Influences on Decision-Making in Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction: Implications for RIA Framework

The findings from these research projects were presented by each project’s principal investigator at the IRDR Conference 2014. The RIA WSSFellows also participated as note-takers in the Conference’s various sessions.

The 2013 RIA World Social Science Fellows

Caroline ADLER

Caroline ADLER

Dr Carolina Adler is a Research Fellow at the Institute for Environmental Decisions at ETH Zürich, Switzerland. As an interdisciplinary geographer and environmental scientist by training, her career has spanned both research and practice in the public and private sectors addressing key issues of policy relevance such as climate change.

Her current research work focuses on the integrated utility of scientific knowledge in all its forms, particularly in its use to address real-world problems as processes of global change. A key aspect of this research centres on uncertainties derived from knowledge assessment and risk perception, which bear on evidence used for decision-making and policy. Her contribution to the World Social Science Fellows Programme and Seminar focuses on issues of assessment and evaluation of diverse scientific knowledge for effective policy, where implicit frames of reference and diverse world-views influence how decisions are made under conditions of deep uncertainty.

Olayinka AKANLEOlayinka AKANLE

Dr Olayinka Akanle is a lecturer at the Department of Sociology, University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He is a Laureate of Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA) Child and Youth Institute (2012) and a recipient of the University of Ibadan Postgraduate School Prize for scholarly publication (2012). He has published extensively locally and internationally. As a sociologist and social scientist, he has a lot of research experience and has conducted related studies into Social Action, Risk and Disaster understanding. His Postdoctoral research interests include Sociology of Development, Rural Sociology, Social Theory, Social Action and Disaster Risk Control/Management, The Diaspora, Child, Youth and Family Studies in Post-Colonial Africa.

Ryan Chelese ALANIZRyan Chelese ALANIZ

Dr Ryan Alaniz (PhD Sociology) is an assistant professor at Cal Poly State University, San Luis Obispo. Dr Alaniz is an active Fulbright Alumni Ambassador and is currently affiliated with the United Nations University-Institute for Environment and Human Security, investigating issues of livelihood resilience and climate change. He has won numerous major fellowships from the Social Science Research Council, the Public Entity Risk Institute, Society for the Study of Social Problems, and National Science Foundation among others. His research interests include disaster recovery, disaster resettlement, development in the global south, and community building. Dr Alaniz’s personal website.


Dr Simone Athayde is an environmental anthropologist and educator who has carried out extensive educational and research activities in collaboration with Amazonian universities, NGO’s and indigenous organizations in the Amazon. Currently, she is Coordinator and Co-Principal Investigator of the Amazon Dams Program, hosted in the Tropical Conservation and Development Program (TCD) in the Center for Latin American Studies, University of Florida. Her work and research background contribute to the RIA-IRDR conceptual framework in the area of inter and transdisciplinary research, focusing on indigenous peoples’ risk perception and uncertainty in relation to natural and technological hazards triggered by the construction of hydroelectric power plants and climate change in the Brazilian Amazon.

Dr Athayde is the principal investigator for the group research project, Integrating Indigenous Knowledge into Decision and Policy-Making for Disaster Risk Reduction, which was presented at the IRDR Conference 2014 on the group’s behalf by Dr Simon Lambert, Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Environment, Society and Design at Lincoln University, Canterbury, New Zealand.

Marie-Ange BAUDOINMarie-Ange Baudoin

Dr Marie-Ange Baudoin has been involved in research in the field of climate change adaptation and natural disasters since early 2008. During her Ph.D., she studied more specifically the way African farmers’ communities were affected by and perceived natural disasters and climate change impacts such as floods and droughts. She also studied how farmers’ perceptions of such risks shape their responses to them. Today, as a post-doctoral researcher at the Consortium for Capacity Building, she continues to study Disaster Risk Reduction issues and Early Warning Systems especially in developing countries, with the goal to identify relevant lessons to better deal with future potential natural hazards.

Chiung-Ting CHANGChiung-Ting CHANG

Dr Chiung-Ting Chang is Assistant Professor in the Institute of Public Affairs Management at the National Sun Yat-sen University (Taiwan). She has worked at UNESCO-IHE and Maastricht University (the Netherlands) on flood risk trading, climate change adaptation, and sustainable consumption and production. Her recent work involves social capital studies, sustainability transition, information communication, and cause of death analysis.

Karianne DE BRUINKarianne DE BRUIN

Dr Karianne de Bruin works as a senior research fellow at the Climate Economics Unit of the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO) in Norway. She is an environmental economist, with a background in economic analysis of decision-making under uncertainty and holds a PhD degree from Wageningen University, the Netherlands. At CICERO she works on the linkage between micro-level and macro-level economic modelling in the context of climate change, and decision-making under uncertainty related to investments in adaptation to climate change.


Riyanti Djalante was born in Kendari, Sulawesi Tenggara, Indonesia. In 2001, she began her employment in the local government in Kendari City, where she continues to work. In this period, she experienced first hand the challenges of planning at the local level and working directly with the community.

Djalante started her PhD in 2009 at Macquarie University, Australia. Her PhD focusses on “Building Resilience to Disasters and Climate Change in Indonesia”. The experience of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami’s hardest hit on here homeland Indonesia marked the focus of her interest in disaster management, particularly on the issue of governance and institutional strategies for more effective disaster risk reduction. She has published several journal articles related to her PhD thesis topic. She participated as Chapter Scientist for the IPCC SREX Report and was involved as expert reviewer of the first and second order draft of the Working Group II contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. She hopes to continue working for the government in Indonesia when she finishes her PhD.

Christine ERIKSENChristine ERIKSEN

Dr Christine Eriksen is a social geographer with the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) and the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires (CERMB) at the University of Wollongong, Australia. Her research examines the role and place of local knowledge in building disaster resilient communities. A major part of Dr Eriksen’s work focuses on wildfire risk awareness and preparedness. She follows the stories of women and men who survive, fight, live and work with wildfire to reveal the intimate inner workings of wildfire response – and especially the culturally and historically distinct gender relations that underpin wildfire resilience.


Dr Emma Hudson-Doyle is a postdoctoral fellow funded by N.Z’s Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, and based at the Joint Centre for Disaster Research at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand where she is also a lecturer. Her interests lie at the interface between physical science and emergency management, with a primary focus on the communication of science advice for critical decision making during natural hazard events. Recent research projects have included investigations into the communication of probability forecasts, uncertain science advice, and team based emergency management simulations for a hypothetical volcanic eruption. Previous research includes a postdoctoral position at Massey University, Palmerston North, working on the Marsden funded project ‘Capturing the secrets of a life-size lahar’; a PhD in volcanology at Bristol University, UK, in 2008; and a Masters by Research investigating volcanic eruption precursors at Leeds University, UK, in 2003.

Shabana KHANShabana KHAN

Dr Shabana Khan’s current research projects look into ‘Accreditation of Disaster Management Education and Research in India’ with the SEEDS Technical Services, and ‘Water Related Hazards, Vulnerability and Governance in Delhi’ as part of the European Union project called ‘Chance2Sustain’ with the University of Amsterdam.

Dr Khan moved to New Zealand in 2006 to complete her PhD thesis – ‘A Geographical Analysis of the Hazardscape of the Wellington Region: Influences on Intra-regional Response’ from the Victoria University of Wellington. She has published a book from her PhD research along with 14 papers in international peer reviewed journals and reports. Her work profile from the most recent to past include working as an assistant professor at the Department of Geography, Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi, as a research fellow and visiting faculty at the School of Planning and architecture, as a research officer at the Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi, as a researcher at the New Zealand Climate Change Research Institute, as a visiting scholar at the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA), Wellington, and as a teaching assistant at the Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

Hsiang-Chieh LEEHsiang-Chieh LEE

Dr Hsiang-Chieh Lee received both her Applied MA in Statistics and PhD in Sociology from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2008. Besides being an associate researcher, she is also the manager of two divisions-Management System and Policy Division & Socio-Economic System Division-at the National Science and Technology Center for Disaster Reduction (NCDR) in Taiwan. She is the principal investigator of the Project of Local Disaster Capability Assessment in NCDR This project is teamwork between sociologists, political scientists, meteorologists, and specialists in landslide and flood disasters. This project looks at interactions between natural (physical) and human (behavioral) factors and relies deeply on in-depth interviews of people’s experiences.

At the IRDR Conference 2014, Dr Lee presented her group’s project, Multi-Scale Policy Implementation for Natural Hazard Risk Reduction: Preliminary Results.

Kuan-Hui LINKuan-Hui LIN

Dr Kuan-Hui Lin earned her PhD degree from the geography department, National Taiwan University in 2011, and did her post-doctoral research in graduate school of geography, Clark University, MA, USA. Now she is a research scientist of George Perkins Marsh Institute, Clark University and currently a visiting scholar in IRDR-ICoD in Taipei.

Over the years Dr Lin has been devoted to studying the philosophy and theoretical development of vulnerability and adaptation studies and has applied the threads of thoughts on observing vulnerabilities of rural communities that are double exposed to natural hazards and the unequal political economy. She has spent more than six years in some communities in Central-northern mountain of Taiwan confronting severe typhoon and the associated geological hazards such as landslides and debris flows. Her research foci and the publications include roles of boundary organization, cross-scale communication, and knowledge co-production in multi-layered disaster management regime, community’s awareness and capabilities to mitigate the direct impacts from hazards, and more specifically the enduring, longer-term livelihood vulnerabilities and mitigation strategies for ‘living with’ the hazard risks. Most recently her research has expanded to the villages of the Philippines, that are heavily destroyed and impacted by Typhoon Bopha in December 2012.

At the IRDR Conference 2014, Dr Lin presented her group’s project, Communications Influences on Decision-Making in Disaster Recovery and Reconstruction: Implications for RIA Framework.


Dr Jyoti Mishra is a post-doctoral researcher at Leeds University Business School. She has a PhD in Management (UK), MSc in Informatics (UK) and BE in Electronics Engineering (Nepal). Her research area is in investigating how information is used by managers to make decisions under uncertain, complex and time constrained environments. Her research interests are in decision making, technology use in complex environments, information management, emergency services.


Dr Victor Ogbonnaya Okorie is an ethnographer. He holds a joint PhD in Development and Anthropology as well as a Master of Arts in Cultural Anthropology of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA. Dr Okorie also holds a Master of Philosophy in Agricultural Extension and Rural Sociology of the Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife, Nigeria, where he teaches both undergraduate and postgraduate courses. Currently, he uses a multidisciplinary approach in researching environmental issues. Specifically, Okorie studies laypeople’s risk interpretations and responses at the conference of cosmology, institutional recreancy and high modernity. He will draw from his field experiences in the Niger Delta of Nigeria to enable the RIA-IRDR group to think critically about how some cultural-specific factors shape ordinary people’s interpretations of and responses to natural disasters in the context of institutional betrayal and failings of scientific predictions. Okorie will invite other fellows to ponder, through the lens of anthropology of rumor, the effects of “social milling” on ordinary people’s survival responses in the aftermath of a natural disaster.


David Ross Olanya is a researcher and lectures at the Department of Public Administration and Management, Gulu University, Uganda. His current research work focuses on “Transformative Adaptation and Behavioral Responses in Disaster Reduction and Interpretation.” He has published a number of articles on Africa: Climatic change policy: whose security?, From biofuels to large-scale land acquisitions for commercial agriculture; gender justice and livelihoods; and Indigenous peoples and customary land rights in East Africa.


Goda Perlaviciute is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. In her research, Ms Perlaviciute integrates goal theory and value theory in order to explain people’s evaluations of sustainable solutions, among which the proposed (relatively) sustainable energy alternatives (e.g., nuclear, renewables, certain fossil fuels such as gas). She explores the goal and value effects on people’s evaluations of risks, costs, and benefits of energy alternatives, and on people’s interpretations of and actions towards earthquake risks caused by gas production in the Netherlands.’


Dr Naxhelli Ruiz-Rivera is originally a social anthropologist, currently working in the fields of human geography and environment. She is interested in matters of urban and peri-urban spatial inequality, the relationship between territory and vulnerability, as well as the political dimension of environmental risk. Her current research focuses on the legal geographies of risk and the problems of qualitative construction and cartographic representation of hazards, vulnerability and risk in urban policy instruments (atlases, programmes, land use plans).


Land use planning is one tool available to manage natural hazards. Key to this is being able to interpret hazard information, translate that to risk, and on to policy. Dr Wendy Saunders’ research has involved developing a framework for decision makers that focuses on the consequences of natural hazard events (i.e. health and safety, economic, critical buildings, buildings, and social/cultural land uses), then the likelihood of an event occurring – rather than the primary focus being on likelihood. Consequences from insignificant to catastrophic are quantified and qualified. This assists decision makers in understanding and interpreting the risks, and to determine if they are acceptable, tolerable or intolerable. Further information can be found here.


Todd Schenk is a fifth year PhD candidate in the Environmental Policy and Planning Group of the Department of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Assistant Director of the MIT Science Impact Collaborative. Mr Schenk’s research focuses on infrastructure-related planning and decision-making in the face of uncertain and dynamic climate change. He is working with stakeholders in Rotterdam, Singapore and New York to explore how they might effectively work across organizational, institutional and interest-based boundaries to mitigate climate-related risks and make robust decisions. He uses role-play simulation exercises extensively in both his research and consulting work to engage stakeholders and collaboratively explore issues.


Dr Fabiola Sosa-Rodriguez is a teacher and researcher at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM), Mexico. She was a postdoctoral researcher in the Faculty of Environment, University of Waterloo, Canada and obtained her PhD in Urban and Environmental Studies and Master’s degree in Urban Studies in El Colegio de Mexico, Mexico.

Dr Sosa-Rodriguez’s research has been focused on analyzing the physical and the human components of risk in order to have a comprehensive knowledge of people’s exposure, perception and responses. She has worked with different types of risks, including water-related, climate and seismic in several countries, for example, Mexico, Canada, Venezuela and Ecuador.

At the IRDR Conference 2014, Dr Sosa-Rodriguez presented her group’s project, Building More Resilient Megacities in the Developing World: Exploring the Case Studies of Mexico City, Beijing, Lagos and New Delhi.


Dr Victoria Sword-Daniels is an interdisciplinary scientist, interested in the interface between natural hazards and social sciences in order to find ways of understanding and reducing risks faced by societies that are exposed to hazards. She is employed as a Knowledge Exchange Fellow on the Increasing Resilience to Natural Hazards (IRNH) consortia projects, jointly funded by the social and natural research councils in the UK (ESRC-NERC). Her fellowship aims to increase the impact of the IRNH research projects through collaboration, building interdisciplinary networks and by embedding research findings into policy and practice. Her PhD explored the complexities of living and working with extensive volcanic risk in Montserrat, West Indies. Research focused on the recovery, dynamics and complex influences on healthcare system function.


Dr Suzanne Vallance began teaching full-time at Lincoln University, New Zealand, in 2008 having completed her PhD on the topic of urban sustainability in New Zealand. Dr Vallance has a growing reputation as a human geographer with a particular interest in environmental/risk management and participatory planning/activism in urban areas. Through her own work and supervision, she has participated in debates about the meanings and practices associated with urban sustainability and resilience, and ways in which formal and informal planning approaches diverge (often with ‘perverse effects’). Through her work on gardens, sprawl, vacant spaces, seafood gathering, the commodification of community and civic expertise, she seeks a better understanding of people’s collective (human and non-human) attempts to shape the world in which they live, according to their needs, aspirations, and their awareness and framing of risk. The recent devastating earthquakes in Canterbury have added a distinct edge to her work in this area and she currently has Marsden Fast Start funding to compare and contrast the contingent planning strategies associated with various ‘emergent’ and ‘insurgent’ publics and community-led planning networks.

Xinlu XIEXinlu XIE

Dr Xinlu Xie is interested in sustainable urbanization and the influences of urbanization on risks and disasters, especially the vulnerability and adaptation of climate change. She currently works on risk perception of urban residents since urban disaster risks and losses are rising because of activities of unplanned land use, lacking of public participation, lacking of insurances and such.

Dr Xie graduated from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) with a Ph.D. in economics in 2011. She has worked on climate change risks and adaptation at the Institute for Urban & Environmental Studies of CASS (IUE-CASS) for two years. She also works with natural scientists on disaster data sharing which needs cooperation with social scientists. She has studied the vulnerability and adaptation of Beijing after the 721 rainstorm in 2012 together with her colleagues.


Dr Yin Lun is a social anthropologist of Bai ethnic minority background, born in 1974 in Kunming, Yunnan Province. He is currently Associate Professor of the Yunnan Academy of Social Sciences, Researcher of the College of Life and Environmental Science, Minzu University of China. Dr Yin Lun has a strong background in the research of climate change, disaster and risk, Indigenous Knowledge of eastern Himalayan mountain ethnic groups and is the programme leader of several climate change, disaster and risk adaption programs.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.