Fostering Children's Participation in Disaster Risk Reduction with LEGO
Children represent a highly vulnerable group who are disproportionately affected by disasters each year. Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) is the process of identifying, analysing and reducing the impact and risk of disasters on the human population. DRR has traditionally been dominated by top-down or ‘technocratic’ efforts, which is based on the transfer of ‘expert’ knowledge onto local communities. Participatory initiatives and research emerged as an alternative method to empower the powerless and provide a platform for vulnerable groups to have their voice and knowledge heard in the field of DRR. However, participatory initiatives have historically targeted an adult audience. Children’s participation and knowledge has largely gone unquestioned as it challenges many deep rooted political and cultural norms that are entrenched into our societies and institutions. As a result, limited research has been conducted into the role of children as communicators and participants of DRR. The current understanding of children’s knowledge and capacities is significantly incomplete and there is still much to learn about how children can add value to DRR planning and management. The purpose of this thesis is to assess the use of participatory mapping using LEGO, as a tool to foster genuine participation and produce children’s knowledge within DRR. This research adds to the limited body of research in this field to deepen our understanding of children’s knowledge and capacities.
The chosen research methodology for this thesis was participatory research. Ethnography was used at times as the two approaches allowed for a deeper qualitative analysis of the knowledge produced. Participatory three-dimensional mapping with LEGO bricks was conducted in partnership with 13 students aged 10-12 years to foster participation, produce knowledge and conduct risk assessment. A total of 10 90-minute sessions over the course of two months (March–April, 2018), were set aside for the children to build their three-dimensional map of their community. One on one interviews and a final reflection focus group with the children and school teachers was also conducted. Each session was audio recorded and transcribed, with thematic analysis been done in collaboration with the children.
The results demonstrated that LEGO mapping, in the context of New Zealand and a primary school caught the immediate attention and interest of all children involved. The methodology encouraged a natural process of play that enabled active participation. LEGO mapping did not require any preliminary requirements and was accessible to all levels of ability and background within the group. Over the course of the field work the students produced a three-dimensional map that was 190cm x 114cm which represented 3.12km x 1.92km of their Maraekakaho community, as defined by the children. The map was to scale and was an interactive, colourful and creative display of how they viewed their community and community risks. LEGO mapping did however pose several challenges both for the children and facilitator. Many of the limitations revolved around the technical aspects when building with the LEGO brick such as: shape, size, colour, quantity and time. Such aspects had an unexpected domino effect on the bigger concepts within this thesis as the technical limitations would hinder progress and students would at times lose momentum. As a result, participation could at times felt burdensome to the students and they would lose interest in what knowledge was or was not included on the map.
This research and the discussion produced from this research revealed that LEGO mapping has the potential to both harness and produce children’s knowledge in the field of DRR. While the technical limitations of LEGO need to be considered carefully for any future research, along with which communities the tool it used with this research provided a practical investigation into the various capacities that children have and their ability to undergo risk assessment. It is the hopes of this research to encourage other researchers to pursue and advance the agenda of children’s participation in DRR in other innovative and creative ways.