Examining climate change resilience through serious games

23 March 2023
We hear from 2023 Honours Research Fellow Grace Barrett-Lennard on her research into the governance of climate disasters and flood resilience planning in the Philippines.

By Grace Barrett-Lennard, School of Civil Engineering and Emma Holland, Sydney Environment Institute

Emma Holland: What are you researching for Honours?

Grace Barrett-Lennard: For my Honours thesis I am investigating how municipal government officials make planning decisions when confronted by uncertain climate futures. Community exposure to flooding is predicted to worsen due to sprawling urbanisation and the impacts of climate change, increasing the frequency and intensity of natural hazards. This tendency is exemplified in the Philippines, a country whose underlying vulnerabilities contribute to disproportionate exposure to flooding.  

What is your academic background and what was the inspiration behind your Honours research? 

I am in my final year pursuing a Bachelor of Civil Engineering and a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in Finance. As part of my studies last year, I was privileged to participate in an international exchange where I used Scotland as a base to explore North Africa, the Middle East and Europe. This adventure helped foster my understanding of how communities within the Global South are disproportionately affected by climate change as a result of poor resilience planning, which is a reality consistent amongst communities worldwide.

However, my curiosity towards water systems precedes my academic studies. I’ve always enjoyed learning about the ocean and human interaction with the environment and have served as an active patrolling surf life saver while growing up. This volunteer experience has fostered an ever-growing appreciation for waterways, while also realising the value of coastal resources which are threatened by our changing climate. 

Serious games – games used for purposes other than entertainment – provide communities with the opportunity to interactively engage with different climate futures and build competencies for dealing with complex challenges in a safe, low stakes environment.

What do you hope this research will contribute to society and its future?

My research will aim to explore flood resilience planning, conducted in partnership with the University of the Philippines through an in-depth study of the Municipality of Carigara in the province of Leyte. The opportunity to conduct fieldwork will inform the development of a contextually relevant ‘serious game’. Serious games – games used for purposes other than entertainment – provide communities with the opportunity to interactively engage with different climate futures and build competencies for dealing with complex challenges in a safe, low stakes environment. This would be used as a decision tool for local stakeholders to engage with newly developed flood models that incorporate climate change impacts to identify urban planning trade-offs.  

The opportunity to engage in fieldwork will be an incredible personal learning experience. I also hope my work will drive real impact to improve resilience within the Municipality of Carigara.

Why were you interested in applying for an Honours Fellowship with the Sydney Environment Institute? 

Becoming an Honours Fellow with the Sydney Environment Institute is an incredible opportunity. I am inspired by the expansive network of SEI academics, whose research is at the forefront of tackling the world’s most pressing climate challenges across interdisciplinary projects. The learning opportunity is immense and the prospect of researching alongside other SEI fellows is so exciting.

Furthermore, my interests and research are directly aligned with SEI’s Climate disaster and adaptation cluster’s (CDAC) work, which highlights the urgency of disaster preparedness and need for adaptive decision-making, while also emphasising the importance of community engagement in all strategic research. These research priorities resonate with the intention of my Honours thesis.

Aside from research, what are your interests and passions? 

I spend almost all of my spare time at the beach with family or friends. I really enjoy the challenges of ocean swimming and trail running, which make chocolate ice cream in the evening taste even better. While my appreciation for Sydney’s beaches isn’t related to my studies, this passion does inform my interest in community preservation in the face of our changing climate.

While on exchange last year I also fell ill with the very contagious ‘travel bug’, realising an interest in cultures and curiosity towards world histories. The Algerian Sahara, Turkish Mediterranean coastline and the fiords of Norway were among some of my favourite destinations.

Grace Barrett-Lennard is one of SEI’s three 2023 Honours Fellows, and is in her final year studying a Bachelor of Civil Engineering and a Bachelor of Commerce. Her research interests include investigating strategies for climate change adaption and disaster risk resilience. As part of her Honours study Grace has the opportunity to complete multiple fieldwork excursions to the Philippines, where key information interviews will directly inform research conclusions.

Header image: View on Tacloban City, Philippines From Calvary Hill via Adobe Stock.

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