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East Gippsland Shire Council (EGSC) is frequently exposed to, and has experienced numerous natural hazard related disasters in the past. After the significant 2014 bushfires in the municipality, EGSC implemented a new approach to disaster recovery. The Adaptation for Recovery project (the Project) aimed to support resilience building and development of individual and collective adaptive capacity across the diverse, fire-affected communities of Glenaladale, Bonang, Tubbut and Goongerah using an “assetbased community development” (ABCD) approach. This report provides an evaluation of the Project, presenting key findings and recommendations to inform implementation of similar models in future fireaffected communities.
The project delivered both immediately tangible outputs for the affected communities, as well as longer-term, less easily quantifiable outcomes that will likely contribute to the communities’ overall resilience. Additionally, the evaluation found that the modified ‘ABCD’ project model, underpinned by communitydirected recovery, contributed to the achievements of the Project.
Key findings are:
Significant and diverse activity was generated in each area, targeting individual capacity needs as well as broader community emergency preparedness concerns. The activities attracted participation from across the affected communities, receiving generally positive community feedback. Factors contributing to community resilience were identified by each of the community working groups, and the Project was perceived to have positively influenced these factors. Community-level preparedness for future fire events was perceived to have improved, however individual preparedness was varied, with some community members noting they felt unprepared and fearful in the lead up to summer.
Active participants in the project reported having more positive, confident outlooks and greater willingness to participate in community activities. They noted feeling empowered and a sense of pride in their community’s achievements, and felt more connected to their community as a result of participating in the Project.
Relationships and capacity to engage with some government agencies was reportedly enhanced, with working group members expressing more confidence to engage with government agencies, and a greater awareness of their processes and limitations. The modified ‘asset-based community development’ model was perceived to have contributed to the outcomes.
Important components of the Project model were identified as:
a. Facilitator role: The facilitator role was critical. Appropriate facilitators were chosen for each community, with both professional and personal skills and attributes needed to guide their respective communities.
b. Community directed recovery: The community identified issues and ways to address these, helping to generate a sense of ownership and pride in their achievements.
c. Flexibility of Project delivery: There were no predetermined steps or inclusions, which left the Project open to being directed by the community.
d. Tangible outputs: Quick wins helped to keep the community motivated and the Project visible.
e. Untied project funds: Allowed the community to determine how money was spent.
f. Length of time spent in the community: A minimum two-years allowed recovery to move towards resilience at a pace determined by the communities.
g. Cooperative approach: Multiple projects address varied needs; working cooperatively was perceived to have enhanced outcomes for all recovery projects delivered. Implementation differed in each location, based on the Recovery Facilitator skills, support structure provided and the community focus.
Recommendations to guide future recovery and resilience projects using a modified ABCD approach are presented for pre-event planning, post-event planning, delivery and conclusion phases. Key recommendations include:
• Establish a strategic approach to recovery assistance and funding, coordinated by a single agency such as the Department of Health and Human Services. Different agencies can still provide recovery funds for a variety of targeted projects, but coordination by a single entity is likely to enhance impact.
• Incorporate a modified ABCD approach within local recovery plans, incorporating the elements identified above.
• Establish a recovery partnership with local mental health professionals, and integrate mental health expertise in the recovery project design.
• Undertake a local community assessment soon after an event, to adequately tailor recovery efforts.
• Recruit appropriate facilitators, including consideration of professional skills, personality traits and local context. Provide training in the ABCD approach if needed, prior to the project commencing.
• Undertake a structured, post-event debrief with impacted communities to diffuse anger and address issues of immediate hurt and concern.
• Facilitate the transition from emergency management to community development and resilience towards the end of the project to further embed project impact, enabling the community to carry new capacities into the future.
Opportunities for further research were also identified, including understanding the longevity of the outcomes in each of the communities, identifying how best to negotiate community divisions during recovery and resilience building, understanding how best to alleviate emotional trauma through recovery and resilience projects, and exploring how participatory evaluation of recovery and resilience projects could enhance project learning and outcomes.