Engaging Canadians in Flood Risk Management: Lessons from the International Community

CIGI Policy Brief No. 121

December 13, 2017

In recent years, unprecedented flooding has caused billions of dollars in damages across Canada. A recent survey conducted at the University of Waterloo revealed that about 94 percent of Canadians living in designated flood risk areas do not know they are at risk. This policy brief scans international initiatives designed to foster flood risk awareness, engage the public and encourage behavioural changes that support flood risk management. From this analysis, there are two overarching lessons that can inform Canadian flood risk management policy. First, public risk information, in particular in the form of flood risk maps, is fundamental to raising awareness among citizens, achieving transparency and increasing the legitimacy of flood risk policy decisions (for example, regulating flood plain development). Second, to induce the public to participate in flood risk management, citizens must perceive flooding as a serious problem — one that threatens their home and community — and acknowledge that they have a responsibility to protect themselves and their property. Locally appropriate public engagement campaigns that resonate personally with citizens are most effective in motivating protective behaviour. The policy brief concludes with three policy recommendations on how to better engage Canadians in flood risk management. 

About the Authors

Jason Thistlethwaite is a former CIGI senior fellow and an associate professor in the School of Environment, Enterprise and Development in the Faculty of Environment at the University of Waterloo.

Daniel Henstra is a former CIGI senior fellow and an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo.

Andrea Minano is a research manager of the Climate Risk Research Group at the University of Waterloo. 

Sarah Wilkinson is a graduate of the University of Waterloo’s International Development program.