Application of Resilience and Vulnerability in Terms of Public Participation

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As with concepts such as resilience and vulnerability, the notion of “public participation” is often employed in flexible and ultimately meaningless ways in order to paint policies as equitable, when in fact they do not truly account for the perspectives of marginalized peoples. In other instances, policymakers engage with the public in good faith, but only in inconsequential ways, such as by presenting completed initiatives to the impacted communities without having consulted with them during earlier stages of planning. Two examples from urban India illustrate these patterns: a vulnerability assessment in Kota and water politics in Gurgaon. In Kota, planners and other experts performed the assessment in a series of workshops centered on climate change adaptation in the city, after which interventions were proposed (Wilk et. al., 2018). In Gurgaon, the government responded to water depletion by moving water from periurban to urban areas, leaving many residents in the position of having to extralegally access water from nearby canals (Narain and Singh, 2017).

In Kota, government policymakers and experts did not fully integrate the perspectives of the targeted communities at every step of the planning process. In their article entitled, “The perspectives of the urban poor in climate vulnerability assessments,” Wilk et. al. analyzed the assessment process and found that residents knew a great deal about how to respond to worsening flooding conditions but that this knowledge was “rarely used for combatting flooding” (Wilk et. al. 639). Without comprehensive participation, the government was clearly missing out on information that would be crucial to any realistic policy. In another instance, the assessors learned highly valuable information about how people with homes on flood-prone riverbanks did “not always want to settle on the peripheries of the city despite the lower risks for climate-related disasters” (Wilk et. al. 639). However, despite obtaining localized, insightful perspectives, these did not lead to “any concrete actions” being taken “that reflect these multiple perspectives,” showing that inclusion in the planning process did not necessarily lead to meaningful changes to the plans (Wilk et. al. 639). As MacKinnon and Derickson write in their theoretical framework, this process was “inadequate” because the resilience that was defined by the policymakers did not center on the most vulnerable groups and “subordinate[d]” their needs to the “imperative of greater resilience,” a vision which did not include poor communities (MacKinnon and Derickson, 261).

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Additionally, the assessment did not effectively work to shift the government’s priorities away from the middle class to the marginalized poor living in informal settlements, thereby bolstering dominant class structures. Slum residents were “not well-represented in the vulnerability assessment process” and there were no participants that “specifically represented the needs of the vulnerable” (Wilk et. al. 640). While the issues of this constituency were discussed to some extent, this lack of representation clearly displays a bias against poorer communities. As the authors note, if studies continue to forego including diverse voices, resilience efforts will “continue to uphold current conditions and protect the middle class,” both in the sense of infrastructure priorities and economic stability (Wilk et. al. 641). Cutter’s analysis also notes how practices such as these in effect “maintain the status quo” of hierarchical class dominance and “perpetuate the disenfranchisement of selected groups and/or communities,” in this case slum residents who did not have the political access of more socially-endowed communities (Cutter, 110).

The circumstances of residents cut off from local sources of water in Gurgaon highlight another reason why public participation is a clear necessity for climate resilience policies: these plans do not enter a vacuum wherein communities have not already taken substantial action to address external shocks. In their article entitled, “Flowing against the current: The socio-technical mediation of water (in)security in periurban Gurgaon, India,” authors Narain and Singh describe how local “farmers use portable motors to steal water” from two recently constructed canals in order to meet their water needs (Narain and Singh, 72). This practice is “common” and therefore affects both the functioning of the canals and other plans that the government has for supplying water to the area (Narain and Singh, 72). In the case that municipal leaders do not account for the fact that residents will act even before strong policies are implemented, plans will only be addressing abstract circumstances. Therefore, as the authors write, plans for building local resilience must “be based on an understanding of such practices” (Narain and Singh, 74). This is informed by Weichselgartner and Kelman’s notion that “comprehensive partnerships” should be built between outside experts and “targeted communities” through the collection of local data and knowledge in order to work against the hierarchical practice of having experts define the problems that communities face (Weichselgartner and Kelman, 257). Conducting policy in such a way, therefore, is both ineffective and perpetuates power dynamics that disenfranchise the communities that are meant to be helped.

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Application of Resilience and Vulnerability in Terms of Public Participation. (2022, March 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 6, 2022, from
“Application of Resilience and Vulnerability in Terms of Public Participation.” Edubirdie, 17 Mar. 2022,
Application of Resilience and Vulnerability in Terms of Public Participation. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 6 Jul. 2022].
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