Vulnerability assessment scholarship should engage with mixed methods research and draw more on futures and policy studies

The new UEP article published in Futures takes a theoretical perspective on vulnerability assessments and critically appraises the contributions of mixed methods approach tested in Helsinki with the time frame up to 2050

Vulnerability assessment scholarship should engage more with the philosophical and methodological foundations of futures research, and governance and planning literature, as well as draw more on plural epistemologies and mixed methods research, recommends the new article by the UEP group member Alexandra Jurgilevich.

Vulnerability assessment scholarship has long been criticized for the limited influence on decision-making; one of the reasons being the disregard of adaptation governance and institutional context in empirical assessments. The article draws on vulnerability, futures, and planning and governance literature to build connections between these fields with the aim to improve the uptake and usefulness of vulnerability assessments for adaptation and urban planning.

First, the article proposes to take into account the institutional context where the vulnerability assessment results are intended to be used. This includes identifying the adaptation format in place: as a stand-alone strategy or to be integrated into different areas of urban planning. Additionally, this includes accounting for the governance modes in place (e.g. anticipatory governance, strategic planning, scenario planning, or planning based on prediction). To understand why it matters for the assessment, it is fruitful to engage with the philosophical foundations of futures research, more specifically with the differences between forecast and foresight. Both are used and useful in adaptation planning and risk management; however, their goals and ways to use foresight- and prediction-driven assessments differ.

The second recommendation the article provides is engaging with mixed methods research and exploring plural and hybrid epistemologies in vulnerability assessments. Vulnerability assessment scholarship is dominated by quantitative objectivist research; however, objectivist epistemology and quantitative methods are not always capable to deliver the information about the broader socio-economic and socio-political determinants of vulnerability. As is called by recent vulnerability reviews, vulnerability scholarship should re-engage with the political/human ecology foundations in order to address why people are vulnerable. The article explores the methodological and epistemological challenges of current vulnerability scholarship and provides recommendations on vulnerability assessment design taking into account epistemological position, institutional context and use of assessments in adaptation and urban planning.

You can read the full article “Governance modes and epistemologies of future-oriented vulnerability assessments: Example of a mixed-methods approach” by Alexandra Jurgilevich in Futures (Open access).