GIS – what can and what can’t it say about social relations in adaptation to urban flood risk?

Urban flooding cannot be avoided entirely and in all areas, particularly in coastal cities. Therefore adaptation to the growing risk is necessary. Geographical Information Systems (GIS) based knowledge on risk informs location-based approach to adaptation to climate risk. It allows managing city-wide coordination of adaptation measures, reducing adverse impacts of local strategies on neighbouring areas to the minimum. Quantitative assessments dominate GIS applications in flood risk management, for instance to demonstrate the distribution of people and assets in a flood prone area. Qualitative, participatory approaches to GIS are on the rise but have not been applied in the context of flooding yet. The overarching research question of this working paper is: what can GIS, and what can it not say about relationships / social relations in adaptation to urban flood risk? The use of GIS in risk mapping has exposed environmental injustices. Applications of GIS further allow modelling future flood risk in function of demographic and land use changes, and combining it with decision support systems (DSS). While such GIS applications provide invaluable information for urban planners steering adaptation they however fall short on revealing the social relations that shape individual and household adaptation decisions. The relevance of networked social relations in adaptation to flood risk has been demonstrated in case studies, and extensively in the literature on organizational learning and adaptation to change. The purpose of this literature review is to identify the type of social relations that shape adaptive capacities towards urban flood risk which cannot be identified in a conventional GIS application.