Participant Reflections: the Inter-disciplinary Pressure Cooker on Risk Communication at Understanding Risk 2018

Written by participants, Yaprak Servi, a DRM consultant working for World Bank Group in Washington D.C, and Carlos Rodrigo Garibay Rubio, a social scientist at the National Center for Disaster Prevention, CENAPRED Mexico.

The Global Understanding Risk (UR) Community has over 7,000 experts and practitioners interested and active in the creation, communication and use of disaster risk information. The UR Forums bring community members together in every two years to share knowledge and experience, collaborate, and discuss innovation and best practice in disaster risk reduction. 2018’s UR Forum took place May 14-18, 2018 in Mexico City, Mexico at the Palacio de Minería.

Having the Forum in Mexico City was exciting because it is a city that melts the old with the new and that recently had suffered from an impact of a big earthquake. Mexico has learned to implement prevention actions, recover and standup on their feet again; from their historical experiences with natural hazards. With that in mind, the atmosphere during the Forum related to Disaster Risk Reduction was very interesting. Every session started with a security video. On the third day, there was a little earthquake which showed the preparedness level of the nation to respond to an emergency.

The first two days of the Forum in Mexico were dedicated to side events, one of them was the Pressure Cooker Event. Water Youth Network and GFDRR, with support from NERC, NASA and FM Global brought together 35 interdisciplinary young professionals on May 13th-14th to develop risk communication solutions for two case studies in Mexico, in 24 hours. This extraordinary event gave an opportunity to a group of young professionals with different backgrounds from different countries, but with one common goal: “work innovatively toward the disaster risk reduction of our world”, to address real-life problems.

For several days we had the opportunity to learn, share, and communicate with experts. We worked hard to complete our proposals within the time frame. Groups managed to gather different knowledge, strategies, principles, criteria’s and other relevant factors that each one of the participants brought to the table and melt into a common view for addressing the problem at hand.

The road toward the event…

The Pressure Cooker event had around 440 applications and we heard it was a tough selection; therefore, being selected was a huge success for each participant.

Carlos Rodrigo Garibay Rubio from Mexico confirmed this by saying:

“Being selected for the Pressure Cooker event was really exciting and personally the expectations for the event were really high, because of that I think we all prepared a lot not only on the topics related to the Disaster Risk Communication but also to open our mind to different ways of thinking.”

The organizing team sent a guidance note to answer preliminary questions of the participants and get them ready for an inter-disciplinary multi-cultural event. This document was very useful to understand the program, organizers, partners and expectations from participants. Moreover, on the arrival day, the team helped participants with arranging transportation from the airport.

The first meeting….    

On May 12th, Sunday, each pressure cooker participant met at an evening dinner. As with any youth meeting, everyone was open and friendly to exchange opinions and introduce themselves. But we still didn´t know how we were going to accomplish the pressure cooker challenge. Soon enough we were pushed to think out of the box by a simple question “What does Risk Communication mean to you?”, and share the answer using nontraditional ways. This innovative networking activity was a great ice-breaker that we got to know everyone with a fun activity.
Figures: Creative networking exercise


Listening to the different participants by itself was great, but also from this first exercise, some key fundamentals of the event were highlighted such as positive attitude, teamwork, mutual understanding, goal oriented discussions, data sharing and the desire to contribute and have fun during the activities. It was interesting to hear that participants had the similar understanding of risk communication.

Straight to work….

On May 14th, an introduction to the format of the event was made by Lydia Cumiskey who also introduced partners, jury and coaches. Two case studies were presented by the local experts and teams were announced at the end of the first session. Once team members met with their coaches, brainstorming started right away. The event created a dynamic environment among young professionals from different backgrounds which were the highlight of the event. Moreover, it was motivating that we were working on actual cases from Mexico where you can talk to local experts to get insights. Although time pressure was challenging for groups, everybody appreciated the positivism and energy of the organizing team and the participants.

Teams had 24 hours to come up with a risk communication strategy and submit a 4-pages report.

Team 1: Iztapalapa flooding challenge

Team 5: Dzilam de Bravo schools challenge


The event pushed the boundaries of the participants to think outside the box. Achieving a common understanding and decision within the group members required adaptability and flexibility of each participant. Group members were able to have a meaningful/interesting discussion about any topic for hours! Time to develop something solid was the greatest challenge because of different approaches of participants from different backgrounds. That made everyone re-think the usual approaches and work toward concrete proposals that help the collective effort.

Yaprak Servi from Turkey commented on the challenges:

“The Pressure Cooker event was an eye-opener experience for me.  I have tested my strengths and weaknesses while working within a group under time pressure, which allowed me to make a self-assessment about my skills. Based on my experience, the challenging part of the event was not working with an interdisciplinary group. On the contrary inter-disciplinary, multi-cultural working environment made me more motivated to successfully complete the task. The biggest challenge was the time pressure and physical tiredness remained from travelling.”

The winning team…

The winning team was S.A.F.E.R (Servicio Actualizado de Formación para Escuelas Resilientes) who developed a teacher’s guide to risk communication for Dzilam de Bravo, Yucatan, Mexico City tailored for children aged 9-12 years. The team designed fun ways to integrate risk communication into regular subjects such as making a neighbourhood flood map for a geography lesson.

Reflecting on the event a participant from the winning team, Sarah Welsh Huggins from the USA, said:

“The process was challenging, rewarding, and a lot of fun! We all enjoyed working together as an interdisciplinary team and seeing how our different backgrounds supported and complemented each other throughout the long day of work. The process really pushed us to be creative, to listen and learn from each other’s perspectives, and to think about what an innovative, but the feasible solution could look like. We particularly appreciated the opportunity to have specialist feedback throughout the process, which was essential in helping us refine our ideas and grow as risk communicators.”

Next steps…

Developing a strong network between the participants is one of the most important outputs of the event. After the event, many pressure cooker participants connected with each other on several social media platforms. It looks like the friendship built, will last long.

Water Youth Network has received many applications from pressure cooker participants who would like to become a member of the WYN community. WYN is in the process of submitting a new proposal to the UR Balkans that pressure cooker community members will support. Moreover, there is a possibility to submit another proposal to the UR Forum in Vanuatu. In the long run, pressure cooker participants plan to meet in Singapore for the global UR Forum if it is no earlier.


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