How to work ethically

Here you will explore:

  • what is meant by ‘working ethically’ with flood-affected people
  • the steps involved in ensuring you work ethically

What does it mean to ‘work ethically?’

It is vital to work sensitively with flood-affected people, considering carefully both when and how any research is conducted. Timing is critical: it is important not to try and conduct the work too soon after the flood event, as people may still be dealing with the aftermath and recovery; too long after and you may find that people simply want to move on and don’t wish to revisit the event.

Working ethically also means working in a participatory and inclusive way. This is partly to ensure that all voices join the conversation, particularly those belonging to groups regarded as more vulnerable such as children, older people and people with disabilities. It is also about creating a safe space in which people feel able to talk and share experiences, choosing appropriate data collection methods and ensuring that people are able to give informed consent to take part in the work, including the option to withdraw if they wish.

During Lancaster University’s research projects in flood-affected communities, the team has worked in as participatory a way as possible. This stems from a theory of knowledge which regards flood-affected people as ‘experts’ with a great deal of knowledge and insight to share. Starting from this perspective meant that the team sought to learn from the participants’ experience and expertise in flooding and aimed to generate data ‘with’ the participants, rather than ‘from’ them.

Steps to working ethically                                                      

Steps to working ethically flowchart. Long description via link.

Steps to working ethically. Long description via link

The flowchart above outlines the steps to ensuring you work ethically and sensitively with flood-affected people – from initially gaining access to the community to publishing the data gathered with them.

Downloadable resources 

The steps in the flowchart are explained in more detail in a downloadable guide, Working with flood-affected people. You can also download example participant consent forms that can be adapted. There are two versions: a standard consent form and an accessible consent form, which uses pictures and less text.

Please reference as: Flooding – a social impact archive, Lancaster University

Sally aged 11

This is Sally’s story about what happened to her with some key learning points at the end…


On the evening of 9th February 2014, after days of persistent rain, seven severe flood warnings (the highest category) were put in place for the River Thames in north Surrey. Residents were evacuated and roads and schools were closed. The Staines area experienced clusters of events involving tidal, river, rainfall and groundwater flooding. These four stories, taken from our ‘Children, Young People and Flooding: Recovery and Resilience’ project, show how flooding can reveal, and even exacerbate, existing social vulnerabilities.

Sally, aged 11 years, lives in a house with her parents; her dad is a wheelchair user. Sally saw the weather forecasts on television and was aware that severe flooding was forecast for her local area, so (unlike her parents) she packed a suitcase ‘just in case’ she had to leave home.

(Transcript of sound bite)

However, Sally’s impression of being evacuated was also bound up with images of people being relocated to hotels as if they were going away on holiday, so she packed ‘some special dresses’ that she thought would be nice to wear at the hotel. Unfortunately, Sally’s family was evacuated to a small hotel with cramped rooms unsuitable for disabled guests, which Sally said was ‘really hard’ for her dad. Not only had she forgotten to pack her school uniform but she didn’t get to wear her special dresses because it was ‘too expensive’ to use the hotel restaurant.

Sally told us that when her family was moved into temporary accommodation, the family experienced additional distress. In the first hotel, they were placed in a room with a tiny en-suite bathroom which was not accessible for wheelchair users. In the cramped conditions, her dad injured himself whilst trying to wash. The family was then moved into more suitable accommodation but were forced to move again. Coming on top of the shock of the flooding, this had the effect of making the family feel isolated and misunderstood.

A clay model of a disgruntled person with a skip

‘The hard work of recovery’ model created by one of the young people from the Children, Young People and Flooding Project

Sally’s story reveals that there can be multiple problems associated with evacuation, which are sometimes invisible to friends, teachers, insurers, loss adjusters and emergency planners.

Her experience demonstrates the need for better education for householders on what action to take in case of flooding and for policymakers and practitioners to be more inclusive of the needs of communities, including those of children and disabled people.

Key Points

  • Evacuation results in poor health and wellbeing
  • Shows a child’s perception of evacuation
  • Placement in inappropriate temporary accommodation
  • Injury sustained by wheelchair user
  • Family experiences of multiple displacements
  • Challenges of creating a flood resilient accessible family home
  • Lack of care in society by others who ‘don’t get it’

Please reference as: Flooding – a social impact archive, Lancaster University