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

How to analyse data

Here you will explore:

  • reasons for analysing data
  • four steps to data analysis
  • two examples of data analysis from the Children, Young People and Flooding project
data analysis flowchart. Long description via link.

Where data analysis fits into the process of working with flood-affected communities

Why analyse data? Data you have collected can be used simply as evidence of your community engagement activity, but it can also be analysed to better understand people’s experiences and perspectives and help develop further flood resilience work or support decision making.

Data analysis flowchart Here are four basic steps to data analysis:

Flowchart of data analysis in 4 steps. Long description via link

*Because of the huge amount of data produced during the Children, Young People and Flooding project, and because of the poor conditions in which much of the data was recorded (e.g. outside in windy conditions, or indoors in a noisy workshop setting), it was only possible to transcribe sections of the data from the Group Conversations.

Example 1 One major theme that emerged during the analysis of the Children, Young People and Flooding Project was Children as active contributors in flood response and recovery.

In the transcripts the team found instances of children describing how they had been actively engaged both in the immediate response to the flood events and during the recovery process. Examples included checking on neighbours, helping to move their own and other people’s furniture upstairs and joining in with the clean-up.

Daniel, aged 14:

We’ve a lot of elderly people down our road. I wanted to help them – they had no one. I went to see if they wanted anything taking upstairs.

Richard, aged 14:

I had to unplug all the electricals, put the speakers up high. We also had to stack a sofa on a sofa, put chairs and the rug on top… to make sure they were safe.

The children and young people generally described this role as a positive one, expressing satisfaction about how they had been able to support others in difficulty. For example, Sara served tea and coffee to evacuated families and rescue teams at her local village hall and Avril and Helena gave up a riding lesson to help clean up their friend’s house.

Sara, aged 14:

I felt quite good at myself then. I could have been home just watching TV and I was actually constructive and helping people..

Avril, aged 9 and Helena aged 10:

No way would we have let our friend have to do it all herself… because we would be guilty. We didn’t even have to make a choice.

One young man, aged 19 at the time and a university student, described his role with a community volunteer group, formed in response to the flooding. The youngest member of the team, he went out delivering sandbags and food parcels in what he described as ‘hazardous conditions’:

…It sounds horrible … I’m taking personal achievement out of dealing with someone’s house but… I don’t know, there’s a sense of pride… There’s a sense of pride in that.

Example 2 Another important theme that emerged from this project was Children’s understanding of flood adaptation and new normalities.

The transcripts highlighted the children’s high level of ‘flood awareness’. This was shown by their concern about the likelihood of further flooding and a fear that that the community had not taken measures to prepare for next time and just wanted to get ‘back to normal’:

Jodi, aged 14:

I’m just kind of like worried it’s going to happen again this year… I suppose I’m going to worry every year, though. Even if it doesn’t happen, we’re still going to worry.

Daniel, aged 14:

… People do kind of forget about what it was like a year ago… They forget it could happen again.

At the same time, many of the young people demonstrated an understanding of the need for families and communities to adapt to a ‘new normal’ that ensured they were prepared. Britney, aged 8 described her family’s plans:

We’ve sorted out next time. We’ve got a flood toilet… The floodwater can’t go inside it… And then we’re gonna turn all the lights off… and we’re gonna go upstairs. And then we’re gonna put some candles on… And we’re gonna get loads of food.

Workshop clay, cork and feather Model

Richard’s Resilience Raft

The data included a photograph of a model Richard had made of a person sitting on a raft. The transcripts revealed his reasons for making this and his understanding of the need for communities to learn to live with flood risk:

It’s a little raft and there’s a person sitting on it. They’re all prepared… They didn’t realise that it would have ever flooded but now they realise that it will more than likely flood again, so they’ve bought themselves a little raft that I made…

Richard, aged 14

In the case of the Children, Young People and Flooding project, the team identified six main themes from the data that later became principal research findings. These findings are explained in our Children Young People and Flooding Report and expanded on in academic papers and flood narratives.

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


How to collect data

Here you will explore:

  • what is meant by ‘data’
  • where and how data collection fits into the process of working with flood-affected communities
  • different methods you can use to work with flood-affected people and the types of data that these will produce, e.g. audio recordings of people speaking, drawings, photographs etc.

What is ‘data’? Data is any material that gets collected or contributed by flood-affected people, who are very often concerned to help others who may go through similar experiences, or to help policy and practice better understand what being flooded means. If during your work you want to take photographs, audio and video recordings or collect other forms of written or creative material you will need to think about the ethics of how you collect, store and use this material. You should also consider how different ways of working will generate different types of data.

Flowchart of data collection steps. Long description via link.

Where data collection fits into the process of working with flood-affected communities


Before you begin! Before starting to work with flood-affected communities, you need to have carefully set up the project and considered the ethical issues. See the section on this website about working ethically, including the downloadable Guide to the ethics of working with flood-affected people.

Data collection methods Different research methods are suitable for different groups. The Lancaster research team has used a range of methods when working with children and adults and this has generated a variety of data.

Working with children

The Lancaster team has drawn on a range of qualitative approaches designed to support children in voicing their experiences and thoughts in a safe environment. These include:


Workshops with children have started and ended with drama and team-building activities. These help to build trust among the group, to ‘warm up’ skills such as observation and to promote a fun, creative but also reflective atmosphere with scope for analysis and evaluation.

children and adults freeze in a shape in a warm up activity

Warm up activity

Data produced:

  • Photographs of children taking part in drama and evaluation activities
  • Audio-recordings of children talking during evaluation activities (and written transcripts of these)


Walk & talk and photo talk


Walk & talk activity

Following the warm-up activities, the Children, Young People and Flooding project workshops began with walk & talk: walking with the children in the local flood-affected area and recording the conversations along the way. The children took photos of things or places that reminded them of the flood, such as skips, flood-damaged buildings and riversides. There were also scenes of recovery like houses being rebuilt and renovated and on-going essential drainage works. Back in the workshop, children used the photos they took on the walk to share stories in the group during a photo talk session, which was also recorded.


Photo talk activity

Data produced:

  • Audio recordings of children talking during the walks (and written transcripts of these)
  • Photographs children took during the walks
  • Audio recordings of children talking about their photographs (and written transcripts of these)

Sandplay and 3D modelling

Knowing how hard it is for people who have been flooded to convey what they have gone through, the Children, Young People and Flooding project used 3D modelling to invite the children to share their experiences. A great way to start is with sand, a simple and playful means to connect with expressing ideas and memories using tactile materials. This then led to thinking about how to express parts of the story in more complex 3D. The children used a range of materials (such as clay, sticks and moss to wool, textiles and buttons) to show what happened and how the flood still affected them. Once completed, the children shared what they had made with others in their group, naming the different parts of the models and talking about what each feature meant.

hands and arms wroking at the table with blue wool beside the developing clay model of a skip decorated with small blue tiles and scraps of silver paper

Group modelling activity

Data produced:

  • Photographs of children taking part in sandplay and modelling activities
  • Photographs of individual and group models created by the children
  • Audio recordings of children talking about their models and the sandplay/model-making process (and written transcripts of these)



The Hull Children’s Flood Project adopted a storyboard methodology, where children drew pictures or used creative writing to tell their stories. Following group warm-up activities, the research team showed a presentation called ‘And Then What…?’, built around a series of images from the Hull 2007 floods, which was designed to get the children thinking about their own memories and experiences. The children were then given drawing materials and blank pieces of A3 paper and encouraged to choose their own ways of representing their ‘flood journey’, starting on the day of the flood and going up to the day of the research workshop. The research team followed up with individual interviews about the storyboards.

Data produced:

  • Children’s storyboard drawings
  • Audio recordings of individual discussion about the storyboards (and written transcripts of these)



Storyboard drawing of the floods and evacuation from home. Long description via embedded link.

Storyboard about displacement created during the Hull Children’s Flood Project.


Individual Interviews

The team involved in the Hull Children’s Flood Project used the children’s storyboards to generate questions to use in short semi-structured interviews. Each child was encouraged to talk in more depth about their storyboards with a researcher in a one-on-one discussion. Some young people from the Children, Young People and Flooding project also requested individual interview as a follow-up to the group workshops.

Data produced:

  • Audio recordings of individual interviews with children (and written transcripts of these)

    pdf showing small section of transcript

    Section from transcript

Group Discussion

During the Children, Young People and Flooding project, the research team took some of the data (interview transcripts and photographs) back to a workshop with the children and used this as a stimulus for discussion. The children were invited to identify key themes and concerns and then work together to identify decision makers involved in flood risk management and the key messages they wanted to convey to them. Ideas from these group discussions were pooled together (as below) and later written up as ‘flood manifestos’.

Handwritten manifesto in list form. Long description via embedded link.

The children’s notes from their group discussion

Data produced:

  • Audio recordings of children’s group discussion (and written transcripts of these)
  • Written notes produced by children during group discussion

Stakeholder engagement events

At the end of the Children, Young People and Flooding project, the children worked together to create performance-based pieces that were presented to audiences of stakeholders affected by flooding and involved in flood risk management. These performances incorporated quotations and photographs from the project, brought to life through drama sketches, sound sequences and children reading aloud. At the end the audience was handed the children’s ‘flood manifestos’ and asked to write individual pledges of action in response.

audience viewing participants on stage

Stakeholder event

Data produced:

  • Stakeholder event performance scripts
  • Video of performances by children
  • Written pledges generated at stakeholder engagement events



Working with adults

The Lancaster research team has used a range of in-depth qualitative methods to better understand adults’ experiences of flooding and the drawn out process of recovery. These include:

Written diaries

During the Hull Floods Project, adults were invited to keep weekly diaries over an 18 month period. This approach gave participants the freedom to choose what to write about in their own words while providing a real-time record of events and experiences, thereby tracking their own recovery process, week by week. The diary booklet began with a few ‘warm up’ exercises where participants were asked weekly to rate their health, quality of life and relationships with family and friends, using a simple scale ranging from ‘very poor’ to ‘very good’. There was also a section where they could enter details of what they had done on particular days that week. This got the participants used to writing in readiness for the main free-text section where they wrote whatever they liked about their lives that week.

Data produced:

  • Written diaries of adults recovering from flooding


Group discussions

The adults involved in the Hull Floods Project requested to meet quarterly as a group. These group discussions followed a semi-structured format: the researchers introduced key issues identified from initial readings of the participants’ diary material but, for the most part, the team simply let the conversation flow and participants bring up issues most relevant for them. The initial aim of the discussions was to encourage group reflection on the challenges participants were facing and suggestions for the future, but it was recognised that these discussions came to play a ‘therapeutic’ role, while also supporting the emergence of participants’ expertise as they grew more confident about sharing their experiences and opinions. This emerging expertise meant that the groups evolved to take on a more participatory, consultative role in the project.

Data produced:

  • Audio recordings of adults’ group discussions (and written transcripts of these)

Individual interviews

The Lancaster research team has conducted one-on-one interviews with adults flooded at home and at work, as well as with those involved in flood response and recovery.

Data produced:

  • Audio recordings of individual interviews with adults (and written transcripts of these)

Stakeholder engagement events

The Hull Floods Project culminated in a day-long stakeholder engagement event, bringing together the project participants with key agencies such as water companies, government departments, local authorities and the insurance industry. The workshop included discussions about the recovery process following a flood and how to build resilience to future flooding.

Data produced:

  • Written notes from workshop discussions
  • Audio recordings of group discussion (and written transcripts of these)
  • Photographs and video of the event

After collecting data Data can be used simply as evidence of your community activity/engagement, but it can also be analysed to help you develop further flood resilience work or inform policymaking.

Remember to store your data carefully. See the section on this website about working ethically, including the downloadable guide, Working with flood-affected people.

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




How To Guide

Section of storyboard showing house with flood water reaching almost up to the downstairs window - the text reads, "My House: In June 2007 the floods came into Hull"This ‘How To’ Guide provides an introduction to the main issues to be aware of when working with flood-affected people, families and communities.

These pages explain: how to ensure you work ethically; what is meant by ‘data’ and the different methods you can use to collect it; and how and why you might want to analyse that data.

The key points of ethical practice are summarised in a downloadable guide, Working with flood-affected people.




Staines-upon-Thames 2014


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