Meridian180 Forum “Local Knowledge and Community Participation in Disaster Response” was held on January 26! (Language: English, S/I: Chinese, Korean, Bahasa Indonesia and Japanese)

On Thursday, January 26, the Meridian 180 Forum, “Local Knowledge and Community Participation in Disaster Response”, organized by Meridian 180 and Asia-Japan Research Institute, Ritsumeikan University in collaboration with Northwestern University was held. It was conducted in English with simultaneous interpretation in Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Indonesian. Please visit the forum flyers with each language bellow. Thank you very much for your participation in this forum. The report of this forum was released.

English flyer

Japanese flyer

Chinese flyer (Traditional)

Chinese flyer(Simplified)

Korean flyer

Indonesian flyer

Report for Meridian180 Forum “Local Knowledge and Community Participation in Disaster Response”!


Asia is a disaster-prone region. When disasters hit us, the most immediate and effective response derives from neighbors and local communities in the disaster areas. While various international policy discourses such as the Sendai Framework and the Grand Bargain claim the importance of so-called “localization” of disaster responses, this discourse has some problems. In a nutshell, the biggest problem was that policy discourse failed to seriously consider the existing local assets and capacity, that is, local knowledge.

Asia has thousands of years of history and traditions for responding to disasters, during which Asia has accumulated rich knowledge and experiences. However, such history and tradition are not recognized or respected in the international policy community. They are often overlooked by local communities as well. The international discourse mentions various initiatives in relation to the localization agenda, including local participation and decision making in disaster responses and mechanisms to ensure more funding is directly allocated to local NGOs. None of the policies, however, seriously consider the existence of local knowledge, and recognizes it as an important capacity that local actors have.


This forum discussed various topics related to both local and global knowledge, with regards to disaster response. What is local knowledge is? How does local knowledge help save lives or mitigate disasters? How does it differ from global knowledge? These questions were addressed by the forum’s first speaker Dr. Manu Gupta. Dr. Gupta gave a briefing on how the government has usually overseen disaster relief efforts and established regulations. He prompted us to question whether this “top-down” strategy is appropriate for disaster response or whether “local knowledge” is more important. The importance of local knowledge was demonstrated in his five points, which included the critical role of leadership within the community, understanding the risk and vulnerability of the community, the agency of people, the significance of enabling resources for communities, and the importance of leaving no one behind. These questions were also addressed in the speech from Dr. Muhammad Riza Nurdin. He emphasized the value of utilizing faith-based groups to gain local knowledge. Indonesians place a high value on religion, against which background Dr. Nurdin demonstrated how Islamic faith-based organizations supported, and did not support, post-disaster communities in Indonesia. Caroline Reeves, the final speaker of session one, focused on the questions of how global knowledge and local knowledge intersect, and what happened when they are contradictory. Utilizing the case study of the north China plague of 1900–1928, Reeves illustrated the historical approach to localization and showed how non-local expertise is incorporated into the local cultural context to help contain outbreaks in Manchuria (1910–1911), Shanxi (1918), and other parts of North China. The first session, consisting of the above speakers, addressed topics key to understanding the contents of the second session.

The second session had three scholars from different disciplines who can approach local knowledge with their academic expertise. Through their disciplinary lens, these scholars discussed the cutting-edge methods to identify local knowledge. Dr. Marutschke proposed quantifying social capital by using an AI-based language model so that local knowledge in text data could be extracted and analyzed systematically. When relevant keywords are selected by domain experts and a list of similar words is calculated using language mode, we would be able to use and analyze the large volume of data effectively. Dr. Marquez used the tradition of mangrove conservation and rehabilitation to prove the significance of local knowledge from an ecological approach to disaster protection. He used the past failure of mangrove restoration as coastal protection in the Philippines as an example to reveal the problem of lacking traditional local knowledge from policy implementations. He concluded that the failure of restoration was mainly due to the inappropriate planting sites and the wrong mangrove species being planted. Should the policymakers had recognized the importance of addressing both science-based and locally-based ecological knowledges in disaster management, the mangrove conservation would have been successful. To do this, a triangular relationship — people’s organizations for long-term planning, NGOs for providing economic aid, and local government units for coordination between the local and foreign private sectors— would be crucial.

Finally, Dr. Horton pointed out the need of building resilience via community-based participatory research using the example of Chicago city, where many people were killed by heatwaves. As such, the heat vulnerability index was calculated and showed that the deaths in heatwaves were related to the high poverty rate, yet the index was not considered by the local government due to some political issues. As a result, Dr. Horton and his team turned to cooperate with the local tree planting organization and use the index as a tool the identify the best location for planting trees. The result was satisfying as places were identified and protected for the city's long-term planning while the resilience power of the city in dealing with future disasters was strengthened. Given the importance of community thoughts, as well as their local knowledge, the governmental bodies should listen to the locals more.

Presentations demonstrated the need to address local and global knowledge together, in order to adequately address disaster responses. This idea was a theme throughout both sessions, and formed the key take away from this forum.


The Meridian 180 forum highlighted the value of the evolving and dynamic local knowledge. This forum also argued that local and global expertise would unite rather than compete in the future. This forum reminded the audience that the “all of society” strategy, with particular attention to those who have the local knowledge, must be adopted to address potential future crises. The forum also gave an impact of possibility of approaching local knowledge from interdisciplinary approaches. The mixed methods enrich and deepen our discussion about local knowledge. The forum leaders hope that participants will recognize local knowledge as the key local capacity that should be fully utilized in future disaster responses. They also hope that the participants recognize the importance of methodological innovation so that scholars will take more inter-disciplinary approach to the study of disaster response.

The Moderator and Presenters for the Session 1

The Moderator and Presenters for the Session 2

In the Q&A Session