Assessing knowledge adoption in post-disaster reconstruction

Research output: ThesisPhd Thesis 1 (Research TU/e / Graduation TU/e)

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Disasters triggered by natural hazards are increasingly causing damage to dwellings in low-income communities. Despite the significant value of hazard-resistant housing to reduce disaster risk, the use of hazard- resistant construction techniques remains insufficient. The goal of this study is to understand what could stimulate disaster affected populations to Build Back Safer housing. The approach is to explore in situ barriers, drivers and outcomes of decision-making prior to suggesting interventions aiming to build resilience and reduce disaster risk. Field research assesses disaster affected communities in low- income countries that received different intensities of humanitarian technical assistance to stimulate adoption of safer construction practices.

This research is important because of three main reasons. First, theory about effective interventions that build resilience of disaster affected communities is sparse in literature. However, such insights are increasingly relevant for humanitarian and governmental agencies to reduce disaster risks. Second, there is little empirical evidence on what enables or inhibits households to apply hazard-resistant construction knowledge after disaster. Empirical evidence is needed to reflect upon the impact of humanitarian technical assistance on the housing safety. Limited empirical evidence presents how households reconstruct in the absence of outside influence from humanitarian organizations, which is the case for the majority of disaster affected households in developing countries. Understanding their decision-making can inform the development of affordable and effective interventions that enhance hazard resistance.

This research seeks to answer the overarching research question, What factors and actors could increase the adoption of hazard-resistant construction techniques in post-disaster reconstruction processes with different intensities of humanitarian technical assistance? In response, the research adopts a mixed-method case-study approach to assess disaster affected communities in the Philippines and Nepal. The research begins with the development of a theoretical framework that is used to structure the empirical data. Based on the contextual understanding and multiple analyses, dynamics of knowledge adoption are discussed, and recommendations are given to increase building resilience.

The research first develops a theoretical framework by assimilating insights from theory of knowledge uptake, knowledge transfer and knowledge exchange (Chapter 2). The model is constructed from identified factors and actors that potentially influence the adoption of hazard-resistant construction knowledge in post-disaster reconstruction. The framework includes knowledge exchange between users, construction professionals and technical experts, and stresses that adoption and understanding of knowledge is required from all actors involved in order for exchange to be effective. The study highlights the importance of mutual trust between actors and the knowledge they communicate. Further, the framework identified potential barriers in the communication, and motivation, ability and opportunity to adopt knowledge perceived by actors. Further, failure mechanisms were identified that can limit adoption in practice. Based on the theoretical framework, initial propositions were formulated to enhance adoption in practice, stressing the need to: adapt knowledge to local needs through exchange; adapt knowledge to local skills and cognitive levels via contextualization; adapt communication to local culture; adapt knowledge to financial possibilities and priorities of low-income groups; establish positively perceived consequences of knowledge adoption; provide and enhance trust in the knowledge sender; adapt knowledge to local building culture; and, apply a community learning strategy.

Both in the Philippines and Nepal, remote rural communities are selected, living in great poverty, with limited access to electricity and education and vulnerable to recurring hazards. A pilot study in the Philippines examined knowledge adoption following typhoon Haiyan in 2013. The selected communities were left without humanitarian technical assistance, allowing for narrow, controlled cases of naturally occurring knowledge adoption processes. A pilot study employed a mixed-method approach that sought to gain insights from important classes of stakeholders. To gain insights into the communities affected, 220 household interviews and 13 carpenter interviews and focus group discussions were conducted in six communities. In addition, to gain insights from the institutional stakeholders, 20 interviews with government officials, builders, and humanitarian organizations were conducted over two years. Based on the pilot study and reflection upon the used research protocols, a larger focused study was employed in 25 communities in Nepal following the Gorkha earthquake of 2015. This study compared two disaster affected districts, of which one had received significantly more humanitarian technical shelter assistance than the other. Again, stakeholder perspectives were assessed using a total of 1453 household interviews, 1456 structural assessments of houses, 25 focus group discussions with community members, 61 key- stakeholder interviews. The dissertation reveals crucial aspects that determine the extent of adoption of hazard-resistant construction principles. Based on the findings, strategies to increase knowledge adoption are presented.

This research (1) proposes a theoretical framework for knowledge adoption; (2) describes the knowledge need, awareness and networks, outside humanitarian technical assistance; (3) compares the physical adoption of hazard-resistant construction knowledge with different levels of humanitarian technical assistance; (4) compares and identifies perceptions of barriers and drivers of hazard-resistant reconstruction with different levels of assistance; (5) compares the knowledge need, awareness and networks with different levels of technical assistance; (6) identifies target groups for audience specific communication strategies.

The results contribute to understanding of knowledge adoption influenced by communication and decision-making patterns during reconstruction, building theory of knowledge adoption pathways. Findings in the Philippines challenge long-held assumptions that state- of-the-art technical guidelines reach disaster affected communities in the absence of humanitarian assistance, at least to a certain extent (Chapter 3). However, findings in Nepal indicate the opposite. In Nepal, unexpected positive structural safety outcomes, in both districts, question the so often positively reported impact of humanitarian knowledge interventions by humanitarian organizations (Chapter 4). Differences in structural safety are remarkably small, showing positive earthquake resistant characteristics of reconstructed housing in both situations. The successful application of safety features can be linked to the guidance of governmental engineers (Chapter 5). Households appear to be highly motivated and to have significant ability to reconstruct hazard-resistant structures, but sometimes perceive a lack of opportunity to Build Back Safer (Chapter 6). Findings reveal both positive and negative impacts of humanitarian technical assistance on the perceptions of affected households. Practically, the findings can be used to inform the design of more effective humanitarian knowledge interventions to enhance safer post-disaster reconstruction targeted to the characteristics of affected households (Chapter 7).

The study suggests that the theoretical framework is useful to understanding knowledge adoption in practice (Chapter 8). The findings provide a crucial contribution to the efficacy and use of disaster relief resources and sustainable housing solutions for disaster-affected populations. Findings call to facilitate decisions of disaster affected populations without enforcing standardization construction techniques. The study stresses to respect local priorities even if it does not lead to safer structures. Further, there is a need to adjust the time-framjavascript:void(0);e of aid to the construction process of affected communities and the combination cash knowledge for interventions. The communication of knowledge should be aligned to local habits.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Built Environment
  • Lichtenberg, Jos J.N., Promotor
  • Jorissen, André J.M., Promotor
  • Voorthuis, Jacob C.T., Copromotor
Thesis sponsors
Award date23 Sep 2020
Place of PublicationEindhoven
Print ISBNs978-90-386-5029-6
Publication statusPublished - 23 Sep 2020

Bibliographical note

Eefje Hendriks was born on 02-12-1987 in Tilburg, the Netherlands. In 2015 she started a part-time PhD project at Eindhoven University of Technology in the field of humanitarian assistance. Her doctorate is was awarded with funding from the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (project 023.011.055 Safer post-disaster self-recovery) and both the University of Technology in Eindhoven and the Avans University of Applied Science where she lectures. She connects the challenges of humanitarian agencies to the curriculum of both universities. She initiated classes related to her PhD topic, such as a interdisciplinary minor program Disruptive Events - challenge or crisis, the graduation studio Borderless Engineering and Public buildings in refugee camps, and internships for bachelor and master students. At the university, she is a member of the daily board of Technology for Global Development.

She graduated cum laude at the Eindhoven University of Technology in the Netherlands in 2013 with a double master’s degree: Architecture and Building Technology. Her master thesis focused on the development of hazard-resistant and transformable community shelters in Haiti following the 2010 earthquakes. Her doctoral study unpacks decision-making processes that influence the adoption of hazard- resistant construction techniques in post-disaster reconstruction. She studied affected communities in the absence of outside influence of humanitarian organizations in the Philippines and Nepal. Such cases are rarely studied by disasters scholars but can inform the development of affordable and effective knowledge interventions enhancing hazard resistance.

Her most recent field study (2018) was a knowledge assessment on hazard-resistant construction principles, in post-earthquake Nepal, guiding a team of volunteers, students and translators. Earlier fieldwork conducted; a similar knowledge assessment in post-typhoon Philippines, post-hurricane reconstruction Nicaragua, post-flood shelter test in Senegal as part of the community shelter and water tower development for Speedkits, urban slum integration project in Argentina. She has worked together with many different NGOs, such as the CRS, Cordaid, IFRC, MSF, Habitat for Humanity, Engineers without borders,Stichting Vlok, Stichting Samenscholen, Bambu Social. She is a guest lecturer at Universidad International de Catalunya (Barcelona) and University of Sydney.

As an architect she was within the Archiprix selection, second Nalacs Latin America thesis prize, and contributed to the winning submission of a conference resort in the mountains of Switzerland. She has been awarded with the best conference paper at IREC, best doctoral presentation at the Dangerous Landscapes conference, best Spark PhD pitch, Avans innovation prize for best educational project.


  • Disaster risk reduction
  • knowledge adoption
  • knowledge-exchange
  • self-recovery
  • Post-disaster recovery

Promotion : time and place

  • 23 September 2020
  • 13:30h
  • Eindhoven, Netherlands


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