CBPR and Flood Mapping in Esfuerzo de Paraiso – Matthew Crittenden

The Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR) methodology is one of the core tenets of SOMOS and the work we do. It stresses the importance of community engagement in sustainable development projects and attempts to dismantle the hierarchical donor-recipient relationship which most traditional development projects possess. Through pursuing a more egalitarian partnership, we hope to increase community ownership in Esfuerzo de Paraiso and the community’s capacity to sustainably improve health outcomes. The role of the community in our partnership is incredibly important because improved health outcomes can be sustained only if they are maintained and sought to be improved in our absence (when SOMOS members are not physically in the community).

Emphasizing community engagement also encourages the development of Esfuerzo’s social infrastructure and self-accountability. Fostering social interconnection is crucial in Esfuerzo especially because of its geography and relation with neighboring barrios: it is a marginalized para-urban community outside of Santo Domingo Norte, Dominican Republic. Their alienation from the surrounding communities has historically made it more difficult for them to access basic needs and services (i.e. electricity, water, sanitation) and has hindered their relationship with the local government.

But how do we apply our theory and read literature to what we actually do in Esfuerzo?

In more practical terms, CBPR means that all of our efforts in SOMOS are first identified as priorities of community members through household survey methods, individual and group interviews, and facilitating dialogue at community-wide meetings. In recent years, our efforts have included: facilitating the formation of a community association – the junta de vecinos (JdV) – to organize community leadership and petition the local government, improving sanitation in the community by contacting garbage pick-up services, and encouraging the government to improve the roads in the community. Each of these projects was identified first by community members as critical to improving health, whether directly through sanitation services, or indirectly by limiting road potholes which breed insect-borne diseases and making Esfuerzo more accessible to emergency vehicles.

One aspect of our research, and a significant portion of my Charles Center research this summer, is community mapping using geographic information systems (GIS). Creating an accurate map of Esfuerzo was identified many years ago as a priority of community members and since then we have consistently updated our maps to reflect changes in the community (i.e. residential and commercial buildings being constructed or vacated, new roads) and their needs.

  1. 2012-2013 version of the community map which is being transitioned out of use.SOMOS_old_map
  2. The new community map that we began developing in Spring 2018 and are transitioning into use. Many more changes have been made since then and will be posted in a future blog post dedicated to the improvement and diversification of our community maps.SOMOS_spring_map

A specific need has been a flood-risk map. Until now, our mapping methods have been almost entirely qualitative (aside from some very base information on the height of rainy season floodwaters in certain parts of Esfuerzo). Through using qualitative survey methods, past SOMOS members (Fall 2014 Mapping Team) drew the following map to identify areas of the community which are impacted by flooding.


This map is useful for organizing the knowledge of individuals into a single document so that other community members can see how flooding impacts their neighbors, which builds social infrastructure by identifying communal problems, needs, and potential solutions. However, it does little beyond that. It cannot tell us how to best mitigate flood damage because, without quantitative information, the map is too simple.

So, this summer, I have researched into how we can begin developing a flood-risk map through coupling quantitative methods with the qualitative information we already have and can access by engaging community members. First, I learned the difference between hazard, vulnerability, and risk in flood mapping and will quote the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction to define them:

1) Hazard: a dangerous phenomenon, substance, human activity or condition that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihood and services, social and economic disruption or environmental damage.

2) Vulnerability: The characteristics and circumstances of a community, system or asset that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard.

3) Risk: The combination of the probability of an event and its negative consequences.

In other words, flood risk seems to incorporate both sets of hazard and vulnerability variables to outline the areas which are at greatest risk of flooding and will likely suffer the worst consequences. The old community flooding map identified which houses flood, but not how often they flood, the damage inflicted, and the variables which influence their flooding. By just examining the map, I cannot discern any model of variables which could have generated the map other than household surveys.

Developing a map through quantitative methods will require identifying variables which influence where flooding occurs and the damage it inflicts. This is where CBPR must be utilized. By communicating with community members to identify which variables influence flooding, we will be able to access local wisdom. But our partnership between SOMOS and Esfuerzo is not comprised of experts in flood mapping, so we also have to engage another group of stakeholders: experts. I have spoken with some members of the Center for Geospatial Analysis at W&M and read several articles on flood mapping around the world using GIS to identify some variables which are always significant in flood mapping, regardless of location:

  1. elevation and surface slope: Digital Elevation Models (DEMs) are the most important input of the hydrological modeling to get flood hazard maps. The scale and precision of topographic maps directly influences the precision of all calculations in water flow and inundation. Low-lying areas are more prone to flooding than higher areas.
  2. land cover/use: how the land is being used or what its vegetation cover is will influence how water travels across its surface.
  3. soil type
  4. drainage density: this measure examines the length of channels within a basin and the total area of the basin. Wherever density is high, there will be higher water flow accumulation and it is more likely to get flooded. These areas are also identified as major water drainage confluences.
  5. distance to main channel(s) or river(s): the closer an area is to the main channels where waterflow accumulates, the more likely it is to get flooded.
  6. distance to breach sites: these are areas where infrastructure (i.e. embankments, floodwalls) to divert or control floodwaters is repeatedly breached during the rainy season.

The variables I listed above are limited to hazard indicators, because they are more relevant to the study area (Esfuerzo). Vulnerability indicators would attempt to identify which areas/households are most vulnerable to flooding, but Esfuerzo is a small community of only a few hundred people and flooding impacts everyone either in their houses or in the roads, so it is a safe generalization that all members of Esfuerzo are vulnerable to flooding.

The data for many of the hazard variables could be collected without much difficulty by speaking with community members. They can identify the rivers/channels which cause flooding, areas where floodwaters accumulate, and potential breach sites. Soil type could be registered by SOMOS members or collected by community members in our absence and communicated to us electronically. The difficult (or at least expensive) data collection involves the DEM for elevation and remote sensing for land cover/use. We could learn how to collect this data at the high resolution necessary or purchase the data online, but issues of credibility, accuracy, and worthiness of the investment come into play.

I have spent a lot of time reading, learning, and planning out how we might go about collecting this data and then building and mapping the model using raster calculator in ArcGIS (the data management and analysis would be considerably easier than the collection), but an important string of questions must be asked:

  1. how will this map lead to improved health outcomes in ways that the previous flood risk map cannot?
  2. is making this map the highest priority of the community members or should our partnership’s resources be used differently?
  3. if we pursue this mapping process, how can we include community members in the process beyond surveying?

As I prepare to return to the Dominican Republic in August, I will continue to research and consider how flood mapping can improve health outcomes in Esfuerzo, but ultimately, it is up to community members to identify whether this is a worthy investment of our resources, or if we should focus already on flood mitigation efforts, like building more roads and digging drainage ditches based on local knowledge. There are also other mapping projects which I must continue. The mapping team has been working on creating a brand-new community map which we started during Spring 2018 and refining this is a definite priority and has already been identified as important to community members in the past. I am creating multiple versions of this map which I will upload to the blog when they are complete.

Lastly, if the partnership decides to not pursue flood mapping, I have recently been toying with other ways to embrace community engagement in community mapping. One idea I have is using OpenStreetMap to collect data which could then be accessed by anyone in the world. Until now, no accurate maps of Esfuerzo exist outside of the mapping project SOMOS has led (to my knowledge). Many people in the community have smart phones and could participate in collecting open access data. This data could help other international organizations that work in Esfuerzo. On Tuesday, July 10, I will be going to Washington, D.C. to participate in a training convention for OpenStreetMap. If its application in Esfuerzo could be successful and useful, I will pitch the idea to my teammates and then speak with community members about if they would like to pursue it.

Phew, that was a long blog update on my summer work. Until next time,




  1. Several documents and presentations on the SOMOS Google Drive from past years’ research into community-based participatory research, community engagement, community mapping, and flood mapping.
  2. Professor Shannon White, my instructor for Introduction to GIS (INTR 204) last semester.
  3. Aday, David P. Jr., et al. “Community Engagement: Developing Conceptual and Methodological Foundations.” 12 Aug. 2013.
  4. Chambers, Robert. “Paradigm Shifts and the Practice of Participatory Research and Development.” Institute of Development Studies. Apr. 1994.
  5. Elkhrachy, Ismail. “Flash Flood Hazard Mapping Using Satellite Images and GIS Tools: A case study of Najran City, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA).” Najran University. Jun. 2015.
  6. Hazarika, N., D. Barman, A. K. Das, A. K. Sarma and S. B. Borah. “Assessing and mapping flood hazard, vulnerability and risk in the Upper Brahmaputra River valley using stakeholders’ knowledge and multicriteria evaluation (MCE).” The Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management. 2016.
  7. Jennings, Ray. “Participatory Development as New Paradigm: The Transition of Development Professionalism.” Oct. 2000.
  8. Liu, Wei, et al. “Integrated Participatory and Collaborative Risk Mapping for Enhancing Disaster Resilience.” International Journal of Geo-Information. 21 Feb. 2018.
  9. Viswanathan, M., et al. “Community-based Participatory Research: Assessing the Evidence.” National Institutes of Health. Aug. 2004.