What is Build Back Better about?

Build Back Better takes a bottom-up, case study driven research approach to analyse how and why policies, decision makers and individual actors affected by an exogenous shock adopt four prototypical reactions:

  • Transformation (“build back better”) aims to improve a system’s resilience to withstand unforeseen events and catastrophic shocks and to integrate and leverage synergies between climate mitigation and adaptation policies.
  • Maladaptation (“build back short-sighted”) refers to intended actions that restrict their scope to the direct, short-term consequences of the shock but lead to an increase in vulnerability or deteriorate the conditions for sustainable future development.
  • Backfire (“build back worse”) refers to reactions that undermine instead of reconcile climate mitigation and adaptation policies and ignore or condone negative externalities in order to achieve a narrow set of business or policy goals.
  • Inaction (“build back as before”) refers to active or implicit decisions to not take actions (or to postpone actions indefinitely) that go beyond those already agreed upon before the catastrophic shock happened. Inaction is characterized by restoring the essence of the incumbent system to the pre-shock status.

Build Back Better develops, applies and empirically validates a framework to understand the reactions in three case studies, which recently encounter(ed) exogenous shocks in terms of system collapse or capacity overload after hydrological or biological disasters: residential relocation from a risk area after a flood disaster in the Machland and Eferding Basin; agricultural water management after multi-seasonal drought events in Seewinkel; and winter tourism during the SARS-CoV-02 pandemic in Tyrol. In all three case studies, the project analyses

  • how concerned individual actors (private households, farmers and hotel owners) appraised the shock and its consequences, as well as the risk of the shock to return;
  • how the elements and the degree of coordination within the current policy landscape encouraged or discouraged specific reactions; and
  • why individual actors chose specific reactions in dealing with the shock and preparing for its potential recurrence.