UNSW Canberra PhD student Emily Chapman has first-hand experience in her research topic – disaster response operations.

As an Air Force Operations Officer, she deployed to Cebu in the Philippines in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, and onboard HMAS Canberra while the ADF was deployed to Fiji following Cyclone Winston.

In her presentation, A Practioner’s Worldview, at the upcoming Humanities and Social Sciences postgraduate symposium, Emily will reflect on how her experience in disaster response operations has influenced her PhD research methodology.

“It reflects that I’ve overcome a number of data collection barriers, including accessing remote overseas communities affected by natural disasters and military sources, to capture data directly from people with lived experiences,” Emily said.

Emily Chapman visits a school in Ormoc, Philippines, that was assisted by the ADF.


“I have chosen a methodology that places practitioners at the centre because they have the greatest knowledge of disaster response – this means I create understanding and meaning by capturing practitioners’ perspective and building up to patterns, theory, and generalisation.”

Emily said knowledge is built from people’s experience, with people constructing reality in different ways based on their experience and interactions with others.

“No disaster response operation is the same – each response has distinct cultural and operational context, this means that practitioners face complex and dynamic environments where they need to overcome language barriers, coordination challenges, and poor information flow and situational awareness,” Emily said.

Emily’s data collection methods include interviews with military personnel, as well as fieldwork in the Philippines, Vanuatu and Fiji.

However, she said this has raised some challenges.

“Most Operational documentation is classified prior to and whilst the Operation is ongoing, so I have to request de-classification of documents where that is possible,” she said.

“Secondly, some of the communities assisted by the ADF are remote and challenging to access for data collection – not least because of the language barriers.”

In Emily’s presentation, she will discuss how these barriers can be overcome and why it’s important to these capture these experiences and bridge the gap between knowledge generation and application.

She said practitioners could provide invaluable insights to postgraduate researchers.

“Practitioners provide their lived experiences during data collection, which means that they often have solutions to the barriers they faced and often overcame,” Emily said.

“This means my research has been able to focus on how and when civilian and military actors should interact to enhance coordination, which is an identified gap in the literature.”

The Humanities and Social Sciences postgraduate symposium will be held at UNSW Canberra on 13 September. Register to attend here.