Building resilience during and after bushfires

Lessons from the 2019-20 bushfires in NSW and the ACT


In July 2020, researchers from the University of Canberra began work on the three-year Building Resilience During and After Bushfires project. The project is funded by the Medical Research Future Fund (MRFF) and is exploring what best helps to maintain and build the resilience of communities during and after bushfires. The findings will help inform future preparation for and responses to bushfire. This will ultimately contribute to improved outcomes for communities affected by and at risk of bushfire.

The project involves collecting data via both the Regional Wellbeing Survey and in-depth discussions with (i) people living in bushfire affected communities, and (ii) people and organisations working with those communities to support recovery and rebuilding efforts. We will explore the wide range of unique experiences and perspectives on the 2019-20 bushfires, how they have impacted households and communities, and what helps and what doesn’t in preparing, responding, recovering and rebuilding using an iterative process in which we collect data using surveys and in-depth discussions. We will produce findings along the way to support those working with bushfire affected communities.

How are we using the Regional Wellbeing Survey in this work?

During 2020 to 2022, the Regional Wellbeing Survey will examine the experiences of bushfire-affected communities as they work to rebuild and recover after the 2019-20 bushfires (and we hope to continue our work beyond 2022). We are uniquely placed to examine both the impacts of bushfire and recovery, as we have been examining wellbeing and resilience since 2013 in communities across Australia, including most regions that were affected by bushfire during 2019-20. This means we are able to compare ‘before’ and ‘after’ data to better understand what things most help (and hinder) communities as they work to recover and rebuild after bushfires.

In 2020, the Regional Wellbeing Survey is asking about the cumulative impacts of the bushfires, drought, floods/storms and COVID-19 that many bushfire affected communities have experienced in the last 12 months. It also asks what is working well — and what is not working so well — in bushfire recovery and rebuilding. You can help out by participating in the survey, and encouraging others to do the survey. This year, winners of our annual prize draw can choose to either use the prize themselves, or donate the equivalent value to a charity supporting bushfire recovery and rebuilding.

In-depth conversations and discussions

From 2020 to 2022 we will also be asking those living in and working with bushfire affected communities to share their experiences with us through participating in individual and group conversations, online diaries, graphical story lines and photo voice talk. We’ll be talking with:

  • Community members who experienced the bushfires
  • Organisations (government, NGOs, businesses) involved in assisting communities preparing for, responding to and/or recovering from the bushfires and regenerating after the bushfires

In these discussions, we will be asking participants to tell the stories of their personal and professional experiences of bushfire preparation, response, recovery and rebuilding — and about lessons learned and future pathways for continuing to build bushfire resilience.

You can find out more about the conversations in our Information Sheet.



    Sharing findings

    Throughout the research, we will share our findings via public reports and media articles, and will update this webpage as publications become available. We will have a particular focus on ensuring our findings are shared with bushfire impacted communities and organisations (government, community organisations, businesses, charities) involved in recovering and rebuilding in ACT and NSW to inform and further improve their ongoing efforts. The findings will also be shared nationally and internationally via academic publications including conference presentations and journal articles.

    Find out more or get involved

    You can be involved in this project through taking part in the Regional Wellbeing Survey. If you are interested in participating in discussions about your experiences of bushfire, or would like more information about the project, please contact us at bushfireresilience@canberra.edu.au

    Please note that we may not be able to include everyone who contacts us in our discussions, as we have some limitations on numbers of participants.



      Join us this November at the Building Wellbeing into Policy and Action in Australia workshop, being held at the University of Canberra. At the workshop you will hear about the diversity of wellbeing initiatives currently happening in Australia across the government, not-for-profit and private sectors.

      Organisations across Australia are increasingly embedding consideration of wellbeing outcomes in their decision making and investment processes. At the summit, you will hear examples of how this is being done by different governments, not-for-profit organisations and community groups, as well as in industries such as agriculture. Participants will discuss key opportunities, challenges and needs going forward in Australia, and identify priorities for future action.

      Through the workshop, we aim to build a network of people interested in working together to continue building wellbeing into policy and action across Australia. All participants are encouraged to discuss opportunities to continue discussions and action beyond the workshop.


      Register here for the workshop 

      Participants can register to participate in person in Canberra, or online. You can register for one day or for the whole workshop. Follow the link below to register:



      Workshop program

      The workshop includes a packed program – download the workshop program here

      If you have any problems logging in online, please email wellbeingsummit@canberra.edu.au


      Monday 21 November

      9.30-10.00: Wellbeing in politics and policy: why do we need wellbeing-focused decision making?

      Speakers in this session include Mike Salvaris and Geoff Woolcock from the Australian National Development Index, and speakers from the OECD.

      10.00-10.30: International perspectives: lessons for building wellbeing into policy and action

      Speaker in this session is Kate Scrivens, OECD Centre for Well-Being, Inclusion, Sustainability
      and Equal Opportunity.

      11.00-12.30: From measurement to action: lessons from international experience.

      Hear from speakers including Bryan Smale (Canadian Index of Wellbeing), Rob Tanton with Jacki Schirmer (University of Canberra) and Cressida Gaukroger (lead author of the Centre for Policy Development’s recent report reviewing lessons from international experience for wellbeing initiatives in Australia).

      1.30-3.20 Wellbeing into policy and action across Australia’s governments – Session 1

      Speakers from the Australian, State and Territory governments, those in the university and private sector who are working with different jurisdictions, will talk about their work developing a wellbeing economy, wellbeing frameworks, and wellbeing-centric decision making. Speakers include Tim Ogden (Treasury), Peter Robinson (ACT Government), Helen Thomas (Wellbeing SA), and Mike Salvaris with Geoff Woolcock (Australian National Development Index).

      3.40-5.00pm Wellbeing into policy and action for specific sectors and groups

      Hear about how different groups are developing wellbeing-focused approaches to policy and action to support the wellbeing of groups including children and carers. Speakers include Joyce Cleary (Deakin University), Gemma Wood (Australian Youth Development Index, Numbers and People Synergy), and Kate Reynolds with Robert Gotts (National Student Wellbeing Project).

      Discussion: Challenges and opportunities for building wellbeing into policy and action for children, carers, those with disability, and other specific groups.

      5.00-6.00pm Social networking drinks


      Tuesday 22 November

      9.00-10.30: Sustainability, climate change, disasters and wellbeing

      Hear about how we can develop Earth-centred wellbeing approaches, and maintain wellbeing through disasters, from speakers including Michelle Maloney (Australian Earth Laws Alliance and New Economy Network Australia), Julie Boulton (Monash University) and Rebecca Huntley (89 Degrees East).

      Discussion: Sustainable wellbeing in a changing climate

      11.00-1.00pm: From measurement to action: from data to action across Australia

      Hear about the different groups who are measuring wellbeing across Australia using surveys and statistical data collections. Find out where you can access information, and help identify key needs going forward. Speakers include Mark Wooden (Household Income and Labour Dynamics in Australia survey), Ray Lovett (Australian National University), Kate Lycett (Deakin University) and Lauren Binns (ABS).

      Discussion: Challenges and opportunities for data collection and measurement

      1.30-3.30 Urban, regional, rural and remote – wellbeing from all regions

      How do we build wellbeing into policy and action across Australia’s diverse regions? Hear from speakers including Jacki Schirmer (University of Canberra), Kim Houghton (Regional Australia Institute), Susi Tegen (National Rural Health Alliance) and the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation.

      Discussion: Wellbeing into policy and action for all regions

      3.50-5.10pm Wellbeing into policy and action for all: not-for-profit and community sector

      Hear about how not-for-profit and community groups are working to build wellbeing into policy and action, and the challenges and opportunities experienced. Speakers include Ben Latham (Victorian Council of Social Service), Julia Keady (X Factor Collective), Peter Gordon (Hands Across Canberra, Vital Signs initiative) and Andrew Yule (Jesuit Social Services).

      6.30pm Dinner - Societal wellbeing: what's the economy got to do with it? Speaker Katherine Trebeck


      Wednesday 23 November

      9.00-11.00am Wellbeing into policy and action across Australia’s jurisdictions – Session 2

      Speakers from the Australian, State and Territory governments, those in the university and private sector who are working with different jurisdictions, will talk about their work developing a wellbeing economy, wellbeing frameworks, and wellbeing-centric decision making. Speakers include Arthur Grimes (Chair of Wellbeing and Public Policy, Victoria University of Wellbeing), Sandro Demaio, (VicHealth), Richard Parsons (DPI NSW), Michael Gadiel (NSW Treasury) and Libby Lester (University of Tasmania).

      Discussion: What are the best paths to building wellbeing into policy and action?

      11.30-1.00pm Closing session: Identifying priorities for building wellbeing into policy and action and next steps

      This session will include group discussion to identify the priorities and needs for building wellbeing into policy and action in Australia going forward.



      You will hear from inspiring speakers who will discuss the different approaches being used in Australia and internationally to build policy and decision making processes that best support societal wellbeing, from local to national scale.

      Join us in person or virtually to hear from our expert speakers, including:

      • Katherine Trebeck, co-founder of the Wellbeing Economy Alliance and WEAll Scotland
      • Michelle Maloney, co-founder of the New Economy Network Australia and the Australian Earth Laws Alliance
      • Bryan Smale, Director of the Canadian Index of Wellbeing
      • Cressida Gaukroger of the Centre for Policy Development and lead author of the recent report Redefining progress: global lessons for an Australian approach to wellbeing
      • Arthur Grimes, Chair of Wellbeing and Public Policy, Victoria University of Wellington
      • Peter Robinson, discussing the ACT Wellbeing Framework
      • Mike Salvaris and Geoff Woolcock discussing the Australian National Development Index
      • Sandro DeMaio of VicHealth, discussing the recently launched Wellbeing Economy Toolkit and Wellbeing Economy website
      • Libby Lester, University of Tasmania, discussing The Tasmania Project and Good Life Initiative
      • Jacki Schirmer, leader of the Regional Wellbeing Survey, Carer Wellbeing Survey and Living Well in the ACT region survey

      …and many more from organisations including The Treasury, NSW Government, Wellbeing SA, Regional Wellbeing Survey, and National Student Wellbeing Project.

      Contact us

      Have questions? Contact us at wellbeingsummit@canberra.edu.au.


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