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The Natural Hazards Center is pleased to announce the release of the eleventh training module in the CONVERGE series: Positionality in Hazards and Disaster Research and Practice. This educational tool helps disaster researchers and practitioners understand how being aware of one’s multiple identities and position in society—their positionality—can lead to more ethical and methodologically sound disaster work.

The module focuses on how differences in power and privilege influence experiences in disaster settings. Supported by the National Science Foundation, this free online course is part of a series of foundational and advanced training modules designed to enhance valuable knowledge and skills among students and other emerging researchers and practitioners.

Please view the demonstration webinar featuring the Positionality in Hazards and Disaster Research and Practice Training Module.

Positionality in Hazards and Disaster Research and Practice

The Positionality in Hazards and Disaster Research and Practice Training Module discusses the various ways that positionality has been defined, understood, and considered among those working in disaster settings. Drawing on empirical literature, the module provides a new working definition of what positionality means in hazards and disaster research and practice.

Positionality Defined

Positionality refers to our multiple intersecting identities and how our social roles, power, and privilege influence our perceptions and experiences in research and practice.

Disasters not only disrupt people’s lives, they also exacerbate pre-existing inequalities and injustices. “Whether you are a first responder, a humanitarian aid worker, or an academic researcher, considering your position in society can help ensure that your work does not unintentionally contribute to these power imbalances,” said Rachel Adams, research associate at CONVERGE and one of the lead developers of the training module.

Social identities—such as gender, social class, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion, citizenship, and ability/disability—are historically rooted in systems of oppression and privilege. “These various, overlapping identities are interconnected and should be examined through a lens that captures the dynamic ways an individual is defined by their social roles” said Candace Evans, graduate research assistant at CONVERGE and another lead developer of the training module. "Engaging in self-reflection can help researchers and practitioners carefully consider their positionality in the context of their work."

Module Overview

The module, which is divided into four lessons, includes specific suggestions and resources for considering positionality in individual or team-based settings. The final lesson, for instance, provides examples of positionality statements written in a grant proposal, paper, and published report.

The new module, like the others in the series, presents key concepts and case studies using interactive sliders, tables, and call-out boxes. “We also include an activity where users are asked to read a scenario and reflect upon how their multiple identifies might influence their experience. This interactive exercise can help users practice the concepts that they’ve learned from the module,” said Lori Peek, principal investigator of the CONVERGE facility and director of the Natural Hazards Center.

This module was originally developed by Riley Bance, Dominique Comeau, Lin Frazer, Molly McKeown, and Bella Runza, as part of a course led by Dr. Christine Gibb at the University of Ottawa. Dr. Gibb had her students complete other available CONVERGE Training Modules, and then try their hand at writing their own module. After successfully completing the project, they shared their draft with the CONVERGE Training Module development team, who revised the content and prepared it for publication.

Bella Runza, who worked on the initial draft of this module, said, "In a time of such uncertainty—lockdowns, various social justice movements, disasters, and war—positionality is a core element in supporting communities through struggle." She continued, "This module will help educate people while also helping to support others in some of the scariest moments of their lives."

To successfully complete the module, users must pass a 10-question quiz to receive a certificate worth one contact hour of general management training through the International Association of Emergency Managers (IAEM) certification program.

Users can visit the CONVERGE website for supplementary materials, including the CONVERGE Assignment Bank and Annotated Bibliographies. Previously released modules can also be accessed through the CONVERGE website, such as those focused on foundational topics, including Institutional Review Board procedures, conducting emotionally challenging research, cultural competence, collecting and sharing perishable data, social vulnerability, and disaster mental health. In addition, CONVERGE offers advanced trainings in specialized topics such as broader ethical considerations for hazards and disaster researchers, reciprocity, gender-based violence in fieldwork, and public health implications of hazards and disaster research.

The next training modules to be released include:

  • Indigenous Sovereignty in Hazards and Disaster Research and Emergency Management
  • Social Science Methods and Approaches for Hazards and Disaster Research

To receive updates and information on new CONVERGE Training Modules and other resources, please subscribe here.

About the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure

Funded by the National Science Foundation, the Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure — NHERI — is a network of experimental facilities dedicated to reducing damage and loss-of-life due to natural hazards such as earthquakes, landslides, windstorms, and tsunamis and  storm surge. It is supported by the DesignSafe Cyberinfrastructure. NHERI provides the natural hazards engineering and social science communities with the state-of-the-art resources needed to meet the research challenges of the 21st century.


This CONVERGE Training Module is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation Natural Hazards Engineering Research Infrastructure (NSF Award #1841338). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the NSF.