Building back better: Participatory governance in a post-Haiyan World

Building back better: Participatory governance in a post-Haiyan World (2015-2018)

‘Building back better’ has become the international slogan for countries recovering from disasters. Introduced by former US President Bill Clinton, this United Nations-backed agenda foregrounds the central role of families and communities in rebuilding sustainable structures that reduce vulnerabilities of at-risk populations from future calamities.

As with most grand plans, however, the devil is in the detail. ‘Building back better’ prompts serious questions about what ‘better’ means—better for whom and better how. Post-disaster situations are vulnerable political contexts, where the urgency of disaster response tends to conflict with the demands of democratic politics. Hence, it is important to generate critical understanding of the extent to which formal institutions and informal practices of participation are ‘built back’ in the immediate aftermath of disasters to realise the promise of an inclusive reconstruction process.

This research takes on this challenge by examining the extent to which post-disaster contexts facilitate or constrain democratic practice among affected populations and the broader polity. Through a multi-sited ethnography in cities worst hit by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, an empirically-driven and normatively-grounded research will be conducted to generate insights on the following topic areas:

  • The character of public deliberation in a state of humanitarian exception
  • The bases of legitimacy of non-elected representatives (humanitarian organisations, NGOs and volunteers) when making decisions on behalf of affected populations?
  • The ways in which formal political institutions, contestatory practices and everyday politics shape the conduct and outcome of the recovery and rehabilitation
  • The prospects of deliberative practice in societies increasingly defined by risks, hazards and disasters

Ultimately, this project aims to generate insight on the precise ways in which democratic politics can also be ‘built better’ in a post Haiyan world.


Nicole Curato is a Discovery Early Career Research Award Fellow at the Centre for Deliberative Democracy and Global Governance at the University of Canberra. Her work examines the character of democracy in ‘states of emergency,’ paying particular attention to the ways in which post-disaster contexts constrain or facilitate deliberative politics.  

She first joined the Centre as a post-doctoral research fellow at the Australian National University in 2011 where she worked on an ARC linkage project on the Australian Citizens' Parliament with Prof John Dryzek and Dr Simon Niemeyer. 

Before moving to Australia, Nicole completed her BA, MA and PhD in Sociology at the University of the Philippines, University of Manchester and University of Birmingham, respectively. 

Her work has been published in journals including Policy Sciences, International Political Science Review and Acta Politica. She regularly blogs for and appears on CNN Philippines.  [More information]


This project is funded by the Australian Research Council-funded project (DE150101866).


  • Development Studies Program, Ateneo de Manila University
  • Asian Centre, University of the Philippines-Diliman
  • Division of Social Sciences, University of the Philippines-Tacloban


  • ‘Humanitarian Technologies. An Ethnographic Assessment of Communication Environments in Disaster Recovery and Humanitarian Intervention,’ funded by the Economic and Social Research Council UK (ES/M001288/1) [Project website]
  • Australian Civil Military Defence Centre  Research Multi-Use List [More information]  


  • (Forthcoming) ‘A Voice of Justice in Post-Haiyan Philippines: Overcoming Voice-Denying Rationalities in the Disaster Zone,’ in Taking the Square: Mediated Dissent and Occupations of Public Space. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield (with Jonathan Corpus Ong and Liezel Longboan)
  • 2015. ‘Disasters can lift veils: Five Issues for Sociological Disaster Studies,’ Philippine Sociological Review 63(S1):1-26.  (with Jonathan Corpus Ong) [Read here]


'We haven't even buried the dead yet': Ethics of discursive contestation in a crisis situation’

  • Democracy in Transition. Conference hosted by the Melbourne School of Government, Melbourne, Australia. 6 December 2015. 

‘The Voice of Care and the Voice of Justice: Public Deliberation in the State of Exception’

  • Democracy: A Citizens’ Perspective. Conference Hosted by the Åbo Akademi, Turku, Finland 27 May 2015
  • 111th Annual Meeting and Exhibition of American Political Science Association, San Francisco, 5 September 2015
  • Political Theory Seminar Series, Australian Defence Force Academy, Canberra, 18 September 2015

‘Building Back Better: Deliberative Democracy in a World Risk Society’

  • Centre for Deliberative Democracy & Global Governance Seminar Series, 11 August 2015.


  • Mayors of Tacloban. Video co-written with Patricia Evangelisa for (Link)
  • In times of calamities and disaster, whose voice do we hear loudest? SBS Radio. 4 December 2015. (Link)
  • Building Back Better after Haiyan. SBS Radio. 20 November 2015. (Link)
  • Building Back Better. Drive with Adam Shirley. ABC Canberra. 13 August 2015.
  • ‘Have We Become Better Citizens under Aquino?’ Thought Leaders piece for 24 July 2015. (Link)
  • ‘On the Importance of Getting Serious.’ Thought Leaders piece for 4 December 2013. (Link)



Dr Nicole Curato
Centre for Deliberative Democracy & Global Governance
Institute for Governance and Policy Analysis
University Drive South, Building 23, Level B, Canberra, ACT 2601
Nicole.Curato | at |


Ms April Porteria
Research Assistant
GT-Toyota Asian Cultural Centre
Magsaysay cor. Katipunan Avenue
University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City, 1101
aprilporteria | at |