The establishment of the International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) was the direct result of widespread concern that the complexity and interdependence of health, environmental, and technological risks facing the world was making the development and implementation of adequate risk governance strategies ever more difficult. This volume details the IRGC developed and proposed framework for risk governance and covers how it was peer reviewed as well as tested
Number of pages: 370
Weight: 644 g
Dimensions: 235 x 155 x 21 mm
Edition: Softcover reprint of hardcover 1st ed. 2008
The International Risk Governance Council (IRGC) is an independent organization whose purpose is to help the understanding and management of emerging global risks that have impacts on human health and safety, the environment, the economy and society at large. IRGC focuses on emerging, systemic risks for which governance deficits exist and aims to provide recommendations for how policy makers can correct them. The IRGC takes a broad, interdisciplinary approach; it draws specialists from practice and academe, and from natural sciences as well as social sciences. In Global Risk Governance: Concept and Practice Using the IRGC Framework, Ortwin Renn presents a risk management framework that aims to provide a comprehensive and transparent approach to managing physical risks with global or ubiquitous consequences. This framework is the result of extensive international consultation with risk managers and the academic community. The framework has four stages beginning with pre-assessment where stakeholders and experts help decision makers frame risks. Here, managers increase institutional activity in risk by, for example, establishing agreed standards and early warning systems that identify questionable deviations from the norm. The second step is risk appraisal, which includes two phases: first, scientists estimate the consequences of a potential threat, and second, social scientists consider civil society's understanding of the risk. The third stage is tolerability and acceptability judgement where managers weigh the empirical evidence against different social values and perceptions. The final step is risk management. Typically, this step requires significant stakeholder involvement. The book notes that by including the public in the process, managers can increase transparency in decision-making and distribute the responsibility for risk reduction between governments and society. When risk managers are unable to reach a consensus, constant communication and transparent monitoring can often help stakeholders agree on provisional solutions. Given the nature of risk governance, the IRGC's framework is a recurring process as depicted in the accompanying figure. Renn suggests that one of the most important risk policy issues is the treatment of different actors' risk perceptions. Availability and assessment biases, over- and under-estimation of risks, and risks spread over time (even over generations) challenge the traditional, straightforward risk calculations and projections. Renn argues for better integration of lay views with those of experts. On the balance, he favours the latter; however, both have to be considered in order to generate stable risk-management solutions and a lasting sense of security. The framework also includes clear definitions of key terms, including the distinction of different types of risks. The framework distinguishes, for instance, between risks that are highly complex; uncertain; or ambiguous. Complex risks are those which are difficult to quantify, largely because of the multitude of potential causal agents at work. Uncertain risks refer to a state of knowledge in which the likelihood of any adverse effect or the effects themselves cannot be described precisely even though the factors influencing the issues are identified. Ambiguous risks-perhaps the most contentious aspect of the book-give rise to several meaningful and legitimate interpretations of accepted risk assessment results. Managers can rely on expert judgement when society agrees on the values underpinning a decision and the tolerability of the risk. When risk is considered complex, managers need an accepted method by which to compare available evidence. When risks are judged to be uncertain, Renn advocates a precautionary approach. When a risk is ambiguous, he suggests that a broad societal discourse will help overcome differences in values and perceptions. The book has limitations. First, it is relatively new. While several chapters include very interesting case studies from around the world, the authors of these chapters in most instances have applied the framework in an after-the-fact approach. It will be important to see the impact that the framework will have when it is applied in a detailed and systematic way to new and emerging risks. This will take time. Second, its somewhat academic tone and style make it a little less accessible to a broader audience. Third and perhaps most importantly, the framework's strength can also be its weakness. While consultation is an important part of the process in a democratic society seeking stable risk management solutions, as Loefstedt and van Asselt as well as North note in their respective chapters, it is often difficult to build consensus, and therefore consultation can also be expensive and time consuming. Indeed, conducting the appropriate amount of consultation might be a bit more art than science. This is a significant challenge for most risk management processes; again, more time and research will suggest the extent to which the framework can accommodate multiple and competing views, and do so in an acceptably efficient manner. For more information on the International Risk Governance Council's research on this and other policy files, please visit their website, www.irgc.org. Notably, the IRGC has recently published Managing and Reducing Social Vulnerabilities from Coupled Critical Infrastructures, a copy of which is available on their website.
Craig O'Blenis is a recent graduate of Dalhousie University's Masters of Public Administration program. For more information on this article, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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