Headline: How Cities Should Approach Complex Risk Situations

Cities are more vulnerable than rural areas to a host of risks. Natural hazards like earthquakes or social risks like vandalism and crime have a far greater impact there. Moreover, the infrastructure of our cities is increasingly networked, and while smart cities may offer more in terms of security and convenience, data protection often falls by the wayside. Since risks are frequently interconnected, we need to take an integrated approach to managing them. A concept for risk governance elaborated by IASS researchers in the International Journal of Disaster Risk Science reflects just such an approach.

Smart cities may offer more in terms of security and convenience, but data protection remains a major challenge.
Smart cities may offer more in terms of security and convenience, but data protection remains a major challenge. istock/metamorworks

“Technical innovations have a role to play in how we deal with complex risk situations, but a good governance framework that combines technical, economic, and social measures is also required. In our article we expand on an established risk governance concept and apply it to the specific challenges faced in urban environments,” explains lead author and IASS Director Ortwin Renn. The article underlines the importance of greater cooperation. As Renn points out, in many cases city planners, hazard management experts, and others do not coordinate their work effectively. Despite the fact that, if well managed, the involvement of many different actors with complementary expertise would bring countless benefits.

The authors categorise risks according to their degree of complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity. In the case of many of the risks to which cities are particularly prone, all three features are prominent. Information technologies in smart cities are a prime example: they are interconnected; their consequences are difficult to predict; and they are the subject of intense debate in the public domain. In their article, the IASS researchers identify five phases of risk governance, from the pre-estimation of risks to an assessment of how governance has contributed to achieving protection targets.

Effective risk governance depends on the involvement of all affected parties, a high level of transparency, and the assumption of responsibility. “When dealing with complex risks, a win-win situation is not always possible. In cases like that it’s important to discuss potential negative consequences openly and look for ways to offset them,” stresses co-author Pia-Johanna Schweizer. Schweizer is convinced that such an elaborate process is necessary to understand and do justice to the different ideas people have about quality of life in urban environments.

  • Renn, O., Klinke, A., Schweizer, P.-J. (2018): Risk Governance: Application to Urban Challenges. - International Journal of Disaster Risk Science, 9, 4, pp. 434–444.
    DOI: http://doi.org/10.1007/s13753-018-0196-3