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Risk images as basis for decisions related to provision of public services

Abstract

The British sociologist Anthony Giddens has introduced the concept of fateful moments. However, it is not easy to recognise fateful moments in the real world, and lack of time and competence coupled with structural and organisational barriers and unawareness of system complexity make the task difficult. Tools for risk and vulnerability analysis can lend powerful decision-making support and help ensure optimal outcomes. Drawing on the concept of fateful moments and common risk analytic approaches, this article discusses the use of risk-based thinking in two different decision-making settings, neither of which is typical of the current use of risk analyses. Both situations, however, may be interpreted as fateful moments as described by Giddens. First, we deal with demarcated and temporary activities under the responsibility of a local government (municipality), for example, arranging school trips, medical treatment in nursing homes or sports events. These are all activities requiring planning that takes possible adverse effects into consideration. Second, we look into crisis management at the scene of an accident. In crises, the time frame can be extremely short and the choices of action may be potentially fatal for victims or rescuers. An analysis of our two cases leads us to claim that some actors are reluctant to employ proven risk assessment tools in such situations because they see theoretical probability concepts as a major obstacle. The implications are that risk-based decision processes may be undermined and critical reflections omitted in decision making. Furthermore, this reluctance opens the field to ‘risk experts’ and personnel become further distanced from safety considerations. One way forward may be to guide decision makers to accept these tools as practical instruments for establishing a risk image as a basis for decisions in fateful moments.

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Correspondence to Geir S Braut or Ove Njå.

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Braut, G., Rake, E., Aanestad, R. et al. Risk images as basis for decisions related to provision of public services. Risk Manag 14, 60–76 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1057/rm.2011.18

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Keywords

  • risk image
  • fateful moments
  • risk and vulnerability analysis
  • DagROS
  • decision making