RISK REPRESENTATION

The theme of risk has been at the center of our discussions for years now,  and the way in which the different risks are perceived by individual citizens, in societies of old industrialisation  (or post-industrialisation), affects political agendas, legislation development, and industrialisation strategies . We must question ourselves on the way the different perceptions of risk are formed and on the relevance that the regulatory framework and the planning policies must recognise to the most popular and unmitigated versions.

Discarica di SololàIt is by now vastly recognised that the perception of risk of citizens and of non-sector experts does not have much to share with the quantitative estimates of risks and of human exposure to hazardous chemicals obtained by the modelling of the experts risk analysis. This discrepancy generates often conflicts between experts and non experts.

One of the most striking cases of discrepancy between the high estimate of risk obtained by experts and the indifference shown by most people and policy makers is that of the climate changes caused by the greenhouse gases  emissions due to human activities: huge energy consumption, deforestations, intense animal husbandry, transport by vehicles that use fossil fuels and so on and so forth. High risk but very weak reactions.

In this site we are interested in making room for this differences with the aim to understand what makes it so difficult to formulate the solutions appropriate to the different types of risks and also what would make it possible to design an inclusive decision making process.

In the book Conservare il valore (“Preserving the value”) I propose that individual risk representation is formed by the sum of the judgement elements summarised by the following equation:

INDIVIDUAL RISK REPRESENTATION = 

SCIENTIFIC CALCULATION ± (CULTURAL EXPLANATION ± PSYCHOLOGICAL PERCEPTION)

Cultural explanation and psychological perception compose what I define: risk interpretation.
The elements of judgement can sum or subtract with each other, and they also vary in dimension for each person. It is our specific individual equation that leads each one of us to perceive a specific risk level and that defines if the threshold of an acceptable risk has been exceeded.

This equation underlines that the individual selection of what risks to fear is not an objective process, understandable only in mathematical and scientific terms, but a process composed also by social and personal elements. Asking the (wrong!) question of which is the actual rational behaviour – meaning what is the real risks – leads to the answer that anyone who does not share our point of view, whomever does not combine the elements of the equation by our same pattern, is irrational.

The question to pose is why some actors choose to ignore the majority of risks that surrounds them focusing only on selected risks, we should also notice that they choose  from lists that vary from society to society.