'Solution-Focused Risk Assessment' - A Proposal for the Fusion of Environmental Analysis and Action
55 Pages Posted: 11 Feb 2010
Date Written: February 10, 2010
Rethinking risk assessment as a method for helping to solve environmental problems, rather than (merely) understanding environmental hazards, may provide three major classes of benefits over the status quo. First, it can help break the endless cycle of analysis: when the goal is to know enough to decide, rather than to know everything, natural stopping points emerge. Secondly, it can lead to more true decisions about how to achieve risk reduction, rather than mere pronouncements about how much risk reduction would be optimal. As much as agencies rightly value performance-oriented interventions, setting a permissible exposure limit or a national ambient air quality standard is often more a conclusion about what level of risk would be acceptable than any kind of guarantee that such a level will be achieved, let alone a decision about which actual behaviors will change and how. Third, it can promote expansive thought about optimal decisions, ones that resolve multiple risks simultaneously, avoid needless and tragic risk-risk tradeoffs, and involve affected stakeholders in debating what should be done. Arguably, the longer the disembodied analysis of risk information is allowed to proceed before solutions are proposed and evaluated, the more likely it is that the “problem” will be defined in a way that constrains the free-wheeling discussion of solutions, to the detriment of human health, the environment, and the economy. Therefore, I propose a new “solution-focused risk assessment” paradigm, in which the tentative arraying of control decisions would precede and guide the assessment of exposures, potencies, and risks.
Keywords: Risk Management, Standard-Setting, Decision Theory, Public Involvement, Technology Options
JEL Classification: K20, K32, O32, Q28
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation