Risk experts converge
The Lloyd's Register Foundation Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk (LRFI) at NUS held its inaugural conference on 27 July, which brought together global experts, policymakers, industry players and enthusiasts to share ideas and knowledge on risk perception, management and communication.
The Institute was officially launched on 3 October 2016 to spearhead critical research on the understanding of risk and to change the risk communication landscape in Asia to allow for more informed decision-making for the betterment of society.
In his opening remarks, Professor Phoon Kok Kwang, Interim Director of LRFI, touched upon the increasing dependency on digital technology like the Internet and social media in every aspect of our lives. “I think all of us are aware that with this improvement in the way we do things, we’ve also opened ourselves up to new areas of vulnerability…some people call this the post-truth era and we believe — and this will be a fundamental position of the Institute — that it is only with shared values, strengthening trust, and making decisions that are grounded in evidence and good science, that we can make the world a better and safer place for all of us.”
Socially amplified responses brought about by social media and fake news “can lead to an overestimation of the risk and can stigmatise technologies, places and products as a result, or create a demand for policy change which may not always be warranted,” added Professor Richard Clegg, Lloyd’s Register Foundation Chief Executive. “The Institute is here not to tell people what the answer is, but to create balanced debate, good science and good evidence around risk, and the Institute is going to do that in an independent, authoritative, trusted sort of way.”
The key takeaway of the conference was that in the quest to improve public understanding of risk and design effective interventions to prompt behavioural change, there is a need to acknowledge the inherently subjective and multifaceted nature of risk, and that people’s choices are influenced by how risk is presented.
This was expounded by the line-up of international speakers, including Professor Baruch Fischhoff from Carnegie Mellon University who talked about strategic risk communication, Professor Elke Weber of Princeton University who touched on the power and complexity of perceived risk, as well as Professor Eric Johnson from Columbia University who discussed risk associated with making environmentally sustainable choices, and who drove home how our brains are trained to respond primarily to the most immediate and obvious costs and benefits.
Professor Duan Jin-Chuan from the NUS Risk Management Institute and Cycle & Carriage Professor of Finance at NUS Business spoke on a new credit risk analytics paradigm, and how transforming copious amounts of big data into smart data would allow actionable data to emerge to assist decision-making.
An engaging panel discussion also looked at the disconnect between scientific evidence and public understanding of risk, or “facts versus fears”, surrounding topics such as cyberbullying and natural disasters.
In closing, Professor Ho Teck Hua, NUS Deputy President (Research & Technology) expressed his hope that LRFI would close the gap between fact and fear, combine primary and secondary data collection methods for maximum impact, and promote collaboration between physical and social scientists. “I would love to see the Institute actively engage the public, either getting their views as a subject or better still, letting them influence the agenda you’ll be taking in research formulation,” he added.
The conference also launched the Foresight Review on the Public Understanding of Risk. The report, a collaborative effort by NUS and Lloyd’s Register Foundation, identifies opportunities for better risk communication in society and will set the future direction of the Institute, which hopes to embark on up to 30 innovative projects over the next five years.