Vincent Briscoe Lecture 2017

Bill delivered the Institute for Security Science and Technology 2017 Vincent Briscoe Lecture at Imperial College London.

Titled Big Data Needs Big Ideas: Engaging social science for effective security science and technology the talk explores the contribution that the social sciences ought to be making to every aspect of security science and technology. The achievements and authority of the latter are truly remarkable. But they form just one element of our human pursuit of purpose and meaning.

Obstructing those we oppose is not the same as articulating what we are for. Addressing risks is a means to an end, not the end in itself. The biggest threat we face may be an emerging cultural disconnect within society. Engaging the human dimension has never been more vital.

You can read the transcript of the lecture, including slides, here.

Theory informed by practice. Application informed by purpose. Why to understand and manage risk, cultural context is the key

Abstract: Risk analysis and risk management are reliant in order to be effective on their ability to engage with and communicate to non-specialist audiences, whether these be policy-makers asked to turn the advice that they agree with into practice, those implementing decisions, or the public, who are often on the receiving end of these.

Accordingly, there needs to be clarity of purpose regarding – and reflected through – the language used, the partners engaged, and the proposed ends of any measures to be implemented. These elements sit within specific cultural contexts – both geographical and historical – and it is essential to account for these in translating theory into practice.

This article surveys the discourse used across various examples, including a detailed case study. The most significant conclusion is that while data and evidence certainly matter for validation – understanding culture remains key to effective risk analysis and trustworthy risk management because, on the whole, people look for meaning beyond the mere ‘facts’. This applies to risks assumed to be narrowly technical as much as those with a strong social, cultural and political dimension.

Few risk analysts and safety experts consider or account for the broader, contextual and cultural factors that impact their choices, analyses and modes of dissemination. This creates a divide between those commissioning and conducting the research and those to whom it is held to apply and needs to be implemented by, which undermines democratic accountability, as well as the possible benefits of, and trust in, their enterprise.

Durodie, W. (2017). Theory informed by practice. Application informed by purpose. Why to understand and manage risk, cultural context is the key. Safety Science99(B), 244-254.