“Solution-Focused Risk Assessment”: A Proposal for the Fusion of Environmental Analysis and Action
ABSTRACT For 30 years, more attention and resources have been expended on dissecting problems (risk assessment) than on evaluating actual solutions that reduce risks. The basic dogma holds that risk assessment must precede risk management. But there is an opposite and perhaps better way: the opening question should not be ?How bad is the problem?? but ?How good are the solutions we might apply to the problem?? Rethinking risk assessment in this context offers three 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. Second, it can lead to more decisions that actually achieve risk reduction, rather than pronouncements about how much risk reduction would be optimal. Third, it can highlight ways to 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, the more likely it is that the ?problem? will be defined in a way that blunts the free-wheeling discussion of solutions, to the detriment of human health, the environment, and the economy.