Diamonds are…

Value. How do we place it on what’s at risk. Implicitly we think we know, because our default position with what’s at risk in disasters is life, and property. But we know from dealing with the consequences that it is way more complex than that. A recent workshop I attended through the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC research program was looking at values and risk ownership. This is the first time I’ve seen an attempt to look at something esoteric and complex as values.

The accompanying paper by Celeste Young, John Symons, and Roger Jones Who’s Risk is it anyway is worth a read, as it grapples with some challenging concepts about who owns institutional risk. Particularly in this era of “shared responsibility” it is interesting to see who owns the risk. Governments are increasingly talking about shared responsibility, and that the community needs to do more. I would argue that individuals already share a lot of the responsibility for emergency management through their insurance. They also contract out the difficult bits, through their taxes, to government agencies, or through donations to agencies like mine. Understanding risk ownership may help us understand shared responsibility.

I think value, and valuing what is at risk is really important. It helps us to start to form a value proposition (good marketing speak there), so we can have conversations with people about investing in protecting what’s at risk. These people might be hard-nosed Treasury Officials who are conditioned to say no to everything unless it has a fully realised cost benefit analysis, and then they still say no. The conversations should be had with the punters, the people who have things at risk, who probably don’t fully realise what is placed at risk. This, our sector, calls complacency. I think it that it is less complacency and more that we don’t have a fully formed risk picture, on which people can base decisions to take action, and this risk picture is certainly not communicated well.

Value is, of course, a multifaceted concept. What I value is different to what you value. Can a community agree on what is valuable? Some might argue that heritage protection or national parks are a way that communities have agreed on what is valuable, but we all know these very tangible expressions of value are fraught. Also what a predominately Anglo Saxon community agrees on as valuable is likely to be very different to what the various indigenous nations identify as important and valuable.

Part of our challenge at the moment is that when we try to value or cost impacts, we only count what we can touch and see. What is not in the mix is things we can see or touch, the disruption to people’s lives, the loss of amenity in landscapes or community, the true cost of health issues, of relationship breakdown, of domestic violence.

Hats off to the people who are turning their minds to these complex subjects, these are the sorts of things we really need to understand.

v spy v spy, the great Sydney band on value

One thought on “Diamonds are…

  1. Thanks, John.

    This is a great piece because it’s written by someone who’s not wrapped around the axle about risk mgmt as a discipline. I’ve been teaching in the area for more than 10 years, and one of the key things we desperately try to leave our students with is the idea that analysing risk is subjective. How do you work out how to place value on the local festival, on the hall that was built after the last festival, on the relationships between businesses and the capital city …. or whatever. We get there in the end, but it takes a lot of work and trust to have the students let go of some long-held beliefs. And after a while we get into a rote pattern of what seems to work – an intelligent new point of view is so valuable.

    I’m glad the CRC put it on, and I’m glad they clearly got the message across. I worry that there are a lot of people playing in the same playground but are blind to who else is there. … Went to a great seminar at RMIT this afternoon put on by the people in the Centre for Global Research. Fab session and great linkages and examples from related sectors to ours.

    Thanks once again for another terrific piece.

    Cheers, Susan Henry Ph 0418 595 281


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