OEF's Dr. Conor Seyle presents at UN Disaster Summit on Human Biases & Risk Reduction

At the UNDRR's 2022 Disaster Summit, OEF's Dr. Conor Seyle presented his contribution to the 2022 Global Disaster Assessment report: "How human biases and decision processes affect risk reduction outcomes".

In a session titled "Improved Understanding and Governance of Systemic Risk: Unpacking the 2022 Global Assessment Report," OEF's Dr. Conor Seyle shared insights from research on the myriad of ways human biases and decision processes affect risk reduction outcomes.  

"Behavioural science offers an opportunity to improve risk management outcomes and long-term change. We need to consider how human minds perceive risk and make decisions in order to adapt and reconfigure regulatory and incentive systems as well as market risk reduction products and services," writes the United Nations Office for Disaster and Risk Reduction. "Risk management and communication can be steered towards co-design and data-driven consultative decision making that gives agency to end-users. Knowledge beyond conventional risk data is needed for a better understanding of the systemic impacts of risk. Outputs of scientific risk models can be complemented with traditional knowledge." 

Dr. Seyle argued that there is a serious need for risk reduction systems to understand and account for how humans make decisions about risk, such as information seeking, trust, and the execution of these decisions. While organizations may have the right technical science, understanding the social science is also critical to success.

"The process of risk reduction is a multi-step process: people must be aware that a risk exists. They must decide that they are concerned about that risk, that there is something they can personally do, and they must choose and execute that course of behavior. This means that awareness of risk itself is not sufficient to lead to risk reduction behavior. Instead, there is a process that must be followed."

The struggle, for Seyle, is that at each step of this process, there are pressures and biases that affect if a decision is made, how a decision is made, and if it is executed, along with the social motives that play into decision making. "The challenge of disaster risk reduction is to incorporate this awareness into systems for disaster risk reduction, communications, and planning.... We must work with how people make decisions and not against."