Risk communication in multi-stakeholder disaster risk management systems : Insights and recommendations from the Swedish system

Abstract: The overall purpose of this thesis is to improve our understanding of how disaster risk management (DRM) systems function. Specifically, it aims to increase our knowledge about effective communication in a multi-stakeholder, multi-level DRM system, with a particular focus on the exchange of risk-related information for risk assessment. The Swedish DRM system is taken as a study case to examine how DRM stakeholders collect and share information while conducting, disseminating and utilizing risk assessments, and the challenges that hinder effective risk communication. The studies included in this thesis highlight how risk assessment work and the associated communication issues influence Swedish DRM practice, both positively and negatively. They also propose countermeasures to overcome these challenges in order to improve the effectiveness of risk communication among stakeholders, increase their collective ability to assess and manage potential disaster risks, and thus enhance the overall performance of the system.Research methods include, for example, semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions,experiments, and document analysis. Empirical data are collected mainly from the Swedish DRM system (municipal, regional and national levels). However, some experiments involve participants from another DRM context (Nicaragua), and additional policy documents from the European Union are included in the analysis. The results highlight that a lack of standardization in risk assessment work has hampered the communication via risk assessment documentations. DRM stakeholders vary widely in terms of the scale and frequency of the potential risks they assess, making communication less meaningful since they are focusing on different types of events. They are unwilling to disseminate the results of their risk assessments, due to concerns that sensitive risk-related information and managerial shorcomings might be exposed. Finally, there is a lack of constructive feedback regarding the quality of risk assessments, making it unclear how to improve and resulting the risk communication a one-way process.Two sets of countermeasures are proposed to overcome these risk communication challenges:1) efforts should be made to solve systemic problems. Examples include the provision of constructive feedback that would make risk communication two-way, and the establishment of a clear information disclosure procedure; and 2) risk assessment documentation should be better designed. The inclusion of scenario descriptions, assessments of the likelihood of events and consequences, and background information concerning estimated likelihoods will probably improve the usefulness of the risk assessment for decision-making and communication. Quantitative and semi-quantitative scales seem to be promising ways to communicate risk-related information, especially if they are complemented by narrative evidence.