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Behavioural Science – The Key to Unlocking Resilience

December 2, 202209:30Florianopolis

Behavioural Science – The Key to Unlocking Resilience

Featuring findings from the UN Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2022

As the UN Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2022 (GAR 2022) states, COVID-19 and climate change are rapidly making it clear that, in today’s crowded and interconnected world, disaster impacts increasingly cascade across geographies and sectors and are systemic in nature. Despite progress, risk creation is outstripping risk reduction. Disasters, economic loss and the underlying vulnerabilities that drive risk, such as poverty and inequality, are increasing just as ecosystems and biospheres are at risk of collapse. Global systems are becoming more connected and therefore more vulnerable in an uncertain risk landscape.

Building resilience and managing risk is crucial to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals in an increasingly complex risk environment, and to support environmental sustainability, the restoration of ecosystems and the protection of biodiversity, in a changing climate. But why does progress remain slow?

Many of our risk management and risk governance approaches aren’t fit to cope with increasingly complex and systemic risk. This is partly because we do not fully understand what drives systemic risk, and how to manage root causes, complex vulnerability and exposure to multiple hazards. There is need for an increased ability to rapidly shift from one governance mode to another for adapting to sudden changes due to abrupt and unpredicted shocks, like in the case of Covid-19, or the current food, fertilizer and fuel crisis. This means that governments must be prepared to deal with systemic risks in constantly evolving governance scenarios.

We know what to do to reduce risk, prevent disaster and develop resilience, we often have sufficient risk data and perhaps even the right policies in place, yet we, as institutions and individuals, often fail to create long-term change. What if we have been looking for the answer in the wrong place, while in reality it has been in front of our very eyes, or in other words, we have been holding the key to unlocking resilience in our hands without being conscious of it?

Risk management interventions are designed to protect people, by people, and require people to make decisions and take actions that ultimately reduce risk. In taking these decisions, people are driven by social motives, biases and perception of reality. Interventions which emphasize decisions made on the basis of pure risk reduction, without accounting for these biases, may fail to move behavior. If we design interventions factoring in how human minds make decision about risk, we have the potential to create long-term change towards resilience. There is an increasing awareness of the importance to apply behavioural science to risk management and programming among the OECD, the World Bank, the UN as well as civil society organizations and government-led initiatives.

GAR 2022 and the Americas Regional Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction 2021 (RAR 2021) identify risk management and risk communication approaches that can help overcome these bottlenecks and ultimately lead to the necessary risk governance transitions to create resilient and sustainable development pathways in an increasingly complex risk landscape.

The UN Global Assessment Report 2022 – Our World at Risk: Transforming Governance for a Resilient Future, dedicates an entire PART to how human minds take decision about risk, and how to design successful risk management interventions, and is currently developing a briefing note with the GAR 2022 authors, that will provide a deeper dive into the subject.

In order to transform governance for a resilient and environmentally sustainable future the GAR 2022 report recommends to design systems to factor in human decision-making. If risk management and risk communication are based on an understanding of the role of people’s perceptions of risk and biases, they can instigate action.

This session will unpack the scientific reasons behind the question why humans may resist change towards resilience and how behavioral approaches have been used in the past to overcome those bottlenecks in practice. It will feature successful interventions from around the world, and feature transferable lessons learned and action points.


Carlos Uribe

UNDRR Americas

Raquel Lejtreger

University of the Republic of Uruguay

Conor Seyle

One Earth Future

Walid Afifi

UC Santa Barbara

Claudia Herrera Melgar

Executive Secretary / CEPREDENAC

Allan Lavell

Latin American Social Science Faculty, IRDR

Event Info

  • Florianopolis

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