Expert of the Week   for  15 - 21 Jun 2015

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Magda Stepanyan

Founder and CEO

Risk Society Expertise:  Her main areas of expertise includes integrated risk management (with the focus on both organizational and institutional levels), disaster and climate risk governance, capacity development, civil protection, recovery planning, and M&E.

She holds an MA in Sociology (Yerevan State University, Armenia), MSc in Public Administration (Leiden University, the Netherlands), and The International Certificate in Risk Management from The Institute of Risk Management (UK). She has more than 15 years management and consultancy experience, working with organizations such as the EC, UN, WB, Red Cross, and many others. She authored a UNDP Technical Paper on Risk Management for Capacity Development Facilities (2012).

Integrated Risk Management for Sustainable Development

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QQuestion by Mr Dusan ZUPKA

Dear Magda,

Integrated Disaster Risk Management has to be based on a comprehensive Disaster Risk Assessment (DRA).There is a proliferation of different methodological approaches (EU/EC, OECD, UNDP, World Bank, Swiss, UK approach etc.) to carry our a comprehensive DRA. What is in your view the best approach to be applied? Please elaborate on steps in the process. Best regards, Dusan

Mr Dusan ZUPKA Coordinator Disaster Risk Management | University Geneva/International Graduate Institute

APosted on 21 Jun 2015

Dear Mr. Zupka,


Manythanks for your interesting and extremely important question! In fact, I canread it two ways: as a rather straightforward question providing therefore a straightforwardanswer, and as a very complex question that needs more deliberation. Let meaddress both.

1. Straightforwardanswer

Absolutelyagree with you that Integrated Disaster Risk Management has to be based on acomprehensive Disaster Risk Assessment. What is the best approach to integratedrisk management? The easy answer is that we are constantly learning, there is aconstantly changing disaster risk context, and therefore, each approachexplores certain important aspect of disaster risk (reflecting the level of ourlearning) and is equally relevant. New methodological developments would alsobe relevant if they go hand in hand with new technological and contextualdevelopments. The general answer has already been provided by Ross Ashby: onlyvariability absorbs variability.


The biggestchallenge, I’ve witnessed, is when policy-makers in developing countriesstruggle with incomplete (in time and space) disaster risk assessmentsoffered by various development partners, creating thereby fragmentation andconfusion at the community and national levels, rendering effectivedecision-making basically impossible. This is not an issue of methodological differences;this is a political and governance issue.



2. Answer to a verycomplex question

Your question has two components: IRM approachand DRA methodology.

Integrated Disaster Risk Management – everysingle word has been conceptualized and interpreted in many different ways bydifferent partners as each of them is in search of the answer to ‘what isintegrated’, ‘what is disaster’, ‘what is risk’, and ‘what is management of allthat’.

And here again I agree with you, that there areso many different approaches. So many that I’m not even absolutely sure whichone you referred to when listing some of the organizations in your question. But letme try to answer.

According to the IDRiM[1]‘SDC,[2][3]for instance, outlines three main phases: pre-assessment, appraisal, andmanagement. The ADB’s[4]integrated disaster management refers to three components: ‘integrate DRR intodevelopment, address the intersection between DRM and climate changeadaptation, and ensure that there are adequate financing arrangements in placeto reduce risk and to manage and transfer residual risk’. It has to bementioned that integrating DRR into development is high on the agendas ofalmost every organization (UN agencies,[5] WB,etc.) and search for ‘adequate financing arrangements’ is becoming morearticulated too (WB, for instance). From the perspective of nationalgovernments, integrated disaster risk management can refer to awhole-of-government approach to identify, assess, and respond to disaster risks.This requires moving away from institutional confines of a single ministry (Ministryof Emergency Situation, for instance) and establishing functioning multi-agencyframeworks (National Platforms and suchlike) for preparedness, response, andrecovery.

Inyour question you referred to EU/EC, OECD, UK approaches…. If I understood youcorrectly, you are referring to the national risk assessments (NRA) and developmentof the national risk profiles. This is relatively new development, which coversnot only safety (natural and technological disasters) but also security (terrorism,conflicts, etc.) issues. In other words, it moves away from purely 'disaster risk' to a broader 'risk' perspective. In this sense, the integrated (disaster) riskmanagement has broader thematic focus. Indeed, different national states areusing different risk assessment methodologies however the impact criteria they use are largelycompatible (territorial security, physical security, economic security,ecological security, and social and political stability). They all approach NRAfrom a perspective of ‘what to avoid’ and define the scenarios to identify andassess risks. The ultimate goal is to strengthen national resilience throughnational risk assessment, which leads to defining the core capabilities (as forinstance, in The National Preparedness Goal in USA[6]) orto defining the principles and requirements towards business continuity management (as incase of UK[7]). Despitethese similarities there are significant differences in the language/conceptsthey use (crisis, disaster, or emergency), and of course, there are differentmethodologies to risk assessment they employ to meet their national interests. Importantto mention that WB has also embarked on this (in Morocco, for instance)addressing also opportunity management for national development. Each riskassessment methodology is designed based on the best knowledge and the needs ofeach state and as long as[8]) evolvesalong with the concept itself.


Whatis my recommendation? I personally very much in favor of the national risk assessmentprocesses that are taking place within the EU and OECD member states. The NRAprocesse is not dragged in the ‘contest of precision’ while rating the risk butare focused on which capacities to build to be able to address the risk shouldit materializes.


Letme reiterate my point I mentioned in the introduction blog: while addressingsocietal risks we should be able to address three main questions: What toavoid? What to develop? What to preserve? This would be the most relevantapproach in my view. The risk assessment methodologies will follow.


Thankyou for your though-provoking question!




[1] [2] [3]

[4] [5]




QQuestion by Mr Dave Paul Zervaas

Dear Magda,
What do you think is the best way to explain governments that risk management is a good investment? If you had 30 minutes to explain a high-level delegation why risk management is important, what type of examples or rationale would you use to make the point?

Mr Dave Paul Zervaas Programme Officer | UNISDR

APosted on 18 Jun 2015

Dear Dave,


Manythanks for your question! You are not only the very first to kickoff thediscussion but you are also asking the very important question: how to get thegovernment’s buying-in for effective risk investment. I only wish there is theone and the best answer and I know it!


ButI can think of two main impediments that governments face to ensure effectiverisk investment.


1.     1. The political time horizon of decision-makersis limited by their tenure and they are focused primarily on immediate/short-termdemand of their key constituents and voters.

2.    2. The only evidence-based convincing negotiationwith the governments on the return on value of riskinvestment could be based on some sort of cost-benefit analysis yet, it isdifficult to quantify such benefits and costs in monetary terms and it requirescostly process of reliable data collection.

Insteadof addressing these two impediments directly, which has been proven ineffectiveanyways, I suggest to be focused on creating demand for risk-informeddevelopment.  


Inmy understanding, this implies, a) building capacities of national andinternational partners to understand the concepts of risk and risk management fordevelopment (thereby creating demand at the individual level); and b) ensuringthat all development programmes are risk-informed and aimed at responding torisks (creating demand at the organizational and institutional levels).The latter is even a bigger challenge! The requirements of internationalreference frameworks and donors towards development programming are confusing. Theyare focused on problem solving (think about LogFrames or ToC) rather than risk responding. Instead, development interventions that are aimed at risk responding will necessarily account for the dynamic nature of a risk, itscause-effect considerations, and be focused on those who contribute to thecauses of the risk and those who are most impacted by the consequences of therisk. This has to be made explicit. Only then ‘risk management’ would become adefault modus operandi of developmentpartners and wouldn’t require additional and burdensome efforts of convincingone party or another (be that a government or another stakeholder).   

Inall honesty, I don’t think that we can convince any government on the importanceof risk investment if there is no demand for that from theirside. But we can definitely convince them on the importance of riskconsideration and get their buying-in to strengthen their capacities for riskmanagement for development. However, this has to go hand in hand with thestrategic switch of international development partners from ‘problem solving’modalities to ‘risk response’ modalities.  The point is those who would theoretically be on the two sides of the negotiation table - governments and other development partners (donors, in a first place) - they both need to reconsider their approaches to risk management for development!

Thank you for a very relevant question, Dave!