Message from the President
A lot of my energy so far this year has been taken-up planning for this year’s conference. When I first talked to members of the committee before I put my name forward last year, I knew I would have to organise the conference. Oh, how naively I
thought: “how hard could that be!?” Thankfully Sandra and I had already discussed the possibility of another joint conference with ABNMS. After a slow start, not helped by me returning to the UK for Christmas, and a great deal of patience and poking by my counterpart at ABNMS (Annemarie Christophersen), I am now quietly confident that we have an interesting conference planned for Wellington this November. A big thanks goes out to Bob Cavana and Bronwyn Howells at Victoria Business School for their help in securing rooms at the VBS site in central Wellington, and to GNS for hosting websites etc. There are more details later in the newsletter please make a note of the key dates and keep an eye out for further details later in the year.
As I think back to the first meeting Annemarie and I had, we ended the conversation on why we joined our respective committees, what we wanted to achieve as President, and why we wanted to be involved with the conference. I’ll admit that I didn’t put my name in the hat at SRA-ANZ because I wanted to organise a conference. I was more interested in helping people to conduct better risk assessments. And, just as importantly, to explain the process and outcome of those assessments in a way that is readily understandable.
To the chagrin, I’m sure, of some of the contaminated land consultants whose reports I reviewed as a regulator back in the UK, I never took favourably to those who threw numbers in a spreadsheet without explaining why that model and value had been chosen, and how the inputs and outputs related to the real world. Maybe I have my old consultancy environ-
mental/training director to thank for that. One of the key things I remember from the three years working with him was that it was important to “tell the story”; to lead the reader (whether that be client or regulator) through your thinking; to use language that your audience can follow so that they can understand you conclusions and recommendations. On a basic level, if the client didn’t understand then they’d likely go elsewhere next time; if the regulator didn’t, it was harder to get the client’s project approved (and they might go elsewhere next time). Taking a big-picture view if nothing was done, this could mean land affecting the health of people and the environment was not cleaned-up, or money wasted on land that didn’t need it.
Jumping forward 15 years from those conversations, I think that being able to explain how we reach a risk assessment conclusion and the recommendation that follows is just as important. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that for people to follow or accept those recommendations we also need to consider their intrinsic values. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the outcome of an assessment/recommendation process will be different. Hopefully, it means that more people are more likely to accept the actions that follow, even if they don’t necessarily agree with them.
This all leads nicely back to this year’s conference: Risk and Decisions: how different aspects of risk underpin reasonable and culturally-appropriate decision-making. I hope we can bring together researchers developing new techniques and insights, practitioners using some of those techniques in anger (as it were), regulators reviewing proposals, and policy makers and decision makers deciding what and how to implement risk analysis and the resulting management options, so that others inside and outside our society have a greater appreciation of good risk analysis and the benefits that it can bring for organisations, us, the environment, and society.