Covid-19 has changed the world in many ways - crucially, it’s heightened our awareness of the unpredictability of life on this planet and the risks we face.
But how much do we – the public – understand about risk? Are risks explained to us by Governments and scientists in a way that we all understand?
In this episode of The Global Safety Podcast, our host Professor Danielle George explores how risk is communicated, what we've learnt from the pandemic, and how to ensure those learnings make the world a safer and more resilient place.
Featuring insights from:
- Sarah Cumbers, Director of Evidence and Insight, Lloyd's Register Foundation
- Wendy Bruine de Bruin, Provost Professor of Public Policy, Psychology, and Behavioral Science at the University of Southern California Sol Price School of Public Policy
- Olivia Jensen, Lead Scientist at the LRF Institute for the Public Understanding of Risk at the National University of Singapore
- Tracey Brown, Director, Sense about Science
- Seth Schultz, CEO, Resilience Rising
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Tracey: I think the lack of understanding of risk has been really problematic and probably singularly the biggest cause of failure in pandemic policy…
Sarah: I think we need to be much better prepared for shocks and I think covid has taught us that…
Wandi: As communities we can come together and we can act together to do something about risks…
Seth: We are living in times of great uncertainty…
Danielle: Hello. I'm Professor Daniel George. COVID 19 has changed the world forever in so many ways from the way we work, travel, and crucially, it's given us a heightened awareness of the unpredictability of life on this planet and the risks we face. But what are those risks? And are we prepared for other similar global risks? Do we even know what we should and shouldn't be worried about? The climate crisis, disease, conflict and hunger are all global issues being experienced right now in various parts of the world. But how do we balance those risks with local everyday problems such as mental health, food prices and road accidents? And with a constant deluge of news and information both real and fake, how do we close the belief gap between public perception and real world risk to make people feel safer? In this, the first episode of the series, we explore how we perceive risk, what we've learnt from the pandemic, and how to ensure those lessons are translated into positive actions to make the world a safer place. We'll also bring you some insights from the global thought leaders who came together at this year's Safer World Conference to discuss today's biggest safety challenges and the new approaches needed to create a safer world. Welcome to the Global Safety Podcast with Lloyd's Register Foundation.
And to help me get to the bottom of this subject, I'm joined by Dr. Sarah Cumbers, director of evidence and insight at Lloyd's Register Foundation, and Professor Wandi Bruin de Bruin, Provost, Professor of Public Policy, Psychology and Behavioural Sciences at University of Southern California. Wandi’s research aims to understand and inform how people make decisions about their personal health and well-being, including during the COVID 19 pandemic. Hello, Sarah and Wandi.
Wandi and Sarah: Hello there. Hi.
Danielle: Hi. Thank you for joining us. Okay. Let's start with the basics. Sarah, can you start by telling us a bit about Lloyd's Register Foundation and its goals?
Sarah: Yes, certainly. So the foundation is a global safety charity. We were established back in 2012, so just celebrating our 10th anniversary this year. And we're now active in over 100 countries across the world funding, research, innovation, education in pursuit of safer lives and safer property. And so we've got a very simple yet effective strategy. We use evidence and insight to support our understanding of safety challenges. And then we focus on the most pressing of these challenges to reduce risk and harm across the world. And then finally, we work in partnership with others, because some of these challenges that the world faces are far too big for one organisation of the foundation’s size to tackle alone.
Danielle: So I guess understanding risk is quite a crucial part of your work then?
Sarah: Absolutely it is, yes. The factors that determine how people perceive and experience risk are really varied and complex. And we know that there can be quite a significant gap between people's perception of risk and their experience of risk. And if addressed in partnership, then we can help to improve the safety of people's lives by addressing that gap.
Danielle: Okay, so. So let's just explain so we're all clear on it. What is risk and why is it important that the public understand it?
Sarah: So from the foundation's perspective, risk essentially is a situation that involves exposure to danger. So, for example, every day we might think about the risk that we're taking when we open the fridge and we're thinking about - is the food that I'm about to eat safe? Or when we go to work we’re thinking about the risk of unsafe practises within a working environment and that might have an impact on our physical and mental health. Or if we're using a computer or a mobile phone, what's the risk there from using digital systems? And the important thing is that if we understand risk better for the public, understand risk better then we’re empowered to take informed decisions and enjoy safer lives as an ultimate impact.
Danielle: Wandi, from your point of view, why is it important that risk is communicated effectively?
Wandi: Well, so risks are all around us. But we can't always avoid them because you take a risk to gain a benefit. And so people have to make their own decisions about whether that's worth it for them. And so communicating risk well means sharing what the risk is, what people can do about it so that they can live live happy and safe lives.
Danielle: And, you know, it's fair to say, I guess, Wandi, that we're living in the age of information, but also an age of uncertainty as well. So is it fair to say that if there ever was a time to be more risk aware, now is that time?
Wandi: Well, risk and uncertainty have always been around and pandemics have happened before. And so it's always been challenging to understand risk and the surrounding uncertainty. But what is challenging about the information age is that there's a lot of information being shared from different sources, and that information is often contradictory and it's hard to tell which information is correct. And so it may help to have some risk literacy or risk know how, so that it's easier to figure out what the information means and whether the information applies to you and whether it's correct.
Danielle: Okay. Good. Right. So you've both laid the the foundations and we've got a good introduction into it. Now we're going to hear from Professor Tracey Brown, director of Sense About Science, an organisation that challenges the misrepresentation of science and evidence in public life and holds those responsible to account. Tracey is passionate about empowering the public to understand and question claims that affect our safety and will tell us now about “risk literacy”.
Tracey Brown: Risk literacy or risk know-how, as we like to call it, is a set of concepts that if we have those that our disposal, we can cut through information and we can sift. So let's just take the example of someone presented with a story by an employer that says, look, you know, our accident numbers are going down. And the first thing you want to ask is why is it that your actual staff numbers have gone down and that's why your accidents have gone down? Or are we seeing a smaller percentage of those staff having accidents? There are other questions to do with how do you present people with the need for action? So for example, one of the things that's come up about rainfall, in particular in farming communities that are affected by changes to the climate, what's the average rainfall actually mean? Not unreasonably, you've got farmers saying, is that an average of the farms? Is that an average, you know, of the seasons? Is it an average for this time of year? You know, people just don't know what that means. And so you realise there's room on both sides here, you know, to help equip people with the right kind of questions, but also to make sure that when they come with those questions that the information sources are speaking to them. Risk know-how is part of a wider consideration we have for whether people are well equipped to ask for the evidence they need to make decisions and to evaluate what they're told. And I think in our experience of doing that in so many sectors, whether it's consumers asking for, you know, does this really make me ten years younger, whether it's people asking for evidence about political claims or policy, it has a really interesting effect - not just on the people that are asking who then feel able in some way to call the world to account - it has an effect on the people they ask as well, because if they think that they are producing products or policies or media stories for an audience that's going to ask those kind of questions, then they produce it differently.
Danielle: Two great examples there from Tracey about how risk is presented to the public as things like averages and percentages. And Tracey said about, you know, there are some challenges with that as well, you know, what does it mean to talk about averages. Wandi, do you think that most of the general public understand these sorts of presentations of risk?
Wandi: A lot of people have a hard time with numbers, so probably not. In the 2019 Lloyd's Register Foundation World Risk Poll, people from 142 countries around the world were asked a question about numbers. They were asked whether 10% is bigger than, smaller than or the same as one in ten. And in low-income countries, people struggle to answer that question. So, for example, in Sierra Leone, 89% of participants could not answer that question. But even in high income countries, many people find it hard to think about numbers. So in the UK, for example, 32% of people could not answer whether 10% is bigger than, smaller than or the same as one in ten. And so even though risk literacy or understanding those numbers is higher amongst people with a university education, there are also many people with a university education who struggle with numbers. So understanding numbers is difficult for a lot of people.
Danielle: Yeah. So is there a better way that we could communicate risk to the public so that they can all make better decisions?
Wandi: Yes. So there is a scientific field called risk perception and risk communication. And in that field, we study how to best communicate risk. So, for example, if you want to make probabilities or risks easier to understand, one way to do that is to use icon graphs, and so icon graphs are graphs that use stick figures, and then the stick figures represent the population at risk. So for example, you have 100 stick figures and these are people who are at risk of experiencing or people who are exposed to a disease. And then you might have ten red stick figures to show that 10% get sick and then the other 90 are blue and they didn't get sick. And then you can you make it visual, make it very easy to see what the numbers are. But of course, just showing the numbers is not enough. So talking about the numbers and what they mean to people is also important.
Danielle: Brill, Thank you. We're going to hear now from Dr. Olivia Jensen, lead scientist at the Lloyd's Register Foundation Institute for Public Understanding of Risk. The institute is currently exploring something called the risk gap, and Olivia is going to tell a more.
Olivia Jenson: Well the risk gap that we're looking at in our research or maybe more precisely the risk perception gap, and it's the gap between the way that experts perceive risk and the way that members of the public perceive risk. But I have to immediately clarify that what we don't mean by this is simply that experts are right and the public are wrong, and the public need to be brought in line with experts. This gap can work in different ways, but sometimes it's the experts that need to understand the public better and understand what it is that's what's driving the public perceptions of risk in order to come up with the right sort of effective solutions. So we see examples of both overestimation and underestimation. And so underestimation: we've got forgotten risks, antimicrobial resistance, soil degradation and pollution, some risks that really never make it into the media or into the sort of political debates. But of course, we've also got overestimated risks, and these ones may be easier to to bring to mind the things that sets off set off panics and perhaps around vaccines. And of course, around COVID, there have been many issues, both of overestimation, underestimation and confusion. What I'd really like to see is actually a different approach to improving the public understanding of risk which is to work out better how to communicate to policymakers and decision makers what they need to understand about the people whose lives they're trying to change or influence or improve in order to make the kinds of interventions that they decide on more effective. We see the chain of evidence from scientists to policymakers and then from policymakers into regulations which people then need to follow. What we see less of is a real effort to understand what are the constraints that people face? What are the trade-offs that they face when they see this great spectrum of risks in their lives that will affect how they respond to interventions? Now, if we really look at that, we can design much better, more effective kinds of policies in order to get people to be able to take better decisions in the face of risk.
Danielle: Thanks to Dr. Olivia Jensen for that. So what she's saying essentially is that experts need to listen to people as well as the other way around. Yes, experts might want us to be worried about climate change at the moment because that is a real risk to us all. But if people have more immediate worries, like struggling to feed and clothe their children, then climate change is going to be further down people's priority list. So should we be trying to change people's priorities, Sarah, or trying to understand them?
Sarah: Well I think the answer to this question is probably a bit of both. And if we go back to the principle of better risk communication and communicating that risk in a way that can be understood and acted on, then that in itself, I think, will impact on people's priorities. And I think that change will happen naturally because there'll be a better understanding. And if that doesn't happen, then that's telling us something about the priorities of the society that we live in. And we need to listen then to those voices and make sure that we're addressing the risks that matter to people.
Danielle: Do you agree Wandi? What would you like to see change, which would help better decision making by policymakers?
Wandi: So what I often recommend is to involve a citizen panel in policy decisions. So in a lot of health policy, this is this is already the norm. So in a lot of hospitals, for example, there are patient panels where the patients inform a hospital policy. And so you can imagine that this could be done at a national level or local level wherever you're designing your policies to involve people from the community in the decision making.
Danielle: Sarah, listening to what people are worried about is exactly what the world risk poll is doing, isn't it? Can you tell us a bit more about the poll?
Sarah: Yes, that's right. So the poll is a global opportunity to ask people around the world about risk and safety and about the impacts of risk and safety issues on their daily lives. And so we first went into the field in 2019 with our polling partners, Gallup, and we didn't obviously know then what was about to happen. And we've got this amazing pre-COVID baseline of information and responses to questions about people's greatest source of risk to safety in their daily life and how they perceive and experience the risk from seven everyday challenges. Then in 2021, Gallup went back into the field. They offer some of those same questions, but they also asked some very different questions. So we've got this specific modules on the poll as well. So in 2019, we asked about workplace safety risks. We asked about safety of food. About safety of the Internet and technology in 2021. We ask a lot of questions about disaster resilience, specifically in the workplace. We asked about people's experience of violence and harassment in the workplace because we found that this was a major issue back in 2019 and we've got a significant collaboration with the International Labour Organisation on that for the 2021 poll. And so essentially that the poll gives us a unique insight into global answers to these questions about risk and safety. So as Wandi was talking about the citizens polls, essentially we've got that on a global scale and can really start to unpick what's driving people's perceptions and experiences of risk globally in terms of different demographics and how perception of risk is linked to experience, for example.
Danielle: And what do you hope to do with the results then? Sarah, have you got any examples of how results have been used to make a difference?
Sarah: Yep, some great examples. And Wandi is one of our grant holders in the world risk poll and has got a whole array of academic publications now that are stemming from the poll. But I just want to mention one other organisation as well: GAIN the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition, who used the 2019 results really to shape their food safety programmes in traditional markets and low income countries in Africa and Asia. And they really have seen the opportunity that the data presents because this isn't information that you can get in any other way. So it's a real gift and the foundation makes those results freely available, which is really, really important. So we can't wait to launch the results of the 2021 poll.
Danielle: So when are they going to be available and what you're hoping to discover in terms of understanding risk?
Sarah: So a huge amount of work going on with Gallup at the moment, the poll results being analysed, emerging findings coming through. And we've got a series of launches planned starting in July when we're looking at the impacts of COVID and how those global responses to those questions that we asked in 2019 and in 2021 have changed. And actually, the initial findings that are coming through from the poll are quite surprising. And I think that's going to be a really, really interesting launch globally.
Danielle: Yeah, I look forward to seeing those results. Wandi could you just tell a bit about the project that Sarah was just talking about and how you're using the results from your project?
Wandi: We're using the results in many different ways, but let me give you one example. So one analysis we did of the Lloyd's Register Foundation World Report from 2019 is we looked at people's responses to the question about whether they had concerns about climate change and whether they had concerns about severe weather. And what we were finding was that a majority of people around the world are concerned about climate change. But the people who are concerned about climate change are not necessarily the people who are concerned about severe weather. Specifically, we find that around the world, in every continent and almost every country, it's the people with a college education or a university education who are most likely to express concerns about climate change. And that's probably because climate change is an abstract concept. You need a little bit of science literacy or risk literacy to understand what climate change means. And climate change communications are often difficult to understand. But if you look at the question about concerns about weather, we find that concerns about severe weather are unrelated to education. So you don't need a university degree to understand that severe weather is a problem. And so and that suggests that if you want to communicate to people about climate change, it's important to make it concrete and to link it to the severe weather they are experiencing locally. And so my team and I have been communicating this information to various organisations that are tasked with climate change communication. So we've worked with the IPCC, we've worked with organisations such as the Waterkeeper Alliance, we've presented at COP26 to help climate scientists and other organisations communicate about climate change in a way that is more clear and more concrete.
Danielle: Okay. Next, we're going to hear from writer and broadcaster Michael Blastland. Michael is a board member of the Winton Centre for Risk and Evidence at the University of Cambridge and is talking here about communication of risk during the early stages of the COVID 19 pandemic in the UK.
Clip Michael Blastland: Now there are some things which worked extraordinarily well. So the fact, for example, that there was this extremely, extremely steep gradient corresponding with the risks of age and it was a great piece of knowledge to have because it informs all kinds of potential actions. Who do you really have to worry about most? Who do you have to get vaccinated first? You know, where is the strongest case for more social restriction and so on? You know, an awful lot came out from that. So we were in some ways brilliantly informed. In other ways, I think. Well, I think some of the overconfidence was positively damaging.
I think we have learnt that good, robust evidence, well communicated like the age gradient, we can see that there are specific questions where we can get traction and the evidence that comes out is really informative and useful. So we've learnt that.
We've learnt that it's really important to try to evaluate things when we can. I think we've learnt that absolutely where we can we have to try to evaluate the effectiveness of these interventions, you know, because you can burn money, you can suck in confidence and expectation which distracts from other priorities, potential other solutions if you don't evaluate. So we must evaluate. It's not some kind of wonky afterthought. You know, it's absolutely critical - you're finding out what works.
I think there's one other thing that we've learnt because I suspect we've learnt that on some questions there is never going to be a shared understanding of risk. You know, there are some subjects where you can see looking at covid, you can see - how could we ever bring those people together to say, to say yes, this is the right decision? You know, not that one. And I think you just have to accept in the end, you know, that there are people coming from such different places with such different beliefs and values and expectations, you know, that there isn't a set of numbers that is really going to solve this for anybody, for everybody. And you then say, okay, well then what are our responsibilities? How do we manage this collective problem when maybe we don't have as much collective agreement as we'd like? And that's a problem we have to, you know, come back to and think about.
Danielle: So Michael talks there about the age gradient or curve that we all became really familiar with in the early days of the pandemic here in the U.K. that led to specific actions which saved lives. But Sarah, do you think it was a good way of communicating risk to the public? Did the daily figure updates on the news actually help people to understand the risks to them?
Sarah: I'm not sure that they did. no. I think there was a certain degree of a fatigue, of number fatigue, particularly as the pandemic wore on. But I think also I'm speaking from a personal perspective and, you know, looking at behaviour in my own community where I don't think people were following the guidance to the letter. I think that the Government essentially were asking people to take action for the good of the wider population and that's not something that people were always willing to do, particularly not when that population wasn't personally known to them. And I'm not sure that there was enough nuance really there in the government's advice. I mean, I remember at one stage in the pandemic, I think the advice in the U.K. was to be alert. What does that mean? What does that mean for me? What does that mean for my grandmother? You know, it's a bit it's a bit of nonsense, really. And the other evidence I think we have that people didn't fully understand was when you see on the news, people who didn't get vaccinated and then they went on the record, you know, often from the hospital bed voicing their regrets when they were just about to pass away. So very, very sad. But what struck me about those stories was that rather than the communication of a message that actually this individual had understood that there was a risk that they might get seriously ill and that they had been willing to take that chance, I think it was clear that actually many of these people just didn't think it was going to happen to them. And that indicates that actually that that understanding wasn't there.
Danielle: Yeah, absolutely. Wandi, do you think there was an issue that during COVID, people understood the risk of COVID, but it was in isolation and not in context?
Wandi: Yes. Yes. I mean, that happens with with many different risks that that people think that somehow they are unique and different and it's going to be better for them. So, you know, if you do surveys and ask people about their driving skills, then most people will say that they're better than the average driver, which is technically not possible. And in the context of risk, people often are overly optimistic or overconfident about being able to avoid the risk. And so with COVID, that may have happened to some people as well, that they that they, you know, knew what the numbers were, but somehow thought that they could avoid the risk by being particularly clever about how they were designing their life at the time. So the overconfidence is in the ability to avoid the risk.
Danielle: What about evaluation of the risk? So we heard Michael talk about it and say, see, evaluation isn't a wonky afterthought, but it's absolutely crucial how kind of evaluating how we deal with a situation make us better prepared next time.
Sarah: So I agree with Michael. I think evaluation is absolutely essential because we need to evaluate, to help us understand where actions that have been taken have had an impact. So essentially, if you don't evaluate, you have no way of knowing whether this was money that was well spent. And then in the same situation again, whether you should do exactly the same thing or try something different next time. And so some monitoring and evaluation is absolutely essential.
Danielle: We also heard Michael say that we need to accept that there isn't a set of numbers that's going to throw up a solution that suits everybody. Do you both agree with this? Is it something that we simply have to accept? And if so, how do we manage problems like a pandemic where different people are affected in different ways?
Sarah: I mean, as Michael says, I think it's very, very difficult. But I think the best solution here or the best thing we can do in a situation like this is just to encourage open dialogue. And then we can understand the views and the priorities of different communities and then make decisions based on that understanding with the involvement of communities where possible, because it's essential that people feel involved and in control of decisions that are going to impact on their lives.
Danielle: Absolutely. Wandi, what do you think?
Wandi: So in 2006, I served on two expert panels on the topic of pandemic risk and risk communication. And one of the conclusions of these panels was that during a pandemic, it's going to be particularly difficult to communicate well about risks, because during a pandemic, we're learning about the risk as it evolves. And once we think we understand that the virus will mutate and new things will happen. So the risk communication that will keep changing, the numbers will keep changing, and that makes it very difficult to communicate well. And so what's important is to share what we know, to tell people what it means, but to also admit that we don't know everything. And you can do that. But that may mean that some people will not trust what you're saying because the information will keep changing.
Danielle: That's really important. Yeah. Okay. We're going to go back to Professor Tracey Brown from Sense About Science now to hear some more about how risks were communicated during COVID.
Tracey Brown: One of the issues that came up, you know, during the particularly the early stages of the pandemic was that people were trying to assess the risk to them, their families and the risks of certain activities. And there was an assumption that telling everybody that they were at risk was a really good idea because that would make people behave in the ways required. In actual fact, as we look back on it now, what you can see is that that really fell short in terms of protecting older people to the degree we were supposed to, because what we ended up with was a focus on, you know, not just in the UK but elsewhere, a focus on policing, people going for a walk outdoors, which was of really no consequence whatsoever and not enough focus on things like moving people from hospitals into care facilities where they were spreading it amongst the most vulnerable people. And as a result, you can see that on the death rates. And so I think asking for evidence, even at a time when you feel that, you know, people are startled by the seriousness of the situation, it just shows you how valuable it is. And I think a lot of people thought they were doing the right thing. But in that case, I think the lack of understanding of risk from top to bottom of society has been really problematic and probably singularly the biggest cause of failure in pandemic policy. One of the big lessons from COVID has been that it's really important to listen to people who are implementing policy, because there's never the case, never the case that you can take a single issue and organise society. We never faced just one risk, we face many risks. You know, health visitors and people working in social services had to think about the risks of child protection failing during a time when everyone was locked indoors, for example. We wouldn't want them to stop thinking about that risk because of the risk of COVID. So I think the big lesson for governments is the importance of listening to people who are in the position of applying policies to make us safer about the trade-offs that they’re having to make and the consequences for other social responsibility. They have other areas of safety. The key thing that I would like to change is information providers and they generally are at governmental level, I would like to see information providers start to think of themselves as answering questions rather than providing statistics.
Danielle: Interesting. And I can see you both nodding your heads there as well. Tracey would like to see information providers seeing themselves as answering questions rather than providing statistics. Wandi, from what you were saying earlier around the sort of numbers side of things, do you agree with that?
Wandi: Yes, I agree. So good risk communication is not just about the numbers. It's about giving people information that they need to do something about the risk in their lives so that they can still do the things that they need to do and want to do in their lives, because you take a risk to gain a benefit. But I also heard Tracey say some things that are typical for a pandemic. So during a pandemic, the information that we have about a risk keeps changing. What we know that you can do about it keeps changing. So early on in the pandemic, it wasn't so clear how the virus spread. So some people were afraid to be around others outdoors and were like putting their mail in quarantine, washing their groceries. And we now know that that's an overreaction. But at the time, we really didn't know. So it's important for risk communication to involve a dialogue. But that dialogue may also need to entail admitting that you just don't know something yet.
Danielle: Sarah, is that how we do it better then? Because we need to get better at engaging people with risk information. Is it sort of admitting that we don't always get it right?
Sarah: I think it's difficult, isn't it? I often think now when I walk into a shop and see the hand pump for hand sanitiser, I wonder why it's still there. Because essentially we know that actually COVID is you know, it's airborne. And actually the risk from contact is not great. And actually, what's the impact on the environment of us continuing to use hand sanitizer? I’m also aware of the fact, for example, in the local schools in my area, there have been outbreaks of vomiting and stomach infections that actually aren't addressed with hand sanitiser that, you know, they can only be got rid of through washing your hands with soap. And so actually the messaging there is wrong and it hasn't been adjusted. I can see that it's difficult. And I'd be very interested to know actually if there's academic research that sort of indicates actually how well people do respond when risk information changes. And I don't know if there's any evaluation that's happened throughout COVID, but I can say it's a challenge. I don't know what the right answer is, but I do think that we do need to continue to keep people updated. We shouldn’t not be sharing the most pertinent information about how to manage risk just because it's changed from the information that was shared six months ago.
Sarah: I'm really interested to know from both of you, what do you think we've learnt from COVID?
Sarah: I think we've probably learnt quite a lot that we're not, we haven't actually seen it yet. I'm very hopeful, for example, about public attitudes to the role that science plays in society. You know, certainly in the UK we saw increased prominence of top scientists in decision making and really then, you know, lab science is pulling out the stops to deliver vaccines. And I think there has been a shift in understanding of actually why it's important to do basic science and actually the impact that that then can have in a crisis. I think we need to be much better prepared for shocks and I think COVID has taught us that. I'm not sure that we've yet fully responded to that. So you look, for example, at global supply chains and we're still struggling in the UK to get over COVID and now looking at the impacts of COVID and then the war in Ukraine as well. I think there's a recognition there. I think there is learning, but I don't think actually there's been enough action to to then mitigate that risk in the future.
Wandi: So I think what we've also learnt is that as communities we can come together and we can act together to do something about risks. And so going forward, there will be other risks that will require communal action, for example, climate change. And so perhaps we've learnt from COVID that we can come together and be resilient and do something together.
Danielle: I think we've learnt a lot of lessons from COVID, but I want to know how we make sure the lessons we've learnt are actioned so that we're more resilient next time we face an unprecedented global event. So we're going to hear now from Seth Schultz, director of Resilience Rising, a global non-profit consortium working together for a safe, resilient and sustainable future. Seth is talking here about what we learnt from COVID and what we need to do to prepare for future shocks.
Seth Schultz clip: More work needs to be done just in general in proactive measures versus reactive. So generally, as a culture we are much more comfortable reacting to something. So we have to start thinking pretty differently about proactive investments versus reactive investments. I think the other thing is the understanding of interconnected systems, and that's also what COVID did in this global pandemic, because it sounds almost laughable now, but there was a shortage of various goods and services because of the massive disruption in the supply chain due to shipping containers. And in the US people couldn't buy toilet paper. They were hoarding toilet paper. People didn't think about going to the grocery store or the people that worked in a grocery store as critical services. So in lockdown happened and the person who's working the cash register at the grocery store wasn't there. I can't get groceries. Oh, my goodness. Who thought that the person working at the checkout counter in a grocery store was a critical service? People started thinking about what they depend on in a very, very different way. We are living in a time of great uncertainty. There's more and more information in front of us and most of the processes and mechanisms that we use to make decisions, if there's a large part of uncertainty, it doesn't take it into account. So we've got all these risk processes and risk registers, but they do not take into account what you don't know. So that's what we're really trying to get people to understand, is how to start behaving and acting and investing in things in a proactive manner to help deal with and lean into the uncertainty that we're facing moving forward. It's a behaviour shift. It's thinking about what's coming down the road in front of us, which is increasingly really challenging.
Danielle: Well, let's hope next time the supermarkets pre-empt that toilet paper crisis. So I think we have learnt a great deal from COVID. But you know, Seth was talking about behavioural shifts there as well. How do we make sure that these lessons are translated into actions next time? Sarah?
Sarah: Well, as Seth says, it's a behaviour shift. And I think the first thing to say is that we need to recognise it's not necessarily going to be easy. And that's why it's really important that we invest in organisations like Resilience Rising - one of the foundation’s major grant holders. That initiative is so important in helping organisations, local leaders, governments understand the importance of resilience, understand the meaning of resilience. And now obviously they've got COVID as an example. And I think I think that can really help to move this forward and helping people to be ready for the unknown and perhaps actually the natural shock of COVID and then the terrible situation in Ukraine, you know, will actually help us to see that we do need to get better at this because even the shock of COVID followed then by another major global event, it exacerbates it and really increases the importance of being resilient.
Danielle: Absolutely. Wandi, Seth says we're living in times of great uncertainty, but there are things we do know are coming, like climate change and population growth. Did COVID prepare us for those things, do you think? And if so, how?
Wandi: Well, so I hope that one thing we learnt from COVID is that communal action can make a difference and we can come together and do something about risk if we act together. And so hopefully we've learnt that we can now come together and do something about climate change. I also want to say something about something else that Seth said about the grocery stores shelves being empty. So in 2006, I served on two expert panels about pandemic risk. And one of the insights from those panels was that during pandemics, when a lot of people are sick, essential services will stop working. And those essential services, we said, include people in supermarkets. And also a lot of supermarkets work with a “just in time” set up where groceries are delivered into the supermarket on a day to day basis. And as soon as that is disrupted, the shelves will be empty and then add hoarding to it and you will have a problem. So one recommendation from the panel was for, if possible, for people to have a small amount of food and water in their households, so that if a crisis hits, they have enough food and water to sustain themselves for a couple of days. And this is not just important for a pandemic, but it's important, important for to prepare for a lot of different risks. Right. So I live in California. We have earthquakes, in the UK you may have flooding, but there may be different reasons why the supply chain may get disrupted temporarily. And so having an emergency kit at home can be useful. So I don't know if other people took away this lesson from COVID 19, but that is a recommendation that we had in the past, and that may help us going forward into the future in preparation for other risks.
Danielle: Okay. Interesting. And Sarah do you think the pandemic has changed our perception of risk?
Sarah: I think what the pandemic has helped us to understand is actually that we need to do better. We need to do better at equipping people with skills that enable them to make informed decisions. And we need to do better at providing people with clear and understandable information and then listening to the questions that they have about risk in their context. And then the final thing on those three points, we need to be better at being prepared for sudden and significant changes in the world. And I think if we took those lessons away, then we'd be much, much better prepared in the future.
Danielle: Brilliant. Okay. I want to know from both of you what's your vision on how we should understand risk in the next ten years? Wandi?
Wandi: I think that it's important to involve people from different communities in policies related to risk so that our communications and our policies are useful to the people who are we are trying to help and empower.
Danielle: Yeah, communication seems key, doesn't it? Yeah. Sarah, how about your vision?
Sarah: I think the vision for me is about one from a place of understanding, understanding individual context in the UK today. One energy supplier said this morning that 40% of people in the UK are now living in fuel poverty. Can you really expect those individuals who are struggling in the supermarket to feed their families to be thinking about climate change, which is obviously a very, very important - I'm not saying we shouldn't be encouraging them to - but how can they, actually, when they're facing present risks in their own context? So for me, it's about recognising that, and then addressing those risks and putting everybody on a footing where actually they can make decisions for the future of the world.
Danielle: Well, our time is up. I can't believe how quickly that's gone, but what an absolutely fascinating chat. Thank you so much to Dr. Sarah Cumbers and Professor Wandi Bruin de Bruin for joining me today. And thank you to the other voices which we heard today who were Dr. Olivia Jensen, Seth Shultz, Michael Blastland and Professor Tracey Brown. Thank you so much, Sarah and Wandi, and thank you for listening everyone. Do join us next time and remember to follow or subscribe so you don't miss an episode by. Bye!