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Beyond Risk #2: Mind that Perception Gap!

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It's always interesting to be reminded of our fallibilities just to keep us grounded. This is especially true when considering risk management. It's tempting to believe that with a great piece of software, fantastic training and engaged employees - everything is going to be safe and risk-free...

Until you take a moment to consider what can and does influence the way we see the world in the first place. In this excellent summary from David Ropeik, a risk consultant and communications expert - a number of these influences are discussed.

http://blogs.nature.com/soapboxscience/2011/05/11/risk-perception

Referring to scientific studies in the area of risk and perception, the summary presents three important points:

"1. Risk perception is inescapably subjective

2. No matter how well educated or informed we may be, we will sometimes get risk wrong, producing a host of profound harms.

3. In the interest of public and environmental health, we need a more holistic, and more realistic, approach to what risk means. Societal risk management has to recognize the risk of risk misperception, the risk that arises when our fears don’t match the evidence, the risks of The Perception Gap."

In the world of organizations, these perception gaps are common and can be driven by a number of different factors; employees, managers and executives may have:

  • different levels of access to information

  • different levels of influence and authority

  • different personal experiences of the risks faced

  • different private views of what a risk is in the first place!

David Ropeik makes clear that we cannot escape these factors and the way they influence our perception of risk and subsequent decision making. However, 'forewarned is forearmed' and organizations must always ensure that they take a step back from the subjective influences at work within their own operations - at every level.

The bottom line is always to ask the question - Are we being biased here? - and be prepared to answer that question openly and honestly. No one can ever claim to be free of bias and it influences every decision we make (see it as something that unites us all!).

So, ensure that your consideration of impacts, likelihoods and consequences is always complemented by a frank discussion about whether your fears really match the evidence. You don't want to fall into that Perception Gap do you?