18 April 2016

Multiple perspectives for better risk management

A study of landslide risk in Italy engaged citizens and experts in new ways, to generate solutions that everyone can stand behind.

Nocera Inferiore lies at the base of Monte Albino near Naples, Italy. (cc) Eleonore Tb via Flickr

Nocera Inferiore lies at the base of Monte Albino near Naples, Italy. (cc) Eleonore Tb via Flickr

By engaging citizens and experts in a participatory project, researchers have found new solutions to a challenging landslide risk management quandary.  The results of the three-year project—the first public participation project for addressing landslide risk in Europe—have now been published in a special issue of the journal Natural Hazards.

The project focused on landslide risk mitigation options for the town of Nocera Inferiore in southern Italy, which is located at the base of the landslide-prone Mount Albino. The most recent major slide, in 2005, caused three deaths and major property damage. But three years later, the municipal council rejected a proposal for a risk mitigation investment project, which was proposed by outside experts.

The project Improving Landslide Risk Responses (SafeLand), funded by the European Commission and involving researchers from 27 institutions in 13 European countries, aimed to overcome the deadlock. Traditional solutions to landslides focus on just the technical and economic aspects of the problem, and the solutions they propose tend to include structural barriers as solutions. In contrast, people who live on or near the mountain may place higher value on the environment, and prefer measures such as stabilization of the slopes with naturalistic engineering work to mitigate risk.

IIASA Risk, Policy and Vulnerability Program Director JoAnne Bayer and IIASA researcher Anna Scolobig led the Nocera Inferiore research. They explain, “People have different worldviews, different backgrounds, and different priorities. This doesn’t mean that any of these views are wrong.”  

So the researchers instead designed a process to take all the viewpoints into account, and help people understand others’ viewpoints so that a compromise could be agreed upon. Rather than eliciting preferences using decision analytical methods, this process built on a body of research – based on the theory of plural rationality developed by Michael Thompson, another member of the IIASA team – that has teased out the limited number of contending and socially constructed definitions of problem-and-solution that are able to achieve viability.

The researchers therefore aimed to include not just technical and economic aspects, but also the social and political context of the issue. In addition, they aimed to change the role of “experts” from the uncontested authority on a topic, to one voice among many valid inputs. To reach a compromise, experts played a unique role by providing a range of technical-policy options that corresponded to the different perspectives held by the participants. Through an interactive process, the project brought people together to open lines of communication, and forge a compromise that would be acceptable to all.

As a result of the project, the community has now agreed upon a set of mitigation measures to reduce landslide risk, which are now in progress.

Anna Scolobig, now at ETH Zurich, says, “We hope that our experience with this project can enable further engagement between citizens, local authorities and experts across a range of risk management policy issues.”


Linnerooth-Bayer J, Patt A, editors (2016). Rethinking participatory processes: the case of landslide risk in Nocera Inferiore. Natural Hazards ISSN: 0921-030X (Print) 1573-0840 (Online) Volume 81, Issue 1 Supplement, April 2016

The special issue includes 7 articles.

Linnerooth-Bayer, J., Patt A (2016) Introduction to the special issue on rethinking participatory processes: the case of landslide risk in Nocera Inferiore. Natural Hazards, 81 (S1). pp. 1-6. http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/12330/

Scolobig, A., Pelling M (2016) The co-production of risk from a natural hazards perspective: science and policy interaction for landslide risk management in Italy Natural Hazards, 81 (S1). pp. 7-25. http://pure.iiasa.ac.at/11899/

Scolobig, A. (2016) Stakeholder perspectives on barriers to landslide risk governance. Natural Hazards, 81 (S1). pp. 27-43.

Scolobig, A.Thompson, M. and Linnerooth-Bayer, J. (2016) Compromise not consensus: designing a participatory process for landslide risk mitigation. Natural Hazards, 81 (S1). pp. 45-61.

Linnerooth-Bayer, J.Scolobig, A., Ferlisi, S., Cascini, L. andThompson, M. (2016) Expert engagement in participatory processes: translating stakeholder discourses into policy options. Natural Hazards, 81 (S1). pp. 69-88.

Ferlisi S, De Chiara G, Cascini L (2016) Quantitative risk analysis for hyperconcentrated flows in Nocera Inferiore (southern Italy) Natural Hazards, 81 (S1). pp. 89-115.

Narasimhan H, Ferlisi S, Cascini L (2016) A cost–benefit analysis of mitigation options for optimal management of risks posed by flow-like phenomena.  Natural Hazards, 81 (S1). pp. 117-44

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Last edited: 19 April 2016


Joanne Linnerooth-Bayer

Emeritus Research Scholar Equity and Justice Research Group - Population and Just Societies Program


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