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The meaning of the ‘risk understanding’ concept:

The Norwegian word risikoforståelse (‘risk understanding’) is composed of two words: risiko (risk) and forståelse (understanding). The origin of the Norwegian word forståelse is the Middle Low German word vorstān, literally meaning “stand before something (to investigate it)” and is analogous to the English word understand [10], which can be interpreted as to grasp or comprehend, or have insights about.

Having an interpretation of risk in line with (a) as defined in the previous section, the term ‘risk understanding’ can be seen as having knowledge about the true risk, about the underlying probabilities p which are presumed to characterise the activity. This knowledge may for example be a result of having a large amount of relevant data believed to provide accurate estimates of the p’s. ‘Risk understanding’ could also mean having knowledge about which aspects of the system or activity that contribute the most to the risk.

However, for interpretation (b), there is no true risk characterisation and such an interpretation of ‘risk understanding’ cannot be used. We need a broader perspective, and let us start from the general expression for how risk is described (C′,Q,K). The ‘risk understanding’ needs to be seen in relation to all of these three elements. Let us first consider C′.

If the analysts have a good ‘risk understanding’ they know what types of events may occur, and what type of consequences they could lead to. They have models that can accurately predict the consequences given the occurrences of specific events. The analysts would have a poor ‘risk understanding’ if they are not aware of all types of hazards (for example a hazardous situation known by others in the organisation but not by the risk analysts) or the available models do not provide accurate predictions.

Next let us consider the measure of uncertainty Q. If the analysts have a good ‘risk understanding’

They are able to use Q to express the uncertainties and beliefs about the consequences C′ on the basis of the background knowledge K. For example, if probability P is used, the analysts have a clear interpretation of this probability, stating for instance the meaning of a statement like P(A)=0.1, and how the probabilities are to be assigned based on models, data and expert judgements. The analysts also know how to carry out calculations using the measure Q. If probability is used to represent variation (frequentist probabilities and probability models), the analysts know how to relate these to P.

The meaning of the ‘risk acknowledgement’ concept

Risikoerkjennelse (‘risk acknowledgement’) is composed of the two words risiko (‘risk’) and erkjennelse (‘acknowledgement’). Erkjennelse is borrowed from the German word Erkenntnis [10], which is translated into English as awareness, finding, insight, perception, realisation, cognition, or knowledge [20]. According to Aristotle and the ancient Greek theory of phronesis, forståelse (‘understanding’) precedes or is a prerequisite for true, practical erkjennelse (‘acknowledgement’) [26].

Thus, to make a decision about risk, we first need ‘risk understanding’ then ‘risk acknowledgement’. The ‘risk acknowledgement’ takes the risk to heart and accepts the situation (i) and draws the necessary conclusions (ii). The term ‘risk acknowledgement’ thus sees beyond ‘risk response’ with its emphasis on also the first element (i). Consider for example a situation where we have a good ‘risk understanding’ as a result of having strong knowledge about the true risk (perspective (a)). Then the ‘risk acknowledgement’ is about accepting this risk, and making the necessary conclusions and actions. However, in other cases, the meaning of ‘risk acknowledgement’ is not so clear. The risk estimates could be subject to large uncertainties and, in the case of perspective (b), the basic idea of ‘risk acknowledgement’ may be challenged as there is no reference to an “objective” magnitude of the risk. However, it is still possible to interpret ‘risk acknowledgement’ as in case (a) – expressing that if the risk assessment provides strong confidence of severe consequences C, ‘risk acknowledgement’ is again about accepting the risk, and making the necessary conclusions and actions. Poor ‘risk understanding’ could, however, complicate these considerations, as will be discussed in the coming section.

Two theses about the ‘risk understanding’ and ‘risk acknowledgement’ concepts

Risk assessment is to a large extent about gaining ‘risk understanding’ in the sense of knowledge – justified beliefs .The analysis of the term ‘risk understanding’ in Section 2 revealed that knowledge is a key feature of this concept. But what is knowledge

It is common to distinguish between three types of knowledge as: know-how (skill), know-that of propositional knowledge, and acquaintance knowledge “Knowing how to ride a bike” is an example of know-how, and the statement “I know that Oslo is the capital of Norway” is an example of propositional knowledge, while “I know John” is an instance of the acquaintance knowledge. Here our interest is in propositional knowledge but also in aspects of know-how.

The knowledge can be based on data (D) and information (I). Data can be viewed as symbolic representation of observable properties of the world for example the occurrence times of some type of events, whereas information can be seen as relevant, or usable, or meaningful, or processed, data Information can be inferred from data on the number of events of a specific type, for example the average value, some illustrations showing the trend over time, etc. The idea is that of a human asking a question beginning with, “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, or “how many” and the data is processed into an answer [14]. When this happens, the data becomes “information”.

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