Keynote I: Informing and Deciding in a Context of Uncertainty, Risk and Crisis

Valérie November

As described in its presentation, this conference is placed under the sign of un-ness: unexpected, uncertainty, unknown, etc. This is a relevant and timely choice because concepts used in the field of risk and crises management were deeply revisited in recent decades to the point that uncertainty now seems to be a main marker of all fields of research and actions. It is therefore necessary to clarify this evolution.

Information is known to play a crucial role in risk management and in reducing uncertainties. It’s a subject to which numerous studies have been devoted, mainly under the label of “Risk Communication”. Yet despite the importance of such researches, traditional views of risk as well as of information must be questioned.

Risk studies have primarily focused on prevention and on crisis or disaster. But too little has been focused on the relationship between these two moments which actually require different forms of action, involve different actors and whose tilting point is crucial in crisis management. In reality actors are faced with a wide variety of situations that extend from one to another, and even that mix, without any sharp division between two temporalities. For example prevention data are often essential at the heart of a crisis situation.

My talk will focus on the concepts of risk, uncertainty, disasters and degraded situation and will attempt to clarify and define them in relation to each other. Each one covers specific procedures, information needs and action procedures.

Having specified these elements, the second part will focus on the consequences in terms of understanding the information and propose a complementary vision to the usual definitions. We shall see that producing and disseminating information does not mean that the information is seized, understood and usable. Production, circulation and reception of information will be analyzed through several case studies, including the work of the Operational Strategic Health Room at WHO, crisis management in Madagascar and the events following the January 2015 terrorist attacks in Paris.

This presentation will conclude that there is no generic information per se, that would be ipso facto relevant for all situations. If one does not take into account the context in which the information evolves information become thus an additional factor of uncertainty.