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Guest Editorial

Volume 11, Number 6, November 2015 - Guest Editorial - pp. 521-522


Many of the most pressing problems of modern societies are posed by systemic risks. Systemic risks are at the crossroads between natural events, economic, social and technological developments and policy driven actions, both at the domestic and the international levels. These new risks are multidimensional and highly complex with respect to their ripple effect on different levels of the physical and social world. Systemic risks are often global in their consequences, interconnected with other risk sources and processes (adding complexity to the attempt of causal modeling), stochastic in their model structure and most often non-linear in the functional relationships. They defy common sense and are often counterintuitive. Therefore, innovative approaches are essential for governing and communicating these risks. Adequate governance approaches require coordination across regulatory agencies and a mutual exchange of information between science, politics, the private sector and civil society. 

This special issue includes contributions that explore the complex risk situation at the interface between society, economy and technology. The emphasis here is on governance and communication. Risk governance is a broad concept that refers to assessing, managing, communicating and regulating risks under conditions of complexity, uncertainty and social ambiguity. Policy-making for systemic risk is particularly challenging because scientific uncertainty and social ambiguity regarding values and attitudes require an essential broadening of the risk concept to include input from major stakeholders and affected publics.  Various kinds of information, such as scientific research, local knowledge, values, public preferences and attitudes, need to be collected and taken into account. Furthermore, these different inputs need to be condensed in a deliberative process and channeled into legally prescribed governance procedures. Due to the counter-intuitive character of systemic risks, a major task of adequate governance is risk communication. First, one needs to address the complex, stochastic and non-linear properties of systemic risks, second one needs to explore public preferences for future actions in the light of high complexity, uncertainty and ambiguity. This is a highly challenging task. 

The special issue aims to provide an up-to-date overview of the potentials and limitations of risk governance and risk communication for competent, effective and socially acceptable policy-making with respect to systemic risks. The contributions in this volume are all inspired by the common task to provide better insights into the nature of systemic risk and its governance and to draw inferences from these analyses to articulate effective and efficient communication and management strategies.

The first paper by Sahliger investigates Risk Governance and Risk Communication in Air Traffic Management. 

The second paper by Mahmoudi and Knierim deals with risk communication for farmers’ adaptation to climate change. The contribution investigates risk governance as a new task for agricultural advisory services. An evaluation of the social implications of partitioning and transmutation of nuclear waste is presented in the third paper by Weitze et al. 

The fourth paper by Wolff focuses on risk perception and risk communication in medical robotics. 

The fifth paper by Fuchs and Gazsó considers risk governance of nano materials. The authors draw on a case study from Austria. The sixth paper by Droste-Franke offers a systems-web approach for better-informed risk governance.Matschullat et al. provide an inter-hemispheric perspective on environment and energy in the seventh contribution.

Finally, in the eighth paper, Webler et al. present a framework for characterizing landscapes of regional risk governance.The Guest Editors would like to thank all of the authors for their contributions in this special issue and the reviewers for their time in providing the authors with constructive feedback.

We would particularly like to thank the Editor-in-Chief, Professor Krishna B. Misra, for his initiative and assistance from time to time. We also like to express our gratitude to the editorial team who worked on the publication of this special issue.


Pia-Johanna Schweizeris a senior researcher at ZIRIUS, the Stuttgart Research Center for Interdisciplinary Risk and Innovation Studies at Stuttgart University in Germany. Pia-Johanna Schweizer has studied Sociology and English Studies at Stuttgart University and University of Aberdeen. Schweizer holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Stuttgart University. She coordinates Research Field E “Planning Governance” within the Helmholtz Alliance ENERGY-TRANS ( and leads project E2 “Potentials and limits of discursive approaches”. From 2013 until 2014 she has been a visiting scholar at Michigan State University. Since 2015, Schweizer is a Fellow of the Asian Energy Studies Center of Hong Kong Baptist University. Her research interests include theories of deliberative democracy, stakeholder involvement and public participation, governance of energy systems and energy transitions as well as climate change governance. Schweizer teaches a master course on stakeholder involvement and public engagement at Stuttgart University. Since 2012 she is actively engaged in Society for Risk Analysis Europe’s executive committee. Currently, she is treasurer of SRA Europe.



Ortwin Renn serves as full professor for Environmental Sociology and Technology Assessment and as Dean of the Economic and Social Science Department at the University of Stuttgart (Germany). He directs ZIRIUS at Stuttgart University and the non-profit company DIALOGIK, a research institute for the investigation of communication and participation processes in environmental policy making. Ortwin Renn has a doctoral degree in social psychology from the University of Köln (Cologne). His career included teaching and research positions at the Jülich Nuclear Research Center, Clark University (Worcester, USA), the Swiss Institute of Technology (Zürich) and the Center of Technology Assessment (Stuttgart). Renn is primarily interested in risk governance, political participation as well as technical and social change towards sustainability. Renn has published more than 30 books and 250 articles, most prominently the monograph “Risk Governance” (Earthscan: London 2008).

Email: ortwin.renn@

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