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About the Risk Innovation Lab

The Arizona State University Risk Innovation Lab explores new ways of seeing, thinking about and acting on risks, from emerging threats to health and well-being, to ensuring the future benefits of social and technological innovation.

The Risk Innovation Lab brings together faculty, students, and staff at ASU to explore new ways of approaching and acting on risks. We have eclectic interests – ranging from health, environment, and well-being, to policy, governance, and responsible innovation, to equity, sustainability, and security. Underpinning everything though is the realization that, in today’s increasingly complex and interconnected world, creative and innovative approaches to risk are essential if we are to build a better, more equitable future.

The Lab has its roots in a growing realization that current ways of handling risk fall far short of emerging challenges that are being driven by social, economic, political and technological innovation. This is seen in areas such as nanotechnology and gene editing, where technological capabilities far outstrip our collective understanding of how to make smart decisions, and even what “smart” means here.

As new capabilities emerge, from autonomous vehicles and radically new transportation systems such as the “hyperloop”, to cloud-based artificial intelligence, creativity and innovation are needed in how we understand and act on decisions that are impacted by risks, benefits and tradeoffs. These challenges extend to social innovation, where changes in how we live and interact have potentially profound impacts on health, well-being and equity. The same applies to political and economic innovation, where what we can achieve as individuals and society far outstrips our understanding of potential consequences, and how to ensure they are beneficial.

To navigate a radically shifting risk landscape, businesses, governments, not-for profits, consumers, and others, need equally radical innovation in how to think about and act on risk

These emerging “risk” challenges are so intertwined that progress will critically depend on highly innovative transdisciplinary approaches to building a better future. And it will need an unprecedented level of creativity in how we conceptualize risk, and understand how to use our understanding effectively. Sadly, many approaches to risk are the antithesis of this – constrained, unimaginative procedures and methodologies that are rooted in past challenges, led by professionals who have had any creativity and imagination trained out of them.

The Risk Innovation Lab sets out to change this. We are a “think lab” where we encourage new thinking and ideas on risk, that can support more effective approaches to emerging risks and benefits. We encourage a “sandbox” approach to challenges, where researchers can quite literally play with creative new ideas that are inspired by a wide range of influences. Yet we also focus on taking the most interesting ideas, and translating them into practical outputs and outcomes – whether these are pieces of work (including art and literature) that stimulate new thinking and insights, research outcomes that provide new ways of addressing risk, or practical tools and insights that aid in risk-decisions.

As well as scholarship and transdisciplinary collaboration/exploration, we are especially focused on education and communication. We believe that effective communication between different players involved in risk decisions is essential to ensuring a better future, and that as part of this, innovation in how people communicate and engage around risk is critical. We also have a strong commitment to educating and training people in how to approach challenges and opportunities from a risk innovation perspective – both through informal and formal education.

Risk Innovation is way of thinking that generates new knowledge, understanding, or capabilities with respect to risk, and translates these into products, tools, or practices that protect societal, environmental, economic, and other value, as well as enabling value creation and growth

Risk Innovation is not a method, or a discipline. Rather, it is a way of thinking about and approaching risk that promotes the formation and practical application of new ideas. It is grounded in the concept that new and effective approaches to risk depend on both wild creativity, and an ability to take novel ideas and develop them into something that is practical and has impact.

We approach risk as a threat to “value”, where value is something considered to be of worth to individuals, communities and organizations, and includes future potential value. This value can include health, well-being, environmental sustainability and economic worth. It can also include security, social stability, and sense of culture and self. We also think in terms of “risk landscapes” – a purposely loose concept that encourages thinking about the intersections and interplays between different risks, and different players, and how to navigate this successfully. And we also think of risk as an unavoidable aspect of life, that needs to understood and managed, not eliminated.

In fact, we go so far as to say that the only way to avoid risk completely is to be dead – meaning that it’s more important to use our understanding of risk to achieve what we set out to, rather than to try and eliminate it.

Risk Innovation is relevant to all areas of study, work and live that touch on risk – from the arts and humanities, to economics, engineering and sustainability.

In the Risk Innovation Lab we are always interested in working and partnering with others who share our interests and perspectives. If you are interested in becoming a part of a growing community that is exploring new ways of thinking about risk, and would like to play with us in the risk innovation “sandbox”, please get in touch.

We are also interested in financial support for our work – we have many more ideas and opportunities than we have funds to support. This is especially the case when it comes to supporting student projects, and enabling faculty, students and others to explore creative new ways of approaching risk. If you are interested in supporting what we do – at any level – please contact Andrew Maynard at andrew.maynard@asu.edu