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The social construction of systemic risk: towards an actionable framework for risk governance

Andrew Maskrey (Risk Nexus Initiative, San Jose, Costa Rica)
Garima Jain (Indian Institute for Human Settlements, Bangalore, India)
Allan Lavell (FLACSO, San Jose, Costa Rica)

Disaster Prevention and Management

ISSN: 0965-3562

Article publication date: 18 April 2023

Issue publication date: 14 June 2023




This paper explores the building blocks of risk governance systems that are equipped to manage systemic risk in the 21st century. Whilst approaches to risk governance have been evolving for more than a decade, recent disasters have shown that conventional risk management solutions need to be complemented with a multidimensional risk approach to govern complex risks and prevent major, often simultaneous, crises with cascading and knock-on effects on multiple, interrelated systems at scale. The paper explores which risk governance innovations will be essential to provide the enabling environment for sustainable development that is resilient to interrelated shocks and risks.


This interdisciplinary literature review-based thought piece highlights how systemic risk is socially constructed and identifies guiding principles for systemic risk governance that could be actionable by and provide entry points for local and national governments, civil society and the private sector. particularly in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), in a way that is relevant to the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This considers preparedness, response and resilience, but more importantly prospective and corrective risk control and reduction strategies and mechanisms. Only when systemic risk is framed in a way that is relevant to the political agendas of countries will it be possible to begin a dialogue for its governance.


The paper identifies opportunities at the global, national and local levels, which together draw up a viable framework for systemic risk governance that (1) embraces the governance of sustainability and resilience through a strengthened holistic governance framework for social, economic, territorial and environmental development; (2) improves managing conventional risk to ultimately manage systemic risks; (3) fosters the understanding of vulnerability and exposure to gain insight into systemic risk; (4) places a greater focus on prospective risk management; (5) manages systemic risk in local infrastructure systems, supply chains and ecosystems; (6) shifts the focus from protecting privatized gains to managing socialized risk.


The choices and actions that societies take on the path of their development are contributing intentionally or unintentionally to the construction of systemic risks, which result in knock-on effects among interconnected social, environmental, political and economic systems. These risks are manifesting in major crises with cascading effects and a real potential to undermine the achievement of the SDGs, as COVID-19 is a stark reminder of. This paper offers the contours of a new risk governance paradigm that is able to navigate the new normal in a post-COVID world and is equipped to manage systemic risk.



This work was financially supported by the UNDP Crisis Bureau's Disaster Risk Reduction and Recovery for Building Resilience Team under the supervision of Ronald Jackson and Angelika Planitz. The authors would also like to thank Ben Wisner, Ilan Kelman and Steve Bender for their detailed comments at the early stages of the study.


Maskrey, A., Jain, G. and Lavell, A. (2023), "The social construction of systemic risk: towards an actionable framework for risk governance", Disaster Prevention and Management, Vol. 32 No. 1, pp. 4-26.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2023, Emerald Publishing Limited

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