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Risk and Consensus

Risk assessments, i.e. the question whether a particular decision, and the resulting behaviour, will be worth it in the future or whether it is regretted, are always bound to the perspective of those who make this assessment. Often, this is misrepresented: “Is nuclear energy dangerous?”. Here we must ask, for whom, for the person now living or for the unborn great-grandchild? For people who live close to the reactor or those who are far away from it?

If, therefore, the question about how dangerous a risk is, cannot, in the resulting assessments, be decoupled from the interested parties, organisations must expect that risk decisions are not always or even frequently solvable by means of consensus. On the contrary, they must reckon with the fact that differences will be at play (i.e. health versus profit) and that, therefore, conflicts are normal. Risks, which are entered into by consensus, should, instead, be examined to see who has born the cost of this consensus. Something, which apparently only brings advantages in the future for all parties affected, is, from the viewpoint of this theory, to be treated with caution and must be followed by the question: “Who was not at the table with us?”

Here, too, the thought process leads to the significance of conflict and its processing in the social system. Consensus then appears as a special case in communication, which, presumably, does not have the costs of consensual agreement in focus, and which has, for self-stabilisation reasons, blocked out the cost of this consensus in order to obtain consensus. Consensus about future risk can thus be understood as a particular (unavoidable) form of complexity reduction in the shape of desired or unconscious ‘not knowing’.