The role of forensic investigation in systemic risk enquiry: Reflections from case studies of disasters in Istanbul, Kathmandu, Nairobi, and Quito

Ronan McDermott, Arabella Fraser, Jon Ensor, Hamed Seddighi
Progress in Disaster Science
Academic publication
November 2022

The systemic nature of risk is increasingly acknowledged within scholarship, policy and practice relating to disaster management. However, a number of conceptual and methodological challenges arise in advancing empirical inquiry in this regard. These challenges relate to how the boundaries of the system are determined both spatially and temporally, how expertise from across disciplines is integrated to allow for consideration of institutional and broad socio-economic drivers of risk in addition to physical drivers, and, crucially, how causality operates within system complexity. The potential of forensic investigations of disasters that typically deploy in-depth case studies to overcome these obstacles is evaluated on the basis of causal mapping with experts from a range of disciplinary backgrounds in Istanbul, Kathmandu, Nairobi and Quito. It is found that such investigations can serve to interrogate the fundamental value of any given system and its spatial and temporal bounds, generate collective mental models of the system from which risk emerges, and drive reflection on its root causes. However, it is critical that forensic investigation approaches carefully consider participant selection and facilitation in order to effectively operationalise the systemic risk concept in complementarity with other approaches.