Concepts of risk and formal tools such as risk analysis have become central to environmental and technology policy. The use of risk concepts in environmental policy is an activity carried out by members of a policy network focused in, but not limited to, Washington, DC. This project surveys the members of the policy network of risk analysts in order to address two central research questions:

* How is the U.S. environmental risk policy network structured? Advances in network analysis allow the research team to identify the boundaries of the network, the position of actors within it, and essential structural features hypothesized to influence policy outcomes.

* What factors have influenced the structure of the U.S. environmental risk policy network? Network models facilitate determining the processes by which the observed network is generated. This lends important, theoretically-relevant insights into the rationales that drive the self-organization of policy networks.

The research includes the merging of the new data to be collected with two prior datasets, one collected during the early 1980s (when risk approaches to policy were relatively new) and one smaller replication collected circa 2000. The enables an analysis of changes over time in the same network, a subject that has not been extensively studied in the risk or policy networks literature.

Risk analysis is a set of analytic tools that has become a central feature in discussions of environmental and technology policies. Risk is a key way in which scientific information enters into policy debates. A network of risk professionals carries out the work of risk analysis and engages in policy debates. By better understanding these professionals and their networks, we can gain insights into how science contributes to shaping policy. Moreover, understanding the flows of scientific and other kinds of information through these professionals? networks will contribute to the development of enhanced communication and the effective use of science in decision making.

Project Report

Ideas of risk are central to discussions about environmental issues, and scientific tools such as risk analysis are an important way in which scientific information is introduced into policy debates. The goal of this project was to better understand how individuals and organizations involved in environmental risk collaborate and share information with one another—that is, form "networks"—to better understand and manage complex issues of environmental risk. To accomplish this goal, a survey of professionals involved in environmental risk policy was conducted. Data gathered through this survey were used to accomplish three specific research objectives, including: To characterize how risk professionals form networks with other organizations to share information about environmental risks, coordinate on activities such as scientific research and policy advocacy, and to learn about complex and emerging environmental problems. Replication of two earlier surveys of environmental risk policy professionals conducted in 1984 and 2000, to enable an investigation of how the risk policy system has changed over time. Use of these data to test basic theories of how policy networks evolve, and how networks influence the ability of risk professionals (and the organizations they work for) to effectively manage issues of environmental risk. This project resulted in 265 completed survey responses, gathered from risk professionals representing a range of organizations operating at the international, federal, state, and local levels. Survey respondents also represent a diverse cross-section of organizations in the public, private, and non-profit sectors. This project has supported presentations at professional conferences and the writing of academic papers on networks and environmental policy. In addition, this project has supported seven students at both the University of Arizona and West Virginia University.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
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Robert E. O'Connor
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Michigan State University
East Lansing
United States
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