SRA Develops Glossary of Risk-Related Terms

The target audience for the glossary is all individuals who have an interest in risk analysis, SRA members or not, ranging from risk analysis professionals and practitioners, to researchers, to students, to decision makers, to bureaucrats, to regulators, and to curious lay people who would like to get simple and practical explanations of key concepts in the field of risk analysis.

Several attempts have been made to establish broadly accepted definitions of key terms related to concepts fundamental for the risk analysis field. Many scholars and institutions have devoted considerable time and effort to  providing definitions and bringing some sort of unity and standardization to the field.  The work has been based on the conviction that a scientific field or discipline must stand solidly on well-defined and universally understood terms and concepts. 

Yet, experience has shown that to agree on one unified set of definitions is not realistic  -  the several attempts made earlier have not achieved success. The present work is founded  on the idea that it is still possible to establish an authoritative glossary, the key being to allow for different perspectives on fundamental concepts and make a distinction between overall qualitative definitions and their associated measurements. For example, defining a probability cannot be meaningfully done without referring to different types of probability (subjective, frequentist, classical, …), but an overall qualitative definition such as “a measure for representing or expressing uncertainty, variation or beliefs, following the rules of probability calculus”  could nonetheless be broadly accepted as useful.

Allowing for different perspectives does not mean that all definitions that can be found in the literature will be included in the glossary. The definitions included must meet some basic criteria -  a rationale – such as being logical, well-defined, understandable, precise, etc. We will provide only definitions that are acknowledged by the committee – i.e. their meaning, rationale and justification will have to pass the scrutiny of its members. 

Also, it is not the aim to present an all-inclusive glossary – only key generic concepts within the field of risk analysis are covered. This means that many terms specific of various application areas are not included. The committee hopes that the logic of the glossary can be useful also as a starting point for the development of these more specific terms. 

Given the above, we claim that the present glossary is unique in its approach compared to existing risk analysis-related glossaries (including the ISO 31000 on risk management terminology), with its incorporation of different perspectives and its systematic separation between overall qualitative concepts and their measurements.  

The glossary is planned to be updated from time to time to reflect the ongoing discussion,  addressing comments and suggestions made. Please contact if you have some ideas. 

The mandate for the SRA Glossary Committee as defined by the Council of the Society for Risk Analysis (SRA) was:  Prepare a suggestion for a new SRA glossary.  Committee members are: 

  • Terje Aven (leader)
  • Yakov Ben-Haim
  • Henning Boje Andersen
  • Tony Cox
  • Enrique López Droguett
  • Michael Greenberg
  • Seth Guikema
  • Wolfgang Kroeger
  • Ortwin Renn
  • Kimberly M. Thompson
  • Enrico Zio

The plan for the development of this glossary was defined by the following milestones:

a) First discuss and agree within the committee on a structure for how to proceed – agreeing on the core set of terms to cover (13 June, 2014)    
b) A first draft of the definitions  is produced (Sept 1, 2014)
c) Discussion and agreement on a draft glossary (Nov 20, 2014)
d) Presentation of a draft glossary at the SRA meeting in Denver and at the SRA council meeting there December 2014
e) Sending the draft to SRA members and the Specialty Groups for comments (Feedback before 1 March 2015)
f) Committee conclusions for the glossary  (May 1, 2015).
g) SRA council approval  June 22, 2015.   

The committee is grateful to the many professionals who have provided insightful and improving comments and suggestions to earlier versions of the glossary.