The Co-Production of Scientific Advice and Decision Making Under Uncertainty:Lessons from the 2009 L’Aquila earthquake, Italy

Anna Scolobig, Reinhard Mechler, Nadejda Komendantova, Wei Liu, Dagmar Schröter, Anthony Patt


On 22 October 2012 seven members of the Italian Major Risk Commission were found guilty of 29 persons manslaughter and of 4 injuries in relation with the earthquake that hit L’Aquila, a town in Central Italy, in the year 2009. The members were verdict to six years in prison for violating their obligations to adequately analyseseismic risk and to provide clear, correct and complete information, which might have saved many people’s life. The case has not been concluded jet and so far the debate focused on the scientific, legal and communicative aspects of the verdict, while the institutional ones, including the co-production of scientific advice and decision making, received less attention. We argue that the presence of deep epistemic uncertainty coupled with responsibility overlaps of scientists-turned-decision-makers, is fundamental to understanding the event and the legal aftermath. Another relevant institutional aspect is the concern of the national and local authorities that the population would over-react to anything other than a reassuring message. We discuss the consequences of this framing of the emergency management problem in terms of public control rather than public safety. As risk science continues to grapple with the challenge of communicating uncertain information to decision-makers and citizens, it becomes more important to understand the co-production processes that shape how scientific advice is used for decisions on the ground.


epistemic uncertainty, science policy co-production, emergency communication, communication paradoxes

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