Risk Assessment and Regulation in Christchurch, New Zealand

This page authored by Patricia Stapleton, Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
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In this at-home and in-class activity, students work with government websites, media reports, and first-person-narratives of the Canterbury Earthquakes. Work outside of the classroom includes performing background research; work in the class focuses on evaluating and developing risk regulations and policy solutions.

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Learning Goals

  • Students should be able to apply public policy and risk regulation concepts to which they have already been introduced to the specific issue of the Canterbury earthquakes;
  • Students should also develop policy analysis and evaluation skills (requires critical thinking and synthesis of ideas);
  • Students will also develop writing skills, though through less formal means, as the activity will be in-class;
The activity requires students to engage with the concept of risk in terms of understanding risk regulation (how can/does/should the government regulate risks; in particular, in the case of natural disasters?). The personal narratives address the concept of resilience in the context of political, economic, and social resilience (how does a community respond to natural disasters? what can be the lessons learned?). These issues connect to geoscience because regulators and communities often depend on scientists and experts to help evaluate potential risks. This activity will in part address the role of scientific expertise in policy-making.

Context for Use

(context is tentative as activity has not yet been used)
  • College level (100- or 200-level courses);
  • any class size, though in-class activities may need to be tweaked for classes over 50;
  • Social science course at a science and engineering school (only BS possible in Political Science, but MS & PhD programs possible in other programs);
  • this is a seminar activity;
  • students will need time to research the case outside of class; and an hour and 20 min session to complete the in-class portion;
  • internet access and overhead projector needed if images included;
  • students should be able to read for comprehension and be able to analyze information provided in-class in order to produce writing in-class;
  • students should already have a basic understanding of public policy concepts (including, but not limited to: risk, hazard, regulation, precautionary principle, risk regulation, risk assessment and management, and policy analysis and evaluation);
  • this activity would mostly like occur in the third quarter of a course, after students have been introduced to public policy concepts and worked on other issue areas to develop policy solutions;
  • the activity should not be too difficult to adapt for use, though will most likely be best suited for Policy, Government, or Environmental Studies courses.

Description and Teaching Materials

The activity occurs in four phases:
  • Phase I: Preparation during the term; introducing public policy and risk regulation concepts to students;
  • Phase II: Students must complete relevant readings at home;
  • Phase III: Students must complete an in-class activity, involving individual and group work, some internet activity, and writing. Instructor will periodically check in to frame the different sections of the activity, provide additional information, and collate student responses;
  • Phase IV: Activities are collected at the end of the class session, graded, and when returned, students should be debriefed on any outstanding points, as well as a general summary of the results.

The attached file includes a detailed description of the activity.

Christchurch Activity Instructions (Acrobat (PDF) 19kB Apr12 14)