Counterfactual Black Swans Workshop

Counterfactual Black Swans Workshop

On the 26-27th of August 2019, David, Susanna Jenkins, and I (Yolanda) hosted the Counterfactual Black Swans Workshop, dedicated to applying downward counterfactual thought in risk analysis. This builds directly on my work as a post-doc this past year (read more about my project here). Twenty-eight participants from a total of six countries joined us here in Singapore at NTU for an exciting two days!

During this interactive and hands-on workshop, participants applied their subject matter expertise through a counterfactual lens in order to develop a number of case studies using this framework to uncover black swans in Singapore and beyond. The workshop consisted of nine presentations including an overview of the downward counterfactual methodology, counterfactual case studies, and related methods. We also created fifteen new counterfactual events through the Counterfactual Round Table session, and had many thought provoking discussions during multiple breakout sessions. Workshop participants were afforded a large degree of agency throughout the workshop – from direct involvement in setting the agenda for Day 2’s open discussion sessions, to self-organizing around emerging ideas and projects over the course of the workshop.

Olivia, Tian Ning, and JC (left to right)
Photo credit: Antoinette Jade/Earth Observatory of Singapore.

We are thrilled to share the list of upcoming outputs from this productive workshop. They include:

  • A special issue journal on counterfactual thinking in hazard and risk analysis
  • Outreach material, including multiple blog posts, short videos, newspaper articles, and other forms of non-academic outreach.
  • Future proposal(s) around identifying large, complex problems, with early stakeholder involvement, that could bridge across multiple traditional discipline lines. We also discussed formalizing the analytical methods in more depth, studying black elephants (and levers for change) on different time scales (10 year, 50 year, 100 year), a counterfactual events database, oral histories, and more.
  • Building community through convening sessions at upcoming conferences, specifically, UR2020 and Cities of Volcanoes.
  • Developing a counterfactual toolkit hosted online made readily available to researchers in this new counterfactual community, including key literature, methods, and facilitation materials, such as those from the Counterfactual Round Table exercise.

This workshop was a great opportunity to build momentum around this method and establish a new community of practice centered on counterfactual thinking in risk analysis, bridging multiple disciplines, such as volcanology, earthquake engineering, risk analysis for the insurance industry, human geography, and risk communication.  

Find the full workshop report here.

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