International Development, Community, and Environment

Two types of vigilance are essential to effective hazard management: Maintaining both together is difficult

Robert Goble, Clark University
Vicki Bier, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Ortwin Renn, Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies


Flexibility and adaptability are key capabilities for coping with persistent and pervasive uncertainties. The systematic organization of these capabilities is often called “adaptive man-agement”; it is key to effective hazard management and important in risk governance. Vigilance is a requirement for effective adaptation. However, two distinct types of vigilance are necessary. Type 1 vigilance directly supports adaptive management. It is vigilance when you know what you are looking for: warning signals, filling gaps in knowledge, making sure that systems are working, etc. Vigilance of another sort, type 2 vigilance, is needed to address the surprises and institutional failures that are not part of orderly adaptive planning. Type 2 vigilance is vigilance when you don’t know what to look for: observing and reflecting on confusing signals, anomalies, unacknowledged responsibilities, and surprises. The two types of vigilance require different institutional capabilities, and hence may work against each other in practice. Type 1 vigilance requires focus and a strong, knowledge-based organizing framework. Type 2 vigilance, in contrast, requires defocusing and a questioning approach to both observations and concepts. This dilemma, coupled with demands for flexibility, is a severe challenge for organizations. There are a variety of actions and arrangements at various levels of societal organization that could maintain and enhance vigilance in managing hazards. Necessary, however, is the societal and institutional recognition that vigilance of more than one type is an essential part of hazard management and the commitment to follow through. Maintaining vigilance requires effort and must be an ongoing process.