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How States Account For Failure in Europe (HOWSAFE)

HowSAFE aims to explore the institutional factors driving, shaping and constraining the application of risk-based approaches to governance across Europe. Premised on the idea that governance cannot, and should not, eliminate all adverse outcomes, risk-based approaches focus governance efforts on those potential adverse outcomes that exceed acceptable levels of risk based on assessments of their probability and impact.

First developed in the fields of environmental health and safety, risk-based approaches have become increasingly pervasive in other domains, particularly in Anglo-Saxon countries, where they are often promoted as efficient, rational and universally applicable means of organising policymaking and implementation activities.

Far from being universal, however, risk-based approaches embody particular understandings about how the State should define, and account for, potential adverse governance outcomes and even the very meaning of governance ‘failure’ and ‘success’. As such, risk-based governance can conflict with embedded governance norms and accountability structures, as well as with societal expectations about the role of the State in managing adverse outcomes both across countries and policy domains.

The research is being conducted by a multidisciplinary team of social scientists based in the Hazards and Risk Group at King’s, the Centre de Sociologie des Organisations at Sciences Po (France), the Faculty of Science at Bielefeld University (Germany), and the Department of Technology and Society Studies at Maastricht University.

This three year research project is supported by more than £1million in research grant funding awarded through the “Open Research Area (ORA) for the Social Sciences” programme by the Agence Nationale de la Recherche (ANR, France), Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, Germany), the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC, UK) and the Nederlands Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (NWO, Netherlands).


HowSAFE aims to understand how such institutional factors shape the spread and adoption of risk-based governance using a comparative case study method across six policy domains (occupational health & safety, flooding, food safety, health care, criminal justice, and education) and four countries (France, Germany, the Netherlands, and UK). In so doing, HowSAFE aims to reflect more broadly on how states account for failure and the limits of governance.

Project status: Completed

Principal Investigator



Funding Body: Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC)

Amount: £386,110

Period: January 2013 - December 2016