Risk Personalization: Governing Uncertain Collective Risk Through Individual Decisions

Shannon Spruit*, Mark de Bruijne, Wolter Pieters

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
17 Downloads (Pure)


Individuals are regularly made responsible for risks they wish to take: one can consent to processing of personal data, and decide what to buy based on risk information on product labels. However, both large-scale processing of personal data and aggregated product choices may carry collective risks for society. In such situations, governance arrangements implying individual responsibility are at odds with uncertain collective risks from new technologies. We, therefore, investigate the governance challenges of what we call risk personalization: a form of governance for dealing with uncertain collective risks that allocates responsibility for governing those risks to individuals. We situate risk personalization at the intersection of two trends: governance of uncertain risk, and emphasis on individual responsibility. We then analyze three cases selected based on diversity: social media, nanomaterials, and Uber. Cross-case comparison highlights issues of risk personalization pertaining to (i) the nature of the risk, (ii) governance arrangements in place, and (iii) mechanisms for allocating responsibility to individuals. We identify governance challenges in terms of (i) meaningful choice, (ii) effectiveness in mitigating risk, and (iii) collective decision making capacity. We conclude that the risk personalization lens stimulates reflection on the effectiveness and legitimacy of risk governance in light of individual agency.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8-28
Number of pages21
JournalRisk, Hazards and Crisis in Public Policy
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • collective risk
  • governance
  • innovation
  • responsibilization
  • risk
  • technology development


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