chapter  1
Introduction: Can Societies Learn from Calamities?
ByHEIKE EGNER, MARÉN SCHORCH, MARTIN VOSS
Pages 24

Can societies learn from calamities? A brief glance at the body of literature appears to provide an answer to this question. There is a seemingly endless number of studies that deal with what happened, what should not have happened, and go on to extrapolate instructions, showing what can be learned. Whether it is an industrial accident, a landslide, or a hurricane-after every significant event causing damage, an entire apparatus of professional actors drawn from the fields of science, research, disaster prevention, and management as well as civil society organizations is set in motion in order to discover what caused the occurrence. Building upon this, optimal strategies and the best possible technologies should be developed so that events of this kind can be prevented in the future. The mass media observe these processes with a watchful eye and assign different roles and corresponding responsibilities to different actors-often before the last of the victims has been recovered: Who is responsible, who must bear the costs, and who is tasked with ensuring prevention in the future. Scientists, engineers, and “experts”, for example from the field of disaster prevention, frequently compile so-called lessons-to-learn studies, which are presented to the policy makers in the hope that the appropriate actions will follow (cf. Birch and Wachter 2006; Birkland 2006; Starbuck and Farjoun 2005; Vaughan 1997). It is far more rare for these “lessons learned ” reports to be perused again after several years have passed: Were the proposed measures actually implemented? In the case of a positive response, the interpretation or message retrieved would suggest learning has taken place. However, in most cases, studies of this kind arrive at a heterogeneous result: A number of things were initiated, many of these were abandoned at some point, and others were indeed put into practice. But does this already constitute societal learning?