Dr Yuwan Malakar shares new research on risk and responsibility

December 1st, 2023

In this new paper, DR YUWAN MALAKAR examines the interconnected nature of risk and responsibility in the research and development of new technologies.

Researcher Dr Yuwan Malakar presenting a lecture

Researcher Dr Yuwan Malakar presenting a lecture.

Researcher Dr Yuwan Malakar presenting a lecture


I have always been fascinated by the concepts of risk and responsibility. There is risk in everything that we do. A core question is how we can go about our daily business but also keep those risks in check. Who is responsible for identifying risks and mitigating them? The answer may be simple if the actions that I am performing only affect me. Yes, I am responsible for managing any risks my actions may incur. But what if my actions put someone else at risk? The answer to this question gets even more complicated if I do not understand or recognise the risks my actions are creating, or who will be affected.

The question of responsibility in risk analysis is highly relevant in the research and development (R&D) of new and emerging technologies. In our new paper, published in the Journal of Risk Analysis, we explore how we can integrate responsibility in risk analysis earlier in the process of developing new technology. We demonstrate these processes can include multiple actors, sectors, disciplines and institutions. We also explore how risk analysis can promote reflection within and beyond scientific inquiries. To demonstrate this interconnection between risk and responsibility, we looked back on the R&D of nanotechnology in Australia.

Being inclusive in identifying and mitigating potential risks

As a scientist myself, I am committed to developing and applying science for the benefit of society. However, even with the best intentions, scientific innovation may pose risks that are not immediately apparent. One way to address this is by adopting a risk analysis approach that includes multiple stakeholders and institutions. We found evidence of this in the Australian nanotechnology R&D sector.

When the sector was newly emerging, the potential risks of nanotechnology to humans and the environment were still unknown. The R&D professionals we interviewed described the involvement of industry, public, government officials, media, and scientists in identifying and discussing potential risks. This didn’t just provide a broader range of perspectives and understanding of different kinds of risks. It also identified the various roles stakeholders could play in mitigating those risks.

Reflecting on research values and practices

In science, we are committed to our research and its outcomes serving the needs of society. It is however crucial to continually scrutinise whether our science reflects the values and needs of society. Such reflection practices allow scientists to revisit the underpinning assumptions of our scientific innovation.

Our study found that the R&D professionals frequently reviewed and updated their risk analysis approaches as their knowledge in the field also developed. This process led to changes such as the review of legal and regulatory processes, the development of stringent risk control guidelines, and measures such as banning some chemicals and abandoning certain types of research due to human safety concerns. Documenting these decisions taking place over the course of several years in nanotechnology R&D, demonstrates how reflection was an integral and ongoing component of risk analysis in this sector rather than a one-off solution.

Navigating the interconnected nature of risk and responsibility

I believe a key part of the R&D of future technologies is to better understand the potential risks alongside their potential benefits. Social and ethical risks can be harder to assess because of their fluid and context-specific nature. Our study presents an applied scientific risk assessment methodology that fosters the integration of responsibility principles in risk analysis. The aim of this research is to enable all types of risks are not only identified and understood but can also be better communicated and mitigated.

Link to paper: On the interconnected nature of risk and responsibility in the research and development of new and emerging technologies – Malakar – Risk Analysis – Wiley Online Library