HowSAFE: How States Account for Failure in Europe: Risk and the Limits of Governance


What do environmental protection, health care, workplace safety, food, criminal justice, and education share in
common? These diverse policy domains are increasingly governed through ?risk-based? approaches to
regulation and management. Rather than seeking to eliminate all potential adverse outcomes, risk-based
governance involves defining acceptable levels of risk, based on formal assessments of their probability and
consequences, and then focusing control efforts on those risks deemed unacceptable following clearly defined
principles. First developed in the fields of environmental health and safety, this risk-based approach has become
pervasive, particularly in Anglo-Saxon countries, and is now being promoted internationally as a universal
principle for policymaking and implementation, promising a more efficient and rational means of organising
governance activities and accounting for their limits and potential failures. However, risk-based approaches
embody particular understandings about how the State should define, and account for, adverse governance
outcomes and, indeed, the very meaning of governance ?failure? and ?success?. Such ex ante risk-based
rationalisations of the limits of governance may conflict with embedded governance traditions, norms, and
accountability structures, as well as with deeply held societal values and expectations about how adverse
outcomes should be managed, which vary both across countries and policy domains.
To understand the institutional factors shaping the spread and adoption of risk-based governance, HowSAFE
uses a comparative case study design focusing on six policy domains?occupational health & safety, flooding,
food safety, health care, criminal justice, and education?and four countries?France, Germany, the
Netherlands, and UK?to pursue three closely related objectives:
1) To document the extent, and diffusion processes, of risk-based governance across policy domains and
national settings in Europe;
2) To compare the design, adaptation and practical application of risk-based instruments to different governance
activities and functions, within and between policy domains;
3) To use that comparative dataset to explain the institutional factors driving, shaping, and constraining
risk-based governance in Europe, and in so doing reflect more broadly on how states account for failure and the
limits of governance.


Scientific article

  • R. Paul, F. Bouder, M. Wesseling(2015): Risk-based governance against national obstacles? Journal of Risk Research pp. 1 - 20 ISSN: 1366-9877.

Professional publication

Publications for the general public

  • O. Borraz, F. Bouder(2015): Food Safety Inspection workshop


Project number


Main applicant

Dr. F.E. Bouder

Affiliated with

Maastricht University, Faculteit der Cultuur- en Maatschappijwetenschappen, Maatschappijwetenschap en Techniek

Team members

Dr. F.E. Bouder, Dr. F.E. Bouder, Dr. M.A. Hermans


01/01/2013 to 09/08/2016