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Insight Paper

Get Ahead of Climate Flashpoints with Proactive Risk Identification

Since the early 2010s, colleges and universities have grappled with a wide range of climate-related incidents or “flashpoints” on campus. A flashpoint is a climate-related incident or event that causes disturbances in the community or media, including heightened levels of activism, media and public scrutiny, and reputational damage.

Today, most campuses still struggle to adequately prepare for and effectively respond to flashpoints. Flashpoints are particularly difficult to address because they are hard to predict, evolve quickly (especially on social media), and require institutions to navigate complex, controversial issues that often lack a clear ‘right’ answer.

EAB recommends student affairs offices improve their ability to identify, mitigate, and elevate risk to successfully navigate flashpoints as they arise on campus. This white paper and the supporting tools review common flashpoint challenges and provide actionable next steps to help your team get ahead of climate risks on campus.

More on this topic

This resource is part of the Manage Campus Climate Flashpoints Roadmap. Access the Roadmap for stepwise guidance with additional tools and research.

Recommendation #1: Regularly update your institution’s risk register

Reputational risks, including climate flashpoints, are often missing from institutional risk management frameworks. Data shows that many senior leaders believe their institutions do not have the ability to withstand a major reputational risk event. Integrating these risks into your institution’s risk register and online risk monitoring strategy will prompt earlier discussion and action to mitigate the impact of flashpoints.

Recommendation #2: Conduct proactive risk briefings

At most institutions, conversations about potential flashpoints are limited to incidents that are actively unfolding on campus. But this approach means institutions lose opportunities to prepare for potential incidents and pursue early mitigation tactics. EAB recommends institutions systematically track emerging issues and regularly discuss potential flashpoints to improve coordination among senior leaders.

Recommendation #3: Gather early intel from campus partners

Most risk elevation efforts depend on the right person knowing the right thing at the right time. However, most campuses do not have a clear way for individuals to elevate potential flashpoints. Early and consistent risk elevation mechanisms allow for increased awareness and ongoing assessment of potential risks, and coordinated action to address emerging flashpoints.

Supporting Tools

To equip your institutions with the tools needed to update risk identification and assessment processes, review the supporting tools at the end of this briefing.

As a leadership team, use these questions to guide your assessment and discussion of your institution’s current approach identifying and addressing potential flashpoint risk areas.

Use this compendium to assess your institution’s risk register and identify any risk gaps that should be addressed in your institution’s existing risk management policies and processes. In addition to the representative risks listed in this compendium, you should also consider risks that are specific to your institution’s context and climate.

Use this risk grading framework to evaluate and prioritize institutional campus flashpoint risks. Consider the metrics in this grading framework and how they might supplement your existing framework in risk prioritization.

Heightened risk awareness leads to thorough risk preparation, opens opportunities for early risk mitigation, and enables faster responses when an incident arises on campus. Use this tool to establish proactive risk briefings with campus leaders and other key staff.

Use a climate risk team to quickly identify and address emerging flashpoints before they ignite and keep a pulse on campus sentiment. See the profile of the University of Miami team for inspiration and use these steps to establish your own team.

This tool provides a formal mechanism to use with campus partners to elevate controversial speakers/events and promote coordinated, early planning.

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