Just like tuning your instrument, a risk assessment is an important process when it comes to preparing for successful and safe events in any part of your organization or programming. A risk assessment asks you to identify specific hazard and risk factors that have the potential to cause harm, and to triage them by evaluating both their likelihood and the extent of damage they could cause. The results of this assessment will suggest your priorities for taking action to mitigate or manage that risk. This article summarizes some of the major ideas behind doing a risk assessment. To learn more, check out the webinar “Risk Assessment for Performing Arts Organizations” taught by Preservation Services Librarian Annie Peterson and hosted by Performing Arts Readiness (whose support also makes the Changing the Tune project possible).

Once you’ve identified major risks and done what you can to mitigate them, your next step is to communicate the potential hazard, the actions you have taken to reduce risk for your staff, audiences, artists, or volunteers, and what if any risk still remains. Check out our tipsheet 4 Steps to Communicating COVID-19 Risk to see what this looks like in practice, using COVID-19 risk communications as an example.

How to do a risk assessment

You might conduct a risk assessment using a specific lens of analysis each time, for example a risk assessment attuned specifically to potential unexpected safety events (weather conditions, violence, fire), technical disasters, or risks related to accessibility. A COVID-19 risk assessment examines specific considerations around mitigating disease transmission that takes into account the surrounding context of your event to make an informed decision about holding an event or not and what modifications you’ll put in place. 

Actually conducting a risk assessment looks like a brainstorming session. Involve people from every area of your organization: you want a full-picture view of potential hazards, and everyone involved in your organization or events will each know about certain kinds of risks related to their areas, from front-of-house to cleaning to administration. 

The specifics will look different for every organization, but the things to look out for and assess for your context are largely shared. For example, for airborne disease mitigation, that includes pinpointing high traffic areas or bottlenecks and high-contact surfaces, and assessing ventilation. But the pandemic has also created other kinds of safety concerns to be on the lookout for as you evaluate other dimensions of your safety preparedness. For example, event professionals may be a little rusty when returning to work after a potentially prolonged shutdown, and audiences are both excited to be back in shared space as well as relearning and evaluating their own comfort levels with these experiences.

As mentioned above, once you’ve identified the probability and impact of various risks, you can start to plan to mitigate or manage those risks. Get an introduction to risk management in this article. Ultimately, one big question remains: what constitutes an acceptable level of risk? This question has no simple answer. However, by communicating information about the risks and mitigation measures in place at your events, you enable potential audience members to make their own informed and consenting decision about whether and how to participate. This decision depends in part on their own comfort level with varying levels and kinds of risk, so honest communication is key.

What risk assessment means for event and organizational resilience

If there were a musical chord to represent event resilience, we think it would be composed of these four notes: safety, sustainability, accessibility and community relationships. Of these, risk assessments are most directly related to safety planning, which helps ensure the safety of all your performers, staff and volunteers, and attendees. Accessibility is another key note because you should include access considerations as one lens during your risk assessment and safety planning. Are there different or additional risks you need to consider for individuals who use mobility devices or sensory aids?

The four pillars described here for event resilience are adapted from the Art of Mass Gatherings, an experiential learning program for event producers and emergency professionals developed by Majestic Collaborations. Learn more about this approach in their article “What Makes a Great Gathering?

This article was created as part of the Changing the Tune project, developed in partnership with Majestic Collaborations and made possible thanks to a grant from Performing Arts Readiness.