Community-Sourced Risk Systems: Evidence-Based Best Practices

Community-Sourced Risk Systems: Evidence-Based Best Practices

In a recent issue of the journal Proceedings of the Association for Computing Machinery (PACM), researchers published findings that included best practices for the use of community-sourced risk systems as well as evidence of their effectiveness in mitigating risk.

First, let’s address an obvious question: what’s a community-sourced risk system? As the authors of the study explain:

An increasing number of safety departments in organizations across the U.S. are offering mobile apps that allow their local community members to report potential risks, such as hazards, suspicious events, ongoing incidents, and crimes. These “community-sourced risk” systems are designed for the safety departments to take action to prevent or reduce the severity of situations that may harm the community.

So in simple terms, a community-based risk system like LiveSafe from Vector Solutions is a platform that members of an organization (such as a business or school) can use to easily and quickly communicate about, investigate, respond to, and mitigate hazards and risks. Community-based risk systems like LiveSafe allow for the following types of risk-based communication:

  1. Broadcasts, or emergency mass notifications, from the organization to inform employees of the active threat, such as in the case of an active shooter
  2. Tips and similar reports from rank-and-file employees to the organization, such as when one employee has noticed a coworker making violent threats and wants to inform a designated contact in the organization
  3. Back-and-forth, two-way communications between an employee and the system administrators
  4. Anonymous reporting and communication so employees will feel more comfortable sharing valuable information without fearing reprisal

We at Vector Solutions and LiveSafe are excited about this study for two primary reasons:

  1. It provides real evidence of the benefits of community-sourced mobile risk communication platforms for threat identification and mitigation
  2. It provides specific, actionable, evidence-based best practices for the use of community-sourced risk communication platforms like LiveSafe that our customers can put into action

We’ve included a few of the best practices discovered in the study and research below.

Broadcast Messages Help Build Community Engagement

Make frequent use of your ability to broadcast messages to your community, whether it be about active safety and security concerns or more general organizational updates and reminders. This will acquaint users with your community-sourced risk communication platform, build trust and engagement, and provide opportunities for workers to learn to use the tool and respond with their own timely tips.

There is a Correlation Between Response Time and Number of Tips

It appears there’s a correlation between responding to tips and the number of tips you get. Put simply, if you respond to a higher percentage of tips, people will send more tips.

Here’s how the report authors put it:

The organization that received the most user tips, 13,444 in total across five years, responded to 91% of those tips. The organization that had the highest response rate (99%) received 629 user tips over five years. At the other end of the scale, the least responsive organization received 441 user tips over four years and responded to 9%. Additionally, organizational response rate changed over time; an organization responded to 50% of their tips in their first school year using the system and increased their response rate to 93% in later terms.

Low-Severity/High-Frequency Tips Build Trust

Community-sourced risk communication is helpful for both high-severity and low-severity issues. But the study showed that organizations can build trust for the platform and the use with high-severity, low-issues issues. As the authors put it:

Our results showed that the majority of tips submitted were clustered into a smaller set of tip categories, heavily focused on high frequency, low-severity incidents such as “Noise Disturbance” and “Facilities/Maintenance.” While a crowded tip category screen offered a broad spectrum of high- and low-risk reporting options, these few broad-spectrum risks played an out-sized role in developing engagement.

Anonymity Helps

Want more tips? Make sure your community-sourced risk communication platform allows for anonymous reporting.

As the study explains:

According to victimization theory [40], people evaluate risks of nearby environment. Victims may not be willing to report a criminal event since the benefits are unlikely to outweigh the costs of reporting [3, 73], and victims have privacy concerns [72]. Our findings of RQ2 suggest that anonymity was primarily used for tips that carry potential for various forms of retaliation, a key driver found to impact reporting [73].

And, as the study also points out, pair anonymity with responsiveness, and you’ll really see an increase in tip reporting.

Make Use of the “Other”

If you force square pegs into round holes, you wind up with square holes. This is made clear by the use of reporting "tip types." When submitting a report, users are prompted to choose a tip type, or report category. Common tip types include "Accident/Traffic/Parking," "Noise Disturbance," and "Drugs/Alcohol." Many organizations also include an "Other" option for tips that may not fall within these categories.

One important finding from this research is that offering this “Other” category is incredibly valuable. As the study explains:

“Suspicious Activity,” “Emergency Message,” “Harassment/Abuse,” and “Other” are the four most popular tip categories across all active organizations. Especially for “Suspicious Activity,” 165 out of 188 organizations offered that tip category for users, which indicates that organizational safety offices highly prioritized safety.

Additionally, according to the authors:

“The most commonly submitted tips started with “Noise Disturbance,” “Other,”“Facilities/Maintenance,” “Drugs/Alcohol,” and “Suspicious Activity.””


“If specific tip categories helped establish norms around reporting risks, the “Other” tip category may serve as an invitation for community members to submit a broader array of information. As shown in Figure 3, the “Other” category was provided by 143 organizations (76%). We reviewed the “Other” tips for sexual assault and harassment reporting, information of vital importance that organizations may have historically sought to avoid. The results indicate that sexual assault and harassment reporting were common in the “Other” category, receiving 898 tips. One user even submitted an “Other” tip to request the organization to include sexual assault and harassment category in the app. Similarly, users asked whether they could report lost goods or noise disturbance. This suggests the importance of this catch-all tip category. However, one quarter of the organizations did not offer the “Other” category.”

Evidence-Based Best Practices

This study provided many key insights into the role and effectiveness of community-sourced risk systems. Of particular note was the following:

  • Anonymous reporting capabilities improve tip submission rates
  • Responding to tips is critical for ongoing community reporting
  • Regular Broadcast messages build trust
  • Tip type offerings affect reporting

With these findings in mind, your organization can optimize your use of community-sourced risk systems and improve safety and security in your community. Or, if you do not yet have a community-sourced risk system, this study provides insight into the value it can provide.

If you are ready to learn more about how community-sourced risk systems can bolster your prevention and incident response, consider the Vector LiveSafe platform.

Want to Know More?

Reach out and a Vector Solutions representative will respond back to help answer any questions you might have.