April 2007 sees the launch of the Lighthill Risk Network, an international community that will link business and research. By Paul Wilson and Peter Taylor

German sociologist Ulrich Beck coined the term "the risk society" for our age's obsession with risk. Nowhere is this more evident than in the insurance industry, as we grapple with regulation, litigation, catastrophes and emerging risks. Whether it is knowledge, data, software or just plain advice, we need help!

Responding to these demands, the Lighthill Risk Network has been established as an international community to get the collective best in the worlds of commerce and research. One of its core components is the Risk Group, a non-profit insurance research network.

Whether finding a specialist to consult, eliciting expert opinion through seminars on key topics or offering expert panel blogs, data sets and search engines, the Lighthill Risk Network will find ways to get people, ideas and information together.

Climate change is an example. How can we know whether the scientists are talking sense? What are the short term implications, if any, for the weather and economies of a particular region of the world? What financial instruments exist to mitigate the effect of climate change? What data give evidence of climate change? How should insurance policies deal with the green agenda?

The Lighthill Risk Network can help. We have an expert panel on climate change in partnership with the Met Office, which will offer authoritative, up-to-date information. Our data catalogue will provide relevant data sets, our knowledge pools will generate daily emails on articles of relevance to insurance and climate change, and collaborative services will allow us to form working parties to discuss the insurance industry's response. From July, subscribers will be able to ask us to find a specialist for them to talk to.

We realise to deliver such services we cannot ask experts to give their time free. For at least three years, we are running the Lighthill Risk Network as non-profit organisation to ensure that subscriptions go towards extending the research network and getting the specialists to participate through being at the end of a phone or email, or taking part in expert panels or seminars.

Our founder members are Benfield, Catlin, Guy Carpenter, Lloyd's and Risk Management Solutions (RMS), with early adopters, Faraday, Aon and Lloyd's Register. Subscribers may join at an introductory price of £5,000 a year.

To help develop a community based on risk, we are working closely with the UK Met Office, the International Society of Catastrophe Managers and the Institute of Actuaries, among others. The network is open, and we expect many more partnerships to develop as the subscription base extends.

Our dynamic website is a model of collaborative knowledge, funded by the Department of Trade and Industry and two UK Research Councils, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council and the Economic and Social Research Council.

The initiative is managed by professionals from insurance, science and engineering. Dougal Goodman, the Lighthill Risk Network's chairman, was responsible for the TSUNAMI initiative in the late 1990s and is currently director of the Foundation for Science and Technology which advises the House of Lords. Professor Julian Hunt, our academic director, is an authority on climate change, as well as a former head of the UK Met Office.

Two advisory boards set the agenda of the Lighthill Risk Network. Representing the views of the business membership, the industry advisory board identifies topics for events and reviews, evaluates opportunities arising from emerging issues and developments in commerce, and assesses the value being delivered by the network. The research advisory board, chaired by the distinguished geologist and former non-executive chairman of Shell Lord Oxburgh, identifies key emerging themes of interest in science and government, pinpoints global research leaders to extend the network and evaluates arising opportunities, initiatives and policy developments.

Our vision is long term. Initiatives between science and industry have often been short lived, but developing a self-sustaining network with continued dialogue will create a solid platform for our future challenges in managing risk.

Paul Wilson is research coordinator and Peter Taylor is project director of the Lighthill Risk Network.