Understanding volcanic eruptions is never going to actually prevent them from happening. When volcanoes do erupt they can cause both direct loss of life and indirect loss of livelihoods via the destruction of resources and infrastructure such as crops, buildings and water supplies. Volcanoes are also notorious for the widespread losses they can cause to business and tourism via disrupted air travel and their long-term climate impacts. The nature of the activity and its impact can also shift over the course of an eruption. Thus, volcanic risk is a complex problem and helping communities to prepare for and to mitigate against changing volcanic activity requires researchers not only to anticipate better that activity but also to understand the role that society, politics and culture plays in creating and eroding resilience to eruptions. To be successful, risk reduction strategies must promote collaboration, integrate diverse knowledge and communicate effectively with populations at risk to allow them to prepare for, cope with and recover from volcanic activity.