The Principles Of Risk Communication

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The Principles of Risk Communication


Public perceptions of risk have often been dismissed on the basis of “irrationality”, and have tended to be excluded from policy processes by risk assessors and managers. People's responses to different risks are determined by psychological factors. The technical risk estimates traditionally provided by experts do not influence people's behaviours and responses in the same way as their risk perceptions. Some concerns are very specific to particular hazard. It is also important to communicate the difference between probability and variability associated with risk estimates. Risk communication must take account of the actual concerns of the public (for example, potential for negative environmental impact, unintended human health effects, or vulnerable groups within the population). When the public want information about a risk, they prefer a clear message regarding risks and associated uncertainties, including the nature and extent of disagreements between different experts. Furthermore, societal priorities for risk mitigation activities may not align with those identified by expert groups. Dismissing the former as irrelevant may result increased distrust in the motives of regulators and industry, with consequences for public confidence in regulatory activities linked to public protection. Awareness and understanding of public concerns must be the basis of an effective risk management strategy.

Table of Contents


Table of Contents4

1. Introduction5

1.1. The goal of risk communication: from risk education to risk consultation6

2. The practice of risk communication9

2.1. What information is relevant to risk communication?9

2.2. Trust in food chain actors10

2.3. Trust and risk communication11

2.4. Communication of uncertainty and variability13

3. Conclusions20


The Principles of Risk Communication

1. Introduction

Technical risk estimates alone do not form the basis for the development of a coherent and utilitarian risk management policy that is also acceptable to consumers. Research conducted by Slovic and his co-workers (for example, see Slovic, 1987; Slovic, 1993 and Slovic, 2000) has consistently demonstrated that factors such as whether a risk is perceived to be involuntary, potentially catastrophic, or uncontrolled are more important determinants of public response than technical risk information alone. Risk communication and risk management must also take account of societal concerns and values. Risk perceptions also have a direct impact on how citizens respond to risk management activities, and those individuals and institutions to which responsibility for consumer protection accrues.

It is public concerns and attitudes (and of course behaviours which result from these concerns and attitudes) that have direct consequences for human health, food safety and security, economic expansion and international regulation. Public concerns influence consumer behaviour, citizen support of environmental pressure groups, and political preferences of voters during elections. For these reasons, developing an effective risk communication strategy as an integral part of risk management must be a priority for risk managers, regulators and industrialists alike.

1.1. The goal of risk communication: from risk education to risk consultation

In the 1970s, communication efforts focused on changing public views on risk, with emphasis on communication directed towards technology acceptance. More recently, risk communication issues have focused on restoring public trust in risk management, with due emphasis on more extensive ...
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