Risk Communication Methods and Participatory Approaches

Risk Communication Methods and Participatory Approaches

Tiziana Guzzo, Patrizia Grifoni, Fernando Ferri
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-4719-0.ch009
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The chapter provides an overview of the main methods, tools, and actions of risk communication used in the different phases of risk governance, analyzing their advantages and disadvantages. A practical case study carried out in Italy shows an application of some of these methods, comparing data before and after communication actions. Finally, a discussion for future challenges on risk communication is introduced. It underlines the need to improve the link between communication, consultation, and participation, enhancing the citizens' knowledge and mutual learning by applying the new social media.
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1. Introduction

A very important challenge for decision makers is to know how people percept risks and to identify factors influencing this perception. There is a discrepancy between real risk and perceived risk and consequently between the actual risk scientifically defined and its public perception.

For experts, the risk is defined as: R = P x C / S, in which R (risk associated with a certain event) is equal to P (probability of occurrence) multiplied by C (extent of its consequences). Differently the risk perception is defined as “an assessment of the probability of an event and its consequences arrived at subjectively by individuals” (Burton,1984).

Different risk perception between experts and public can lead to misunderstanding. People in general perceive risks less acceptable on the basis of their voluntariness, controllability and lack of benefits (Covello and Sandman, 2001). To reduce discrepancy between real and perceived risk, public needs to be educated about “real” or “true” risks through adequate risk communication processes.

Risk communication is “the process of conveying to interested parties the outputs of the various stages of risk analysis and risk management” (Fiksel and Covello, 1987).

The need for effective risk communication processes is increasingly recognised by many Governments; in fact when a public risk is not properly addressed and communicated, it can create distrust. The most appropriate approach to public risk communication depends on the nature of the risk and its evolution. For example before a flooding crisis arises it is important to reduce anxiety on risks that could be amplified, and to manage risks awareness to ensure key stakeholders and the public engage with the issue in a preventive way. Sometimes can be necessary to improve awareness of risks with which people are not usually engaged and people’s memories or examples of events for example connected with climate change.

Sandman (2006) identifies three risk communication strategies: i) use “precaution advocacy” to warn the public; ii) use “outrage management” to reassure the public; and iii) help and guide the public to go through the crisis. Each strategy is tailored for different kind of people. The first strategy is for uninterested or unaware people and it aims to arouse concern and precaution. The second strategy, is for excessively concerned people. Finally, the third strategy is for people already aware of the risk and it aims to suggest a solution. A good risk communication should be able to alleviate or eliminate distrust, lack of awareness, ignorance, dissatisfaction, disagreement, and inertia to action among the target audience (Rowan, 1991, 1995).

Schrems (1998), Siegrist & Gutscher (2006) and PLANAT (2004) have shown that although people live in high risk areas of natural hazards (in Austria and Switzerland), assess these places relatively safe unlike responsible authorities. Risk communication should strengthen people’s risk awareness and people should be more prepared for emergencies and more motivated to take preventive actions. A good risk communication strategy should be carefully planned, should be pro-active and based on an ongoing dialogue with key stakeholders and the public (Risk & Regulation Advisory Council, 2009). Furthermore to be effective it should focus on the local risk and the response efficacy of possible preparatory measures.

Starting from these considerations, the chapter analyses main methods used in risk communication in different phases of risk governance, discussing a practical case study that interested the area of the Chiascio river basin (Umbria region, Italy). Finally, future challenges for risk communication are discussed.

The chapter is organised as follows: section 2 gives an overview of risk communication methods, analyzing advantages and disadvantaged. Section 3 describes the practical approach to risk communication used in the schools. Section 4 analyses results of the survey comparing data before and after the communication actions. Section 5 discusses emerging role of social media in risk communication. Finally section 6 concludes the paper.

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