Communicating Risk Information with Stakeholders Much technical information is about assessing and controlling risks. Public and other stakeholders are part of process of making decisions based on risk information. What risk communication is not: It is no longer one-way messages from experts to non-experts What drives the rethinking of risk communication? “ . . . decision-making responsibility involving risk issues must be shared with the American people.” William Ruckelhaus, 1986 “ . . . we must ensure that [citizens have] a fuller understanding of the inevitable tradeoffs . . . in the management of risk.” Lee M. Thomas, 1986 There are differing goals for risk communication. Some seeks to change people’s behavior Some seeks to solve a problem in most acceptable way e.g., quit smoking, wear hearing protection, wash pesticide-laden clothes separately, take the stairs in case of fire e.g., expanding a landfill, cleaning up hazardous waste Some seeks to inform, so that people can make up their own mind. Functional Types of Risk Communication Lundgren and McMakin, 1998 Care communication seeks to inform and advise. Inform public about health risks such as AIDS Inform workers about potential workplace risks Focuses on health and safety risks for which the danger and what to do have already been determined. Consensus communication helps groups work together to decide how to manage risk. Stakeholder participation Citizen advisory panel, e.g. The most updated of the types – leads to a social-constructionist approach. Craig Waddell, TCQ, 1995 Risk decisions must include values of all stakeholders Risk = Hazard + Magnitude Won’t work for public decision-making. Peter Sandman’s new formula: Risk = Hazard + Outrage My formula: Risk = Hazard + Values/Emotions Crisis communication includes both during and after the emergency. Seeks to persuade. Even in this type, communicator must understand the audience. Modes of message delivery become very important. All Risk Communication . . . “is an interactive process of exchange of information and opinion among individuals, groups, and institutions” -National Research Council, 1989 must include social and cultural values, as well as the technical risk data. Big problem #1: Stakeholders all speak different “languages” Engineers speak technical language: “The risk of dying from cancer is 10-6.” Regulators speak the language of standardstranslation: “This site is considered safe for human health and the environment.” The public speaks the language of personal/social concern: “Is this site safe for my children to play on?” Some Typical Stakeholders Government federal, state, municipal regulators Scientists/engineers and subject-matter experts Environmental or worker-safety groups Geographical neighbors Community and civic organizations Educational organizations Business and professional associations Big problem #2: “Risk” is inherently subjective (qualitative) The risk estimates of experts are “based on theoretical models, whose structure is subjective and assumption-laden and whose inputs are dependent on judgment.” Risk assessments depend on judgments “at every stage of the process, from the initial structuring of a risk problem to deciding which endpoints or consequences to include in the analysis.” Paul Slovic 1999 Everyone (even scientists) makes errors in judgment. Inappropriate reliance on limited data Tendency to impose order on random events Tendency to fit ambiguous evidence into predispositions Overconfidence in the reliability of scientific analyses Nat’l Research Council, 1989 #3: The risks that frighten people aren’t the same ones that kill them. Dichotomy between expert and public rankings of risk. public has until recently ranked hazardous waste as #1 threat. experts rank smoking and diet as #1. People are more likely to accept risks they perceive as controllable and voluntary. driving a car (controllable) vs. flying in a plane smoking cigarettes (voluntary) vs. possibly breathing radon from landfill #4: Risks are difficult to compare across the board. Risk comparisons help people understand quantitative info., but they may cause resentment if seen as suggesting that something should be an “acceptable risk.” Be careful not to compare apples and oranges: voluntary vs. involuntary risks different consequences of a hazard quantitative vs. qualitative risks Compare risks of same hazard at different times or risks of different options for achieving same purpose. And then there are all these barriers to successful risk communication: Engineers and Scientists: Difficulty of handling uncertainty Failure to consider qualitative factors Failure to elicit information on social and cultural values Difficulty of communicating quantitative info. to public Disagreement about terms Many others . . . Non-technical Public: Difficulty of understanding uncertainty Difficulty of understanding complex information (physical, chemical, biological mechanisms) Difficulty communicating social and other values Little training in quantitative methods and information Disagreement about terms To say nothing of these barriers . . . • Fragmentation of risk-control decisions: federal, state, local governments Liability -- legal constraints Difficulty in determining “acceptable risk,” for everyone Lack of trust/credibility (lack of empowerment) And, finally, the degree of uncertainty in calculating all risks means taking about risk will always be risky. Peter Sandman says, “There is no neutral way to present risk data” (1986). Framing risk options neutrally is a real challenge. Problem: Imagine that the US is preparing for the outbreak of an unusual foreign disease that is expected to kill 600 people. Two alternative programs to combat the disease have been proposed. Science, January 1981 Frame #1 If Program A is adopted, 200 people will be saved. If Program B is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that 600 people will be saved and 2/3 probability that no people will be saved. Which of the two programs is best? Frame #2 If Program C is adopted, 400 people will die. If Program D is adopted, there is 1/3 probability that nobody will die and 2/3 probability that 600 people will die. Which program is best? So, the research question for me became: If language influences risk perception, which words/terms (common to environmental-risk situations) are perceived as negative or confusing? BP-Amoco had a risk-communication problem Old storage tanks leaking Old service stations located within now-residential areas Local regulatory agencies monitor the investigation but no one tells neighbors what’s going on. BP not getting in touch with neighbors until contaminants (benzene) suspected of moving offsite (underground). Neighbors angry and uncooperative Residence Service Station Monitoring Well Ground Water Research project collected quantitative and qualitative data on risk perception. Random Survey in two communities Steubenville OHIO Asheville NORTH CAROLINA Focus Groups in same communities Random Survey Survey looked at responses to environmental and non-environmental risks. Fifteen questions: Eleven demographic questions Four risk scenarios One request for comments Questions 3 and 4 compared environmental and non-environmental risks. 3. You live near a leaking chemical facility. “Qualified investigators and experts” agree there is no health hazard. How much of a risk to you? 4. You do not like flying in airplanes, but you want very much to get to a family reunion half-way across the country. You do not have time to drive or take any other form of transportation. Please respond to this statement: “Modern technology has a number of risks, and I can accept some risks if I know I will benefit from the advances associated with them.” Survey Responses to Risk Situations Pe rce nt of re sp ond ents “un com fo rta bl e w ith risk ” on risk -sce nario qu estio n s: Q u est io n 1 (Tra ffi c L igh t) 80% N on en vi ron me ntal r isk Q u est io n 2 (C hem ica l Fa cil it y) 77% E n viro nm ent al ri sk Q u est io n 3 (Fa cil it y Lea ks) 61% E n viro nm ent al ri sk Q u est io n 4 (Mo d. Te ch.) 88% N on en vi ron m ent al r isk Even more astonishing . . . Pe rce n t of re sp ond en ts “ un com fo rta bl e w ith risk ” on risk -sce n a rio qu estio n s: Q u est io n 1 (Tra ffi c L igh t) 80% N on en vi ron me ntal r isk Q u est io n 2 (C hem ica l Fa cil it y) 77% E n viro nm ent al ri sk Q u est io n 3 (Fa cil it y Lea ks) 61% E n viro nm ent al ri sk Q u est io n 4 (Mo d. Te ch.) 88% N on en vi ron m ent al r isk Questions 2 and 3 You live near a facility that stores chemicals and is operated “in strict accordance with government requirements.” How much of a risk to you? You live near a leaking chemical facility. “Qualified investigators and experts” agree there is no health hazard. How much of a risk to you? Question 2 considered riskier 2. You live near a facility that stores chemicals and is operated “in strict accordance with government requirements.” How much of a risk to you? 3. You live near a leaking chemical facility. “Qualified investigators and experts” agree there is no health hazard. How much of a risk to you? Focus Group Findings on Word Usage The word “government” usually has negative connotations. People have wildly different understandings of the word “conservative.” small, stingy, careful, apathetic risk assessors use it to mean the “toughest standard” was applied to the assessment. Findings These words had positive connotations: expert qualified independent objective unbiased third-party Survey Findings on Perception of Risks Those in the 40-59 age group are less comfortable with taking risks (both environmental and non) than those over 60. Men are less comfortable than women with taking risks (both environmental and non). Home owners are less comfortable with nonenvironmental risk than those who rent. Pre-test risk messages with a focus group. Groups of 6-12 stakeholders. Get representative sample, e.g., local government officials business folks professionals retired folks homemakers Moderator keeps things on track Ask for immediate responses to messages. Residence Service Station Monitoring Well Ground Water Findings on graphical presentation: Graphics MUST be pre-tested on sample audiences. Label every object. Provide explanatory text (where possible), even if only as a caption. Water Table We need more research to develop a “grammar” of visual design. Risk-Information Design Graphical presentation can be most effective with these caveats: Order-of-magnitude changes should be shown concretely. Comparison of relative risks requires consideration of audience. Y-axis should start with zero (or indicate change in scale). Use relative rather than absolute terms to express risk numbers (e.g., use ranges). Findings on Communication and Credibility Overwhelmingly, people want to be informed through face-to-face meetings. Second choice is written materials. Findings (con.) Many individuals want to see some black-andwhite backup to what is communicated in other ways -- they may not read the technical reports, but they want to know where to find them. Brochures are fine, but people also want to see evidence of a scientifically produced study. We need more readable technical reports for ALL stakeholders. Narratives are successful. References Covello, V.T. 1994. “Communicating Risk Information: A Guide to Environmental Communication in Crisis and Non-crisis Situations,” in Environmental Strategies Handbook, ed. Kolluru, R.V., McGraw-Hill, pp. 497-538. Hart, H. 1999. Report of Research on Communicating about Risk with Stakeholders. Technical Report. University of Texas at Austin. Executive Summary available at: http://www.ce.utexas.edu/prof/hart/documents/BPReport_Exec_Summary.doc Lundgren, R. E. and McMakin, A.H. 1998. Risk Communication: A Handbook for Communicating Environmental, Safety, and Health Risks. 2nd edition. Batelle, OH. Sandman, P.M. and Weinstein, Neil D. 1993. “Some Criteria for Evaluating Risk Messages.” Risk Analysis 13 (1). Slovic, P. 1999. “Trust, Emotion, Sex, Politics, and Science: Surveying the RiskAssessment Battlefield.” Risk Analysis 19 (4). Tversky, A., and Kahneman, D. (1981). “The Framing of Decisions and the Psychology of Choice.” Science 211, Jan. 30. Waddell, C. (1995). “Defining Sustainable Development: A Case Study in Environmental Communication,” Technical Communication Quarterly, 4 (2).