Risk communication: More than a targeted exchange of information
How can communication between all the stakeholders in a risk assessment process be optimised? Which communication measures are suitable for active consumer protection and how can consumers be encouraged to become more responsible citizens? Answers to these and other questions were elaborated in conjunction with a project for the development of a multi-step risk communication procedure (ERiK). The goal of the project is to improve (internal) public agency risk communication. The project was carried out by BfR on behalf of the Federal Environmental Agency in cooperation with the Baden-Württemberg Academy for Technology Impact Assessment within the framework of the Action Programme Environment and Health (APUG). The final report has just been published. It is supplemented by a training programme on CD-ROM.
Whether it’s a nuclear accident, BSE or asbestos in public buildings: whenever there was a risk that difficult situations that attract public attention could escalate, the analysis frequently uncovered mistakes in risk communication. The need particularly by public agencies for an, if possible, general guide that doesn’t focus on individual topics, was what led to the ERiK project. The multi-step procedure it developed aims to encourage the right offices to talk to each other at the right time and to ensure that the communication of risks and steps to be taken is done in the best way possible.
Risk communication is a major component of risk assessment. The goal is not for one side to convince the other of the acceptability or unacceptability of a risk. The goal is far more to enable the people concerned through information, dialogue or other active participation to decide for themselves in an informed manner about the risk in question. In this way risk communication actively contributes to consumer protection. In research projects instruments have been developed in order to improve communication between and with all stakeholders.
Four scenarios of relevance to everyday practice in public agencies were chosen: “public agency communication” - an internal agency scenario, “expert communication” - communication between public risk analysts, “stakeholder communication” - an exchange with social groups and “public communication” - participation between the people concerned. Furthermore, a multi-step procedure has been developed in which risk communication is seen as a targeted exchange of information between political institutions, companies, associations, citizens’ action groups, scientists, experts, consumers and the media.
For trial runs a training programme on CD-ROM has also been developed which is included with the report. It is intended for public agency staff on the federal, regional and local levels with risk regulation responsibilities who communicate with experts, politicians, representatives of other public agencies, social organisations, industry, associations or the public at large.
The project received funding from the Environment Research Plan of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conversation and Nuclear Safety and from BfR. The report “ERiK - Development of a Multi-Step Procedure for Risk Communication”, including a training CD-ROM (both in German), can be ordered as Band 02/2005 in the BfR-Wissenschaft series from the BfR Press and Public Relations Office (Thielallee 88-92, 14195 Berlin, Fax: 030-8412-4970, firstname.lastname@example.org). It can also be accessed on the BfR website (www.bfr.bund.de) under Publikationen/BfR-Wissenschaft. The same site also contains details of all reports published in the BfR-Wissenschaft series.