A practical Guide to Public Risk Communication

The five key elements of public risk communication

Source: Government Office of Science

The importance of public risk communication
Scares about public risk can have an enormous impact on policy making and regulation, particularly when they concern children, human health and large scale tragic events.

When a public risk is not properly addressed and communicated by government, it can also create distrust. This has been clearly demonstrated by high profile scandals and controversies such as those around BSE and the MMR vaccine.

Approaches to public risk communication
The most appropriate approach to public risk communication depends on the nature of the risk being addressed and the how it is evolving. At times it will be important to reduce anxiety around risks that may have been amplified by certain groups of risk actors, for example the MMR vaccine or radiation from mobile phones or phone masts. At other times it will be useful to manage awareness of risks to ensure key stakeholders and the public remain engaged with the issue for times before a crisis arises, for example bird flu or flooding, and sometimes it will be necessary to raise awareness of those risks with which the key stakeholders and the public are not engaging, for example the importance of wearing seat belts or climate change.
Ideally, public risk communication should be pro-active, carefully planned and based on an ongoing high-quality dialogue with key stakeholders and the public. Ultimately such a dialogue will support government in responding in a proportionate way to public risk issues and events as they occur.

In addition, government will sometimes be required to respond quickly to an unanticipated public risk event and risk communication in these circumstances will necessarily be reactive…”

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