Examples of Public Risk Communication

Source: Risk and Regulation Advisory Council, Department for Business, Education & Skills, United Kingdom
Author: Dr Frederic Bouder is a lecturer at the Department of Governance, University of Maastricht. He was previously based at Kings College London.

“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 in government.

A practical guide to public risk communication: the five essentials of good practice was published by the Risk and Regulation Advisory Council and the Government Office for Science. It is a short, practical guide to help government get its public risk messages across effectively. It includes a list of key activities that will help decision makers and civil servants to adapt their standard processes to achieve effective risk communication.

In A practical guide to public risk communication, five key elements of public risk communication were identified – the five ‘A’s of risk communication:

• Assembling the evidence – demonstrate you have a credible basis for your position
• Acknowledgement of public perspectives – understand how those affected understand the risk
• Analysis of options – consider a broad range of options and the associated trade-offs
• Authority in charge – define the nature of your involvement with the risk
• Interacting with your audience – identify the audiences and the appropriate methods for communicating with them.

Each of these was described in more depth in the guide.

This paper explores the use of the five ‘A’s in three very different areas of risk communication: nanotechnologies, flooding and obesity.