Major Research Initiatives
Environmental Risk Communication
An annotated bibliography focusing on environmental risk communication was recently completed through cooperative agreement between Decision Research (a non-profit research institute based in Eugene, Oregon) and PSW. Authored by Joseph Arvai, Robyn Wilson, Louis Rivers and Ann Froschauer, the document summarizes 153 citations from the literatures on risk research, stakeholder involvement, decision science and risk management.
Researchers and practitioners have long advocated improved interactions between technical experts and stakeholders. To this end, the field of risk communication emerged in the mid-1980s and was motivated by the need, or in some cases desire, to inform people through risk messages and to facilitate their involvement in decision making processes. Despite growing attention, however, the components for successful risk communication and participation processes have received little attention. The annotated bibliography brings together articles from the four key research areas in order to shed light on this important topic.
For example, several of the reviewed articles focused on the use of case studies dealing with past risk communication efforts as a means of identifying components of processes that are both necessary for success and useful for evaluative purposes. Many of the components of success are highlighted in the bibliography.
Another set of reviewed articles focused on the importance of equipping managers and decision makers with the ability to make choices based on the outcomes of the participatory process, thus avoiding symbolic participation.
Since accurate risk information presented in an honest and understandable manner is an important component of risk communication, other articles contained in the review focused on means of presenting risk information and data. Publics need to be treated with respect, and need to be shown the potential benefits along with the costs or risks involved. Data should be balanced with a recognition of the emotional and social aspects of the decision to be made. Moreover, risk communicators need to be trustworthy and, where possible, known by the community involved in the risk communication.
Incorporating diverse publics in risk management decision making is crucial for acquiring a balanced evaluation of options, therefore, some of the articles point to the importance of considering cultural and ethnic/racial variations in perceptions of risk alongside the degree and types of risks individuals are willing to accept.
Overall, incorporating input from informed and diverse publics alongside information about their values-through a thoughtfully designed risk communication process-can be linked to improved outcomes as well as broader acceptance of risk management decisions.
Further detail on risk communication and its various aspects is found in the bibliography, available upon request. The document is available in print and electronic version on CD.
Publications and Products related to this subject:
Arvai, J.; Wilson, R.; Rivers, L.; Froschauer, A. 2004. Environmental risk communication: A review and annotated bibliography. Unpublished report. Eugene, OR: Decision Research. [available in hardcopy or cd from unit] 165 p.
Research conducted by: