Communicating Risk

Risk communication can refer to any public or private communication that informs individuals about the existence, nature, form, severity, or acceptability of risks. It can be directive or non-directive. Risk communication strategies are increasingly important in public offices which need to effectively motivate public response, for example in relation to flooding or outbreaks of disease. However, public perceptions of risk and individual behavioural responses to risks are often inconsistent with technical risk assessments.

This POSTnote will provide a brief overview of the history of risk communication including environmental and health case studies of key successes and failures of risk communication programmes in the UK and internationally. It would then examine the research on the psychological, social and cultural factors that may explain the discrepancies between technical risk assessment and public perceptions, as well as debates over technical and cultural meanings of rationality. It would also examine recent research seeking to establish the best methods of communicating risk, including new tools that can be used to tailor risk information to particular groups and represent risk information in different forms, such as graphics and animations.

For more information on this project, or to contribute, please email Nick Wood.