Risk communication needs to be communicated

What is the use of risk management if it is not communicated and evaluated? That is what Bernd Rohrmann asks in his article the evaluation of risk communication effectiveness (1992). And it is a valid question. Rohrmann argues that risk communication would be a lot more effective if there was a system where those implementing risk management strategies could evaluate their effectiveness and then share this with others. This makes sense; it could save risk communicators a lot of time and money. Think about it, instead of one risk communicator starting from scratch on deciding what will work, they could look up on a database what others have found to be effective.

Risk communicators also need to evaluate their work to see how effective it is. Rohrmann states how control groups are rarely used in evaluating risk communication, and that these are needed especially in risk communication, as there are what Rohrmann calls ‘judgmental expectancy biases’ in this field which stem from research on the social psychology of conducting experiments in risk communication. For example, one of the possible biases is what is known as the    ‘Hawthorne’ effect, which states that

Subjects exposed to new conditions or possibilities (introduced as improvements) tend to react positively due to the mere existence of a program, independently of its particular function.

This would have a marked bias on results, reiterating that a control group for evaluating risk communication is definitely necessary, yet rarely is it done.

Rohrmann has made a very valid point in this article that risk communication needs to be evaluated and communicated for it to be successful.


Rohrmann, B. (1992). The evaluation of risk communication effectiveness. Acta Psychologica, 81(2), 169-192. doi:10.1016/0001-6918(92)90004-W

image: http://strangeandconfused.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/risk-communication.jpg


5 comments so far

  1. Alan Gill on

    Hi! (not sure who wrote this one)

    Collaboration is an important way of improving the quality of any profession – journals and professional societies are a great way of sharing information and tips. I agree – reinventing the wheel every time a risk communication strategy is needed would be difficult, especially if it is being developed in response to a crisis.

    Evaluation can be tricky, as you’ve mentioned, because you need to compare data against a control. I’m not sure how ethics committees would view communicating risk to one group of people and not communicating risk to another, so getting it set up might be an issue. The trick then is communicating the evaluation to others in an effort to improve collective knowledge and strategies. I think the idea of sharing experiences based on evaluation can improve many different areas.

  2. Cody Evans on


    I agree with Rohrmann that it is be quite difficult, expensive and time consuming in developing risk communication strategies. His idea to pre-incorporate evaluation measures into a risk communication program could save a lot of time and energy for many science and risk communicators.

    However I wonder if the evaluation measures of particular risk communication programs are able to be integrated to evaluate other similar risk communication strategies, or if each case should be treated on an individual basis.

    I agree that some sort of system or online database to the effectiveness of individual risk communication strategies would be a great idea for narrowing down which strategies work in different situations; however risk communicators should not use it as a rule but rather a guideline.

  3. Madeleine gordon on

    Hey Rosanna (I’m assuming it’s you from the name),

    I agree with Alan that they may have a hard time getting a control group past ethics, however there must surely be some situations that have occurred where there hasn’t been risk communication. Maybe these situations could also be recorded on a data base and possibly compared to similar events. I understand that every situation is different but there might be a possibility of comparing.

    Also I was thinking about all these papers we have read about risk communication and the different strategies that were used. Maybe this data could also be compiled (it would take a lot of work) and then it could be used by people who may not be willing to go through all the journals and just want to get the gist of things.

    Anyway let me know what you think.


  4. habasabah on

    Hello 🙂

    It’s a classic case of sharing what we know. What’s the point of having a great deal of knowledge and doing nothing with it? I agree with Rohrmann (and with yourself and Alan and Cody), that having a database style system of storing past strategies that can be accessed and assessed for their effectiveness, is a great idea, almost like a database of case studies. They could be peer reviewed, by other risk communicators who might have assessed similar risks.

    Also, I can very much relate to this statement: “instead of one risk communicator starting from scratch on deciding what will work, they could look up on a database what others have found to be effective.” – this made me think of our second assignment, the communication strategies, I wish it had been easier to do the market research on our topic of expanding an online news source, by having some kind of collection of case studies of similar problems – that come from credible sources rather than online blogs. Steering off track a little bit, but it’s just nice to back up or add to your own ideas with those of others, whatever the communication area.

  5. Rosanna Margetts on

    Thankyou all for your Comments.

    Madeleine, I think your idea about having a compilation of science communication articles on a database is very good, and is likely to make whoever does it a hero for risk communicators.

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