Are rules alone enough?
Uploaded by Nicola Bawden on behalf of Steven Chew
In 1988, Covello & Allen developed the seven cardinal rules of risk communication. These rules are as follows:
- Accept and involve the public as a partner
- Plan carefully and evaluate your efforts
- Listen to the public’s specific concerns
- Be honest, frank and open
- Work with other credible sources
- Meet the needs of the media
- Speak clearly and with compassion
These rules have been pinnacle and have offered practitioners helpful guidelines over the years when dealing with risk communication. However are these rules adequate to guide us through the problems we face when trying to communicate risk? K.E. Rowan does not think so and her paper “Why rules for risk communication are not enough: a problem-solving approach to risk communication” explores this.
At first glance, the rule-based approach seems sufficient enough. It gives us a fairly comprehensive guide of what to do and how to approach risk communication. However limitations are present. They do not offer much assistance in determining why a certain communication approach has failed.
The rule-based approach also does not help to anticipate and overcome likely difficulties in future risk situations or even help locate information about how to reduce these difficulties.
With a diagnostic or problem-solving approach, we are able to overcome these limitations. This approach to risk communication is able to recognize the range of problems characterizing risk situations. Risk situations are characterized by breakdowns in credibility, awareness, understanding, agreement about solutions and enactment of effective response (also known as the CAUSE mnemonic). Furthermore the problem-solving approach locates key obstacles to the five communication goals and offers message-generation principles likely to overcome identified difficulties. The framework integrates research from diverse fields by focusing on ways similar risk communication difficulties can be reduced with analytic communication skills. There are five general obstacles and goals that risk communicators need to understand.
- People need strategies for creating trust and diagnosing risk communication situations that are riddled with suspicion.
- Awareness creation strategies are needed as risk communication situations are characterized by lack of awareness
- Risk communication situations involve difficult
ideas hence we need strategies for determining why these ideas are difficult and methods to overcome these difficulties
- There is need for skills in gaining agreement as risk communication situations involve frequent disagreements
- Risk communicators need strategies for motivating action
The problem-solving approach says that risk communication requires knowledge, fair processes and communication skills. It concentrates on enhancing people’s communication skills by providing conceptual tools for analysing and responding to risk situations. The tools used are: specifying goals for risk communication, identifying obstacles for each goal and lastly presenting research-supported methods for dressing each obstacle. In Rowans paper, she goes on to illustrate the use of the problem-solving approach by examining two communication goals in detail: building trust and explaining complex material.
I think that the 7 cardinal rules (and the rules-based approach in general) will always have its place when dealing with risk communication. In most instances, it will prove to be sufficient but may leave some practitioners wanting. However Rowan does make a number of valid points and her argument for the adoption of a more problem-solving approach makes sense, especially when having the need to anticipate and deal with likely difficulties concerned with risk communication. It is certainly a more complicated route to dealing with risk communication, but is it worth the trouble?
Rowan, K. E.
1994. Why rules for risk communication
are not enough: a problem-solving approach to risk communication. Risk Analysis 14(3)369-374.
Covello, V. and F. Allen (1988), Seven Cardinal Rules of Risk Communication,
Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Policy