The Emergence of Risk Communication Studies: Social and Political Context

This article highlights the analysis and risk communication studies within the context of social and politics.  Particularly, the related problems concerning the “political management of public perceptions anin individual responses to risk.”

Risk communication is more than a study. Interested professional groups such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Public Health and Safety Departments and Government Advisory Agency (Decision-making body) relied on effective management of risk communication. This is where the social and political issues hold with regards to successfully imparting the message.

As an instance, the Papua New Guinea government with its political pride has fully accepted the Seabed Mining Solwara1 Project to operate in it’s territory. What the government fail to do was to fully address  was the issue of impact on the environment with regards to the population whose survival and livelihood was dependent solely on the coastal environment.

This is a perfect  interwoven case of a social and political issue, there is risk communication involved. I personally am placed in a doldrum of uncertainties. As a public servant and having to come from the coastal area in which the proposed mine site is, I have to come up with meaningful explanations for the good my people and at the same time being faithful and loyal to the government of the day.

So,  risk communication can have the following definitions as indicated by Plough and Krimsky; it can be intentionally, content, audience directed, source of information  and flow of message.  Having to understand the definitions, one can then be able to successfully take charge of the risks involved in information delivery to the lay public with ease and to the government as well. That is defining the central problem of the field. This is again a divergence between expert, policy and lay community on matters of risk.

Finally, this article concluded and settled with two important issues.

  1. Through history, models of risk communication were developed in various forms which had filtered through quantitative models  of assessment and cognitive typologies of perceptions. This forms the social context of risk.
  2. This focus on the challenges between the models in one and the structural problems  of risk communication. It then involves the political context. The analytic models were designed to respond to real problems.

Thus, finally I’d like to close with what Mary Douglas remarked, “ideas about the world come directly  out of human experience.”



3 comments so far

  1. selinamj on

    I think this highlights several important issues.
    One of the key things is the use of risk communication in a political context to make sure people understand and will accept changes to public policy. In all respects keeping the public happy should be of primary importance to political figures as they are always wanting to remain in office. This then has to be balanced with being transparent and honest to the public about risk. This is where risk communication studies comes in because it shows the best way to communicate risk to ensure that people are comfortable with it.
    This leads to the other important point which is that cultural context is highly important yet often ignored. It should be paramount that risk communicators take the cultural context of their audience into consideration when communicating risk, which was something you brought up in your example.

  2. Jessica Ho on

    I think that political and social issues might always somehow affect each other. There has to be a compromise somewhere in between, and neither side can ever be fully satisfied. The government will usually and hopefully make decisions that benefit the people, but usually the people don’t see why a change has to be made. This brings us back to the point on providing all information to the public to prevent assumptions and disagreement and to reduce immediate rejection or objection. Having said that, I recall that risk communication has to be a two-way communication, Feedback will perhaps allow better flow and acceptance of future messages.

  3. noelynn on

    Yes, very true how the public indirectly influences how meeseges, policies and risks are communicated through the media or whatever means. So whether the information is formal or informal, it has to be such to the best of the public. This in turn calls for trustworthiness and credibility of the source of information and the type of information diseminated. Therefore, the need to establish credibility and trust is a common theme in risk communication. ideally, trust is built overtime and is the result on-going actions, listening, and communication skills. In general, the lay public want honest and accurate factual information. Uncertainty may only increase fear and panic, depending on the situation and the type of information.
    Jessica you have a very valid point on how the political and social issues are interwined as far as risk communication is concerned.

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