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The Evolving Field of Risk Communication: Where are We Now and Where are We Going?
Communicating about risks to health, safety, and the environment is challenging. Although there have been notable successes, history is replete with examples of communication missteps and failures. Many well-meaning efforts have caused unintended negative effects, or, worse, boomeranged, generating the opposite effects of what was intended. Drawing on decades of interdisciplinary research, I explain why and how risk communication effectiveness would be significantly improved if practitioners adopted a more strategic and evidence-based approach. I first explain what such an approach entails, including the importance of choosing clear goals and evaluating messages throughout the process. Next, I discuss the key components of strategic risk communication that all effective practitioners must consider carefully. These are highlighted with environmental protection and public health sector examples, ranging from lead ammunition poisoning and chronic wasting disease, to smoking, underage drinking, and COVID-19. I conclude by providing concrete recommendations on how practitioners can become more strategic and resist the temptation of relying on intuition and unproven traditional practices.
Dr. Dominic Balog-Way is a postdoctoral research associate in the Department of Communication, Cornell University. His interdisciplinary research examines the assessment, management, and communication of risks to public health and the environment. Working internationally and across sectors ranging from environmental protection and food safety to pharmaceuticals and public health, Dominic strives to improve public policy through evidence-informed risk management and strategic benefit-risk communication. He is currently working on projects regarding the use of lead ammunition for hunting, infectious marine diseases, and deep geothermal energy. Throughout his career, he has advised, and worked closely with, state, national, and international governments, as well as businesses, advocacy groups, and academics.