Risk Communication—Communicating During Controversy & Crisis
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Technology can empower and improve people’s lives, but new technologies inevitably attract controversy. Stakeholders around the world closely scrutinize many of these new technologies and there are widely divergent views on human cloning, stem cell research, drug testing on animals, genetic engineering, nanotechnology, bioprospecting etc. In the private sector, misstated positions or misconstrued, off-the-cuff remarks can seriously jeopardize a company’s freedom to operate (FTO), its potential as an investment vehicle, its governance rating and ethical positioning, its bottom line and shareholder value. These miscommunications can be rapidly disseminated globally by single-issue activists via the internet, with serious and often costly consequences.
In the public sector, the consequences can be just as devastating to credibility of government agencies, impacts on public policy and national R&D budget allocations.
Appropriate communication is therefore essential for all stakeholders in the technology arena, whether they are thought leaders, policy makers, managers or researchers. Whilst many stakeholders e.g. researchers / academic lecturers have communication skills appropriate to their own specialist areas, communicating effectively in high concern or high stress situations presents very different challenges, and a different set of communication skills is essential in such situations. Players must become adept at Risk Communication.
Risk communication is a science-based approach for communicating effectively in high concern, low trust, sensitive, or controversial situations. The techniques were developed over 25 years of psychological and communications research based on principles developed by several sources including the U.S. National Academy of Sciences. An appreciation of the need for such techniques was first noted in the medical world, where doctors often have to communicate difficult news to patients who are under stress.
The same techniques can be applied to a wide range of situations and, most recently, have been applied to situations where people have developed a concern about technology or techniques e.g, stem cells, cloning, nanotechnology, genetically modified food, animal testing etc.
The course is a highly interactive, two-day course, including the fundamentals of risk communication theory and hands-on practical training (individual and group work). The program is outlined below.
1. Why should we be concerned? Global issues affecting acceptance of new technologies.
2. Risk Communication Practice. There are four vital elements of risk communication:
- Winning over a person’s trust. People must know you care before they care what you know.
- Minimising the perception of risk. A higher perceived risk dramatically reduces trust and acceptance.
- Reducing the mental noise. People under stress cannot absorb complex messages. Crafting messages in simple ways is essential to get your message across powerfully, and effectively.
- Defeating negative dominance. It is a sad reality — negatives are much more powerful than positives. How to avoid negativity in your messages.
3. Using risk communication in messaging: Message Mapping — a technique to analyze issues and ensure that you get the right message across. Application of message mapping techniques helps in delivery of messages both on a personal level and in an institutional setting. It is especially useful where companies need to ensure that all staff members deliver a consistent message.
4. Using risk communication in writing. Preparing a written response to a hostile attack.
5. Using risk communication in oral communication. Dealing with interviews/questions in public fora/media. eg. Rebutting false allegations/demands for guarantees/interrogations.
6. The seven attitudinal sins inhibiting societal technology acceptance.
After introductions to selected issues associated with technology acceptance and risk communication methodology, the course is highly interactive, with attendees working individually and in groups to apply risk communication techniques in both oral and written situations. It is important to appreciate that the communication process often depends upon a team effort, and the teamwork highlights the different skill sets that are often required at different stages of the process. The “do’s and don’ts ”of risk communication are powerfully illustrated with press clippings, video clips from TV interviews and movies.
- Dr. Andrew Powell, CEO, Asia BioBusiness, Singapore
- Professor Paul S. Teng, Head, Natural Science & Science Education, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore; Board Member, International Service for the Acquisition of Agribiotech Applications; (and formerly Deputy Director-General for Research, Worldfish Center; and Monsanto Asia-Pacific Vice President for Public Affairs)
This course can be run on site in any location.