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Because people’s time is short, they can’t learn about, much les influence, all risks. As a result, people often want specialists to make sure that life doesn’t get too hazardous.
Without trust in the official performing the actual communication, the learning process is very complicated.
Risk specialists may not like to acknowledge their own emotional involvement nor to deal with that of the public.
Poor Risk Communication Can Undermine effective decision making Create feelings of helplessness Erode public faith in authorities Erode authorities’ faith in public Erode social coordination produced by sharing information sources
A Simple Communication Strategy 1. Analytically identify the most critical information for decisions facing audience 2. Empirically determine current beliefs 3. Close most critical gaps, recognizing audience’s information-processing limits 4. Evaluate; repeat as needed
They get relevant information in a concise, credible form with adequate context, and without needless distractions
They have control over their environment and are judged by their own goals
So, if citizens don’t understand, assume a communication failure
Decision-focused SARS Reporting (a possible formulation)
Decision-focused SARS Reporting What are my chances of exposure? What are my chances of getting sick? What are my chances of being untreatable?
For Each Element, Audience Needs Useful numbers -- give order-of-magnitude feeling -- clarify verbal quantifiers (rare, likely) -- allow rudimentary calculations Useful theory -- give numbers credibility -- allow updating numbers -- provide increasing competence
What are my chances of exposure? Useful numbers -- total cases -- total population Useful theory -- where are they concentrated? -- how long are they contagious? -- how well do we know?
What are my chances of getting sick? Useful numbers -- disease multiplier -- effectiveness of exposure routes -- effectiveness of protection strategies Useful theory -- how does transmission work? -- what’s this about [sewers, feces, cockroaches, masks…]? -- how well do we know?
What are my chances of being untreatable? Useful numbers -- survival rates -- recurrence rates Useful theory -- why do treatments vary? -- why are healthy people dying? -- how well do we know?
Some Suggestions Authoritative summaries of cognitive research Worked examples (vs. principles) Standard reporting formats Professional translators (to decision-relevant form) Consulting behavioral decision researchers Institutional analysis of failures