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Risk Communication

Kaci Buhl, MS
Oregon State University
General Session

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Risk Communication

  1. 1. Risk Communication Kaci Buhl, MS
  2. 2. • A science-based information service for pesticides • Toll-free phone service available: • 10:00 – 2:00 Central time; 8:00 – 12:00 Pacific time • Funded through a cooperative agreement with EPA • NPIC answers ~ 12,000 inquiries per year from diverse audiences Call the National Pesticide Information Center
  3. 3. • To compare the toxicity of products • To evaluate the persistence of pesticides • To discuss specific pesticides and potential health effects • To discuss risk to groundwater, fish, bees, or pets • For help with confusing label statements • To find local resources Call the National Pesticide Information Center
  4. 4. County Extension Directory
  5. 5. Risk-Comm Training • The science of risk perception • A framework for risk communication • Communication moves that build trust o Verbally o In writing o On the web • Checklists
  6. 6. The Science of Risk Perception Every hazard is unique Every person is unique Acknowledgement: Dr. Paul Slovic, University of Oregon
  7. 7. Risk • Human beings made up the concept of “risk.” • It cannot be objectively measured. • Assumptions and subjective judgments are used. • Most risk perception is determined by fast intuitive feelings. • The risk(s) cannot be separated from the benefit(s) • Understanding risk perception is critical for effective communication.
  8. 8. Results of failed risk communication • Frustrated scientists, regulators, and industrialists think the public makes irrational or ignorant judgments. • The public thinks that risks are under- estimated to serve someone else’s purposes, not their own.
  9. 9. Risk Perceptions Process of Stigmatization Affects: o Technologies: nuclear, chemical, bioengineering o Places: Chernobyl, Love Canal o Products:  Alar – $100 million  Tylenol – $1.4 billion  Three Mile Island – $10 billion Today: Ground Beef (Pink Slime); GMO foods, Water re-use Stigma Economic Losses ($)
  10. 10. Risk Perception Factors • Who benefits? How much? • Who defines the way we measure the risk? • Gut feelings, ‘probability neglect’ • Worldview • Other ‘outrage factors’ (dread, voluntary, etc.)?
  11. 11. Low High Benefit High Low Risk                    Activities, hazards, etc. In the world, risk and benefit are positively correlated. In people’s minds, they are negatively correlated.
  12. 12. According to social science research, the relationship between risk and benefit in people’s minds is negatively correlated. Low High Benefit High Low Risk                    Activities, hazards, etc.
  13. 13. Figure 1 Perceived risks and benefits of nanotechnology and 43 other technologies, based on 503 responses to a national telephone survey. Source:Currall et al. 2006
  14. 14. 5 4 3 2 1 5 4 3 2 1 Radiation Chemicals Nuclear Power X-rays Pesticides Prescription Drugs Figure 3. Mean perceived risk and perceived benefit for medical and nonmedical sources of exposure to radiation and chemicals. Each item was rated on a scale of perceived risk ranging from 1 (very low risk) to 7 (very high risk) and a scale of perceived benefit ranging from 1 (very low benefit) to 7 (very high benefit). Data are from a national survey in Canada by Slovic et al., 1991. Benefit Benefit Benefit Benefit Risk Risk Risk Risk
  15. 15. Risks are less likely to be acceptable if the benefits are hidden from view, or if they are not fairly distributed among those who bear the risks.
  16. 16. Risk denial increases with perceived control Sjoberg, L. Factors in Risk Perception. 2000. Risk Analysis 20:1 (pp1-11)
  17. 17. How is risk defined? Who decides? Is coal mining getting safer? Accidental deaths per thousand coal mine employees in the United States Accidental deaths per million tons of coal mined in the United States
  18. 18. Defining risk is an act of power Counting fatalities gives equal weight to: • Young and old • Painful and painless deaths • Voluntary and involuntary exposure(s) • Fair (beneficial) and unfair (no benefit) Whoever controls the definition of risk is in control: • If you define risk one way, no action may be needed. • If you define risk another way, major actions may be in order.
  19. 19. Gut feelings • Feelings about outcomes and feelings about probabilities are often confused. • When strong emotions are involved, there is ‘probability neglect.’
  20. 20. Strong Emotion Overcomes Probability 1% 99% Payment to avoid a chance of electric shock is not much affected by probability Source: Rottenstreich & Hsee: Money, Kisses, and Electric Shock: On the Affective Psychology of Risk. Psychological Science, 2001 $20 18 16 14 12 10 8 6 4 2 0 Prices paid to avoid electric shock and $20 penalty Shock Money Probability
  21. 21. Cass R. Sunstein The Journal of Risk and Uncertainty, 26(2/3); 2003 • People are prone to . . . probability neglect, especially when their emotions are intensely engaged. When probability neglect is at work, people’s attention is focused on the bad outcome itself, and they are inattentive to the fact that it is unlikely to occur. • Probability neglect is highly likely in the aftermath of terrorism. People fall victim to probability neglect when the intensity of their reaction does not change much, even with large differences in the likelihood of harm.
  22. 22. Many people lack dose-response sensitivity for exposure to chemicals that can produce dreaded effects, such as cancer. If large exposures are bad, small exposures are also bad. Public Toxicologists HighLow Low High Cancer risk Exposure High probability of harm Small probability of harm
  23. 23. Worldview - Hierarchist (support superior/subordinate social relations and detest civil disobedience) - Individualists (support self-regulation, individual achievement and reward and dislike social rules that constrain individual initiative) - Egalitarians (support broad distribution of power and wealth and dislike ranked role differentiation) - Communitarians (see nature as capricious and thus uncontrollable)
  24. 24. Some questions that measure worldviews (agree?) The government should stop telling people how to live their lives (Individualism) The government should do more to advance society’s goals, even if that limits the freedom of individuals (Communitarian) Our society would be better off if the distribution of wealth was more equal (Egalitarianism) We should let the experts make all the risk decisions for society (Hierarchism)
  25. 25. People with different worldviews were asked about their attitudes towards nanotechnology, before and after being given information about nanotechnology.
  26. 26. Personal ‘outrage factors’ In person’s control -----------------Out of person’s control Voluntary ---------------------- Imposed Beneficial -------------- Not beneficial Natural ---------------- Man-made Affects only adults ------------------ Affects children Familiar ------------------ Exotic Trusted entity ---------- Untrusted entity Lower risk perceived Higher risk perceived
  27. 27. Rank risks from highest (1) to lowest (4) Rank items from 1 (high amount of control) to 4 (low amount of control) Rank items from lowest benefit (1) to highest benefit (4) Your local government borrows money to replace the high school ___ ___ ___ You smoke a cigar every few months ___ ___ ___ Your family is giving up sugar for 30 days. ___ ___ ___ You like to camp/hike in remote wilderness areas ___ ___ ___
  28. 28. Rank risks from highest (1) to lowest (4) Rank items from 1 (high amount of control) to 4 (low amount of control) Rank items from highest benefit (1) to lowest benefit (4) Your local government borrows money to replace the high school 3 4 4 You smoke a cigar every few months 1 1 3 Your family is giving up sugar for 30 days 4 2 1 You like to camp/hike in remote wilderness areas 2 3 2
  29. 29. Risk Perception Factors • Who benefits? How much? • Who defines the way we measure the risk? • Gut feelings, ‘probability neglect’ • Worldview • Other ‘outrage factors’ (dread, voluntary, etc.)? We just covered…
  30. 30. The Framework for Risk Communication
  31. 31. Framework for Risk Communication • Frame as ‘risk’ rather than ‘safety’ • The risk equation as scaffolding for risk communication • A proposed checklist • Tips from neuroscience
  32. 32. Risk More risky----------------Less risky Precautions reduce risk Risk is higher for certain people Harder to explain Safety Yes or No No precautions necessary Safe is safe for everyone Easy to explain The impression of safety Careless behaviors, lack of vigilance Increased risk Why risk, when people ask about safety?
  33. 33. Yes Is it Safe? NoYes, as long as… Trust me. • …You tell me about all of your current medications, allergies and symptoms. • …We watch for signs like (this) and (that), which might mean that we should adjust the dose. • …We do not add other medications without talking about it together. • etc. Which response would inspire the most trust? Imagine asking your doctor about a new medication… You ask…
  34. 34. Yes Is it Safe? NoYes, as long as… Trust me. • …You tell me about all of your pest problems, previous treatments and sensitive sites/individuals • …You wait X hours to return, and ventilate right away • …You check the bait stations periodically to make sure they’re secure • …You do not add other treatments without talking about it together… • etc. Now imagine someone asked about the safety of a pesticide application…
  35. 35. Is it safe? The risk is low, but tell me about your specific concerns… • Listen • Consider tailored approaches • Quickly explain why “safe” isn’t the right word or mindset • Discuss risk level and things that affect it Re-framing the ‘safe’ question
  36. 36. Exposure ToxicityorHazard Informed Risk Decision-making The risk equation as scaffolding
  37. 37. Toxicity/Hazard X Exposure = Risk 10 X 10 = 100 10 X 50 = 500 10 X 5 = 50 10 X 1 = 10 10 X 0 = 0 5 X 10 = 50 5 X 5 = 25 Careless behaviors, lack of vigilance The power of the risk equation
  38. 38. Risk = Toxicity X Exposure  Toxicology of active ingredient  Product signal word  Dose estimate  Effects (signs, symptoms) reported in the literature  Onset, duration and resolution of symptoms  Distance to application site  Route of potential exposure  Physical/chemical properties of active ingredient  Duration/frequency of exposure  Bioavailability by the route in question Talking about toxicity and exposure
  39. 39. Communicating Likelihood Probability (1% chance) vs. Relative Frequency (1 in 100) Acknowledgements: Dr. Paul Slovic, John Monahan, Ellen Peters, Don MacGregor
  40. 40. A patient – Mr. Jones – was evaluated for discharge from a mental health facility. A psychologist whose professional opinion you respect has evaluated Mr. Jones. Her conclusions, stated differently: EITHER: Patients similar to Mr. Jones have a 20% probability of committing an act of violence during the first several months after discharge. OR: Of every 100 patients similar to Mr. Jones, 20 may commit an act of violence during the first several months after discharge.
  41. 41. 21% 41% 0% 20% 40% 60% 20% probability 20 of 100 patients Do not discharge More frightening
  42. 42. 20% 20% is pretty low. He probably won’t hurt anyone. 20 out of 100 He could be one of those 20. Now I’m thinking about 100 mental patients on the loose.
  43. 43. Risk Communication Checklist: Listen, ask questions, paraphrase: ___________________ Frame as risk rather than safety: _____________________ Toxicity/Hazard information: _____________________ Exposure information: _____________________ Benefit(s) of the activity: _____________________ Action items in person’s control: _____________________ Where to get more info: _____________________
  44. 44. Finding the Sweet Spot Threat/danger Reward/benefit - Norepinephrine - on alert - Dopamine - relaxed 0 50 100 ~60 If the focus is too much on ‘threat’, learning shuts down.
  45. 45. When people experience social pain, their IQ is decreased by up to 20%. - Embarrassment, shame - Disappointment, anger
  46. 46.  The brain wanders about 30% of the time.  People tend to internalize the most dominant emotion in the room.  Reading trumps listening, even if you try to do both.  People learn best in 20-minute chunks.  To maximize learning, use stories that are tangible, relatable, and emotional. This strategy turns information into a life experience. What else can neuroscience tell us?
  47. 47. Feel: Acknowledge the person’s feelings (i.e. fear). Felt: Share how you felt about something similar. Found: Share some information you found that may have influenced your thinking on the topic. One approach to relatable stories…
  48. 48. Framework for Risk Communication • Frame as ‘risk’ rather than ‘safety’ • The risk equation as scaffolding for risk communication • A proposed checklist • Tips from neuroscience We just covered…
  49. 49. Communication moves that build trust Verbal communication Written communication Writing for the web
  50. 50. Verbal communication • Treat it like your first call or conversation of the day. • Check your personal opinions at the door. • Give the person your full attention. • Set the tone for the conversation. Alarmed or calm?
  51. 51. • Ask questions and listen, building a picture of the situation • Clearly describe what you can/cannot do • Start listing the person’s questions as they tell the story. • Choose words that reflect the uncertainty in the situation. Use words like ‘may’, ‘might have’, ‘could have’, etc.
  52. 52. LEAP over the barriers. Listen. Empathize. Apologize. Problem- Solve. Filters. Values. Experiences. Personality. Roles.
  53. 53. Listen. Empathize. Apologize. Problem- Solve. LEAP over the barriers. The importance of Step 1 cannot be overstated.
  54. 54. Active listening Minimal Encouragements Paraphrasing Open-ended questions
  55. 55. Active listening DO NOT: Problem-solve Plan your response Give advice Be or appear rushed DO: Be attentive Be respectful Withhold judgment Ask brief questions
  56. 56. The listening phase is over when you can paraphrase the story/question and achieve the person’s agreement. • That’s a complicated story. I think I understand (paraphrase the story). Is that right? Is there anything else? • It sounds like you’ve been through a lot. Let me make sure I understand. You did (this, that), and you found (this, that), and now you’re wondering (this, that). Is that right? Active listening
  57. 57. Listen. Empathize. Apologize. Problem- Solve. LEAP over the barriers. This does not imply agreement, if done correctly. • I can’t imagine how you must be feeling. • I’m sorry that happened, it must be frustrating. • I’m sorry to hear that. I’m an animal-lover too. • My daughter has asthma, so I know what that’s like.
  58. 58. Writing about risk involves science and regulations Don’t be SUCH a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style – Randy Olson
  59. 59. Science (objective) Doing (objective) Communicating (subjective) Style (subjective) Substance (objective) Don’t be SUCH a Scientist: Talking Substance in an Age of Style – Randy Olson
  60. 60. A false choice • Option 1: Sacrifice scientific accuracy for the sake of communicating to everyone • Option 2: Keep your science writing at a very high level, maintain strict accuracy, and likely fail to reach a broad spectrum of less technical readers • Option 3: Achieve both accuracy and readability o It requires a lot more time and effort. It’s not just polishing, it’s a whole process. o It requires the writer to have a very deep understanding of the subject matter. Plainlanguage.gov
  61. 61. It takes an expert Don’t dumb down “This is easier said than done. Writing clearly without dumbing down is an art and it takes time to master, but that should be your goal. In order to achieve it, you’ll need to understand what you’re writing about on a deep level. Anyone can dumb down, but it takes an expert not to.” Neuroskeptic – A well-known blogger for Discover Magazine http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/2013/10/19/science-blog/#.UnErTCTFb74
  62. 62. Sacrifice detail, not accuracy In a 300-word piece… Use a few words to express uncertainty. For example, say “very likely.” In a 3000-word piece… you can describe the reasons for the uncertainty in accessible, clear terms. The Science Writer’s Handbook: Everything You Need to Know to Pitch, Publish, and Prosper in the Digital Age, edited by Thomas Haden and Michelle Nijhuis 2013
  63. 63. Say the most important things first • Our top priority is protecting people/the environment. • By following the procedures below, you can keep the risk low. (Notice, I didn’t break down and use the word “Safe.”) • Background: There was a situation, here are the details, we are charged with responding… etc.
  64. 64. Break it up • Walls of text are not inviting • Use more headings, more white space, more visuals • Use bullets, the shorter the better • Use the checklist we talked about: Risk Communication Checklist: Listen, ask questions, paraphrase: ___________________ Frame as risk rather than safety: _____________________ Toxicity/Hazard information: _____________________ Exposure information: _____________________ Benefit(s) of the activity: _____________________ Action items in person’s control: _____________________ Where to get more info: _____________________
  65. 65. Jargon “… Here are some unnecessarily long or ugly words (and replacement words) that many people use a lot:” utilize – use currently – now possess – have however – but for the purpose of – for initiate – start Zen and the Art of Dumbing Down Your Prose – Amy Miller, EPA Greenversations Blog terminate – end facilitate – help interface – meet? Talk to? relocate – move retain – keep
  66. 66. Writing for the web Factoids: • Visitors to web pages spend 2-4 seconds, on average, deciding whether to leave or stay. • People with limited literacy skills tend to skip whole paragraphs if they have more than 3 lines. • Links and content on the right margin are often ignored, mistaken for advertisements. http://npic.orst.edu
  67. 67. www.health.gov/healthliteracyonline/
  68. 68. Write actionable content • Write in plain language. Use your own voice. • Put the most important information first. • Describe the desirable behavior – just the basics. • Stay positive and realistic. • Provide specific action steps.
  69. 69. Display content clearly • Limit paragraph size. Use bullets or short lists. • Use meaningful headings with action words • Use white space, avoid clutter • Keep content in the center, above the fold
  70. 70. Plainlanguage.gov
  71. 71. Cook, J., Lewandowsky, S. (2011), The Debunking Handbook. St. Lucia, Australia: University of Queensland. November 5. ISBN 978-0-646-56812-6. [http://sks.to/debunk]
  72. 72. Communication moves that build trust Verbal communication Written communication Writing for the web We just covered…
  73. 73. Risk-Comm Training • The science of risk perception • A framework for risk communication • Communication moves that build trust o Verbally o In writing o On the web • Checklists We just covered…
  74. 74. Listen. Empathize. Apologize. Problem- Solve. Risk Communication Checklist: Listen, ask questions, paraphrase: ___________________ Frame as risk rather than safety: _____________________ Toxicity/Hazard information: _____________________ Exposure information: _____________________ Benefit(s) of the activity: _____________________ Action items in person’s control: _____________________ Where to get more info: _____________________
  75. 75. Risk Communication Kaci Buhl, MS buhlk@ace.orst.edu

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