The public does not always agree with experts about the level of risk associated with a hazard. When risk amplification occurs, public stakeholders may rate a risk as high, while experts may rate that risk as low or moderate.
This presents an obvious challenge to risk communicators and may result in opposition to risk management strategies.
Knowing your audience is always a primary step in any communication endeavor. Public stakeholders generally include the following:
- The community
- Public entities
- Responsible and potentially responsible parties
- Regulatory agencies
- Municipal and state officials
It is important to identify the needs, concerns, and goals of each group, as well as how these groups interact.
What Can You Do?
Risk amplification is often heightened by uncertainty among policies and standards, new information, and confidence in the organization communicating the risk.
Keep the following in mind when dealing with risk amplification:
- Build trust with transparent communication of uncertainties and variables
- Share new data and research with stakeholders
- Convey knowledge in an accurate and understandable manner
- Develop site-specific messaging for stakeholders
- Collaborate with stakeholders (a sense of control can reduce risk amplification)
- Show compassion
- Acknowledge and document stakeholder questions that cannot be answered at the time
Pathway Prompt: Can you think of instances of risk amplification that affected your communications? How did you address it?
Communicating Effectively When Feelings, Fears, and Facts Collide
More information about risk, high-concern, and crisis communication can be found in Dr. Covello’s video-based course Pathway to Risk, High-Concern, and Crisis Communication.
This master class introduces communicators to the tools and techniques for communicating effectively—while providing greater insight into why audiences react the way they do during times of stress.
The course comprises nine video lectures and accompanying text modules, plus supplemental materials for putting valuable lessons into practice. More information about the course, including group rates and partnering opportunities, can be found by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dr. Vincent Covello
Dr. Vincent Covello, director of the Center for Risk Communication, is one of the world’s leading experts and practitioners on risk, high-concern, and crisis communication. He is the author of more than 150 articles in scientific journals and the author/editor of more than 20 books.
Kasperson, R. E., and Kasperson, J. X.. The Social Amplification and Attenuation of Risk. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science. 1996; 545(1):95-105. doi:10.1177/0002716296545001010
Interstate Technology and Regulatory Council (ITRC). 2020. PFAS Technical and Regulatory Guidance Document and Fact Sheets PFAS-1. Washington, DC.
Dr. Peter M. Sandman Outrage Management (Low Hazard, High Outrage): https://www.psandman.com/index-OM.htm