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LEAP to Communication

Kaci BuhlWhen Kaci Buhl, National Pesticide Information Center project coordinator at Oregon State University, spoke at the Extension/REC Fall Conference, she said that risk perception is "not just facts." University faculty and staff tend to think that if people hear the facts, they'll believe the information, she said.

"But risk perception is subjective and personal," Buhl said. "People want to know risk vs. benefit. And risk denial increases with perceived control." She recommends "Risk Perception: It's Personal" from Environmental Health Perspectives.

Buhl said understanding risk perception is critical for effective communication.

"Frustrated scientists, regulators and industrialists think the public makes irrational or ignorant judgments," she said. "The public thinks that risks are underestimated to serve someone else’s purposes, not their own.
"In the world, risk and benefit are positively correlated, but according to social science research, the relationship between risk and benefit in people’s minds is negatively correlated. 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."
Buhl said defining risk is an act of power and that whoever controls the definition of risk is in control.
Buhl recommends this checklist when communicating risk:
  • 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
To maximize learning, use stories that are tangible, relatable, and emotional. This strategy turns information into a life experience.
Buhl recommends we LEAP over communication barriers:
  • Listen
  • Empathize
  • Apologize
  • Problem solve

Buhl said listening can't be overemphasized when people are concerned about a risk. "People don't care what you know until they know you care."

She believes risk communicators can achieve both accuracy and readability. Say the most important things first and break up the text with headings, white space, visuals, bullets and the like.

Buhl believes these risk communication steps will improve trust with audiences.

See Buhl's entire fall conference Risk Communication PowerPoint.

, Ag Communication Director, (701) 231-7875
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