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Canadian Science Policy Centre | Panel 108 - Risk Communication and Engagement with the Public in the Nuclear, Climate and Artificial Intelligence Sectors

Panel 108 - Risk Communication and Engagement with the Public in the Nuclear, Climate and Artificial Intelligence Sectors

Conference Day: 
Day 2 - November 8th 2018
Takeaways and recommendations: 

Risk communication and engagement with the public in the nuclear, climate and artificial intelligence sectors

Organized by: MITACS Science Policy Fellowships, April Killikelly

Speakers: Duane Bratt, Professor and Chair, Department of Economics, Justice, and Policy Studies, Mount Royal University; Elaine Chatigny, Director General, Public Health Agency of Canada; Dr. Kimberly Girling, Policy Analyst, Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada; Margot Hurlbert; Fellow of the Earth Systems Governance Project; Lead of the Science, Technology and Innovation Research Cluster at Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy (JSGS); Bob Watts, Senior Associate, Consensus Building Institute

Moderator: Monica Gattinger, Director, Institute for Science, Society and Policy

Takeaways and recommendations

Communicating risk:

  • Risk communications and risk management are essential to communicating risks with the public; well thought out frameworks are also required.

  • Explain the scientific process and express that discovery and exploring unknowns are part of the scientific process.

  • Social and behavioral sciences influence how we communicate uncertainty and risk. For example, studies show that pictorials and visualizations work better for communicating climate change science than long pages of evidence.

  • People need to receive information in ways that resonate with them, and in their language of choice.

  • Risk brings potential for harm, but the strategy can transform the dialogue to embrace innovation, focus on opportunities for change and to develop unique mitigation approaches.

  • Intellectualized communications ignores feeling. Think about heart, gut and then brain as a process for developing communications. Think of “feeling” versus thinking response.

  • Talk about benefits and risk at the same time. Risk and opportunity can be mitigated to benefit the most people and create a more profound equation.

  • Devote resources to monitoring social media and stay abreast of public opinions to ensure your communications are targeted.

Engaging with the public and other stakeholders:

  • Incorporating Indigenous people into decision making and ethical frameworks is essential, especially when unceded territory is affected.

  • Ceremonial and spiritual considerations are integral factors for success, particularly in projects involving Indigenous lands.

  • The legacy of colonization must be acknowledged with sensitivity.

  • Inclusion improves decision making.

  • Address cultural issues for informed decision making.

  • Manage groups that minimize or maximize the risk of political agendas. For example, crime rates are falling but media coverage and political agendas can create a public perception that crime is on the rise.

  • People are more open to new information when they are in a trusting relationship. Transparency is fundamental to building trust, including being transparent about uncertainty. Be clear about what we don’t know.

  • Claims of “fake news” hinder our ability to establish trustworthiness. Drawing on more information resources will improve stakeholder engagement and better detect misinformation.

Defining risk and value:

  • Understanding public perception of risk is essential. It often differs from evidence.

  • Establish partnerships to understand risk perception.

  • Use focus groups to test and assess risk.

  • Take into account risks that aren’t normally considered, such as long-term impacts on future generations, or the rights of the earth.

  • People often seek self-affirming biases which can influence how they process information.

  • Assess each individual or group’s risk perception. What is the policy risk? The science risk? What is the public perception? Remember risk is contextual.

  • For some, risk means losing something of value, such as life, or a reputation. It may also be an unintended or unpredictable consequence.

  • There are different perceptions of what is valuable. Is losing coral reef due to climate change of value to everyone or a portion of the population? Is there a lack of understanding of what the impact may be? You can’t quantify risks all the time.

  • Identify the risk to the organization and then the sub-risks. Create a mitigation strategy.

  • Risk, fear and scare mongering are real risks. Social perceptions will often decide the success of a project not the evidence.

Structuring the research:

  • When developing new technologies, assess the potential risks (ethical, data privacy) and mitigate the risks in the development stage.

  • Respectful, transparent collaboration with communities is essential when managing risk.

  • Integration of social science expertise is helpful when managing risk.

  • Multidisciplinary approach is essential, especially in an ethical framework .Recognize that ethical experts are necessary at all stages of the initiative.

  • Involve targeted communities on the design of the research project and include indigenous methodologies when possible.