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Effectiveness of risk communication

Multiple Authors

In the previous section we have focussed largely on the part of the communication where you are providing information, but equally important is the act of receiving information within the exchange process. One needs to be receptive, actively listening and fully engaged with the other participants in the communication, otherwise it is easy to miss out on a lot of information and learning opportunities.

The effectiveness of a communication depends on how good the match is between the senders intended meaning and the receivers interpretation of the message (Schumacher quoting Watzlawick, 1996). Barriers to effective communication include:

  • inaccurate interpretation – misunderstanding the non-verbal or implicit messages
  • selective perception – missing out certain elements of the message based on what the receiver expected or wanted to hear
  • linguistic impact – style, tone and speed in which the message is delivered
  • semantics – different meanings attached to the same word by the sender and receivers

It may be useful to test the measures or strategies one is planning to implement in order to engage in communication on issues of climate risks. This may involve working with a focus group or small subset of the intended audience/participants to try out different methods and formulations of the content and see how they are received, understood, responded to, acted on, etc. The process of validating scientific information on climate risks with people affected by the risks is also useful, as it can improve the communications strategy by incorporating local perceptions into the message, that can then be more relevant for the receivers.

It is critical to evaluate the effectiveness of the communication process, so that lessons can be learned for next time round. Unfortunately this is something that is often not done, or done poorly, due to perceived financial or time constraints and difficulties in selecting indicators and methods for measuring them. One of the next steps in this process for those of us involved in the C3D+ project is to think about this more and see what methods currently exist for evaluating the effectiveness of communications and how well they work in the cases we are involved in… so more on this topic to come and ideas from others would be welcomed!


Key Principles of Effective Communication, a learning module by Marinita Schumacher, Knowledge Board webpage [1] (viewed 13/05/09)

Authors: Anna Taylor (SEI Oxford), Tahia Devisscher (SEI Oxford)

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