Risk Communication Workshop

30 Aug 2017

On 18 August, the Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences (QAEHS) hosted a workshop on risk communication entitled "Engaging with communities about environmental health risks – Understanding challenges & developing solutions". Specifically, how does one relay an accurate and compelling understanding of complex technical material on health and environmental risks – from the firefighting foam PFAS to flying foxes carrying contagious pathogens – for lay audiences?

The workshop was convened by Sophie Dwyer PSM, Executive Director, Health Protection Branch, Queensland Health and attended by more than 30 staff from Queensland Health, the Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries, the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection, the GasFields Commission Queensland, and the University of Queensland. The workshop was facilitated by Associate Professor Kelly Fielding of UQ, QAEHS Theme Leader for Risk Communication and Professor Will Rifkin of the University of Newcastle and an affiliate of UQ’s Sustainable Minerals Institute. The workshop also featured a presentation on ‘dialogue’ by UQ PhD student, Lucy Mercer-Mapstone.

The all-day, interactive workshop employed participants’ input to define areas of particular challenge that they face in risk communication.  Concepts to help diagnose and address these challenges were introduced – including audience diversity, learning processes, ‘outrage’ factors, determinants of trust, elements of dialogue processes, risk communication pitfalls, and aspects of the ‘negotiation of expert status.’ Participants identified and role-played typical ‘bad’ practices and formulated ‘best practice’ responses.

Feedback on the day suggested that, for most, the event had been informative and enjoyable.  Participants particularly noted appreciation for being able to connect with their counterparts in other agencies. Topics for follow-up workshops were also identified – such as dealing with the media and responding in short timeframes.