Risk Communication: A Mental Models Approach

Risk Communication: A Mental Models Approach

Risk Communication: A Mental Models Approach

Risk Communication: A Mental Models Approach

Synopsis

This book explains how to develop more effective risk communications using the Carnegie Mellon mental-model approach. Such communications are designed to contain, in readily usable form, the information that people need to make informed decisions about risks to health, safety, and the environment. The approach draws together methods from the natural and social sciences, providing a framework for interdisciplinary collaboration. It is demostrated with varied examples including electromagnetic fields, climate change, radon, and sexually transmitted diseases.

Excerpt

Do-it-yourself books typically help readers to perform physical tasks, such as installing energy-efficient windows or growing aphid-free roses. This do-it-yourself book offers help on an intellectual task: developing risk communications using a mental models approach. Such communications are designed to contain, in readily usable form, the information that people need to make informed decisions about risks to health, safety, and the environment. Some of these decisions involve risks that individuals face in their everyday lives. Others involve risks that they must address as citizens in a modern society.

The public health and safety communities have long attempted to tell people about risks such as home fires, infectious disease, and auto accidents. The design of most of their communications relies primarily on intuition and conventional wisdom. Some of these communications have worked well, especially those with inherently simple messages, such as “don't smoke in bed.” Although people may not have followed this advice, that is not because they did not understand what they were supposed to do, although not understanding why may have reduced compliance. Other communications have been less successful, even with ostensibly clear-cut messages (e.g., “Just Say No”). These messages have much simpler content than attempts to explain such complex, novel risks as those posed by modern technical systems or environmental pollution.

Our method was created to meet this challenge, with an approach that reflects both the natural science of how risks are created and controlled . . .

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