Effective risk communication: Theory, tools, and practical skills for communicating about risk

Training Course
Harvard SPH Center for Continuing Professional Education (CCPE)
14-16 May 2012
United States of America (Boston)


From terrorism to drug recalls to natural disasters, new risks arise as fast as the next news cycle. Making wise choices requires understanding the risks and benefits of our technology and society. Risk communication is a tool for creating that understanding, closing the gap between laypeople and experts, and helping everyone make more informed choices. This introductory program explores the scientific foundations for effective risk communication.

This program is presented by prominent faculty from the Harvard School of Public Health, the Risk Management Centre at King’s College London, and the Center for Risk Perception and Communication at Carnegie Mellon University.

Most risk issues involve two hazards: the physical hazard itself, and the public’s reaction to it.

Upon Completion, Participants Will Be Able To:

• Tap into the key components that make up risk perception, the values and concerns brought by various audiences, and the likely responses of these audiences to such risk issues as new technologies, facility siting, and new regulations

• Recognize common biases and errors in decisions involving risk or uncertainty

• Develop strategies to enhance understanding and trust amongst audiences, while minimizing conflict on risk issues

• Craft organizational policies and messages responsive to audience risk concerns

What Participants Will Learn

Risk Perception:

• Findings from cognitive psychology and decision science that provide a basis to understand how people perceive risk and make decisions

• Findings on why the public’s reaction to risk sometimes seems to be “irrational”

• Update of the latest scientific studies on the topic

• Understand the importance of trust in how the public perceives risk

Mental Models:

• A scientific process for developing the most effective messages for the media

• Reasons why journalists often play up the frightening and threatening aspects of the news

• How to work more effectively with the media

Lessons from Case Studies:

• Acrylamide

• Participants will develop communication messages based on the most recent risk communication thinking

Application of Risk Communication:

• Development and implementation of risk management policy

• Design and execution of communications about policies and issues

Why Risk Communication?

Most risk issues involve two hazardous factors: the physical hazard itself and the reaction to it. In some instances (i.e., vaccinations, terrorism, industrial chemicals, and nuclear power), the high public concern can be a greater danger than the hazard itself. While for situations such as indoor air pollution, food poisoning, obesity, and cigarette smoking, a low level of public concern can also present significant health risks. Biases in risk perception can create hazards in and of themselves by generating opposition to the siting of facilities, creating new products, or adopting risk management regulations and procedures.

Additional information


Event fee

Program Fee: $1,595 $1,695 if payment received after May 7, 2012

What is included in the event fee

• Continental breakfasts, lunches, and refreshment breaks
• Reception at the Harvard Faculty Club
• Comprehensive take-home reference manual
• Continuing Education Credits
• Harvard School of Public Health certificate of participation

Target audience

Professionals in:

• Academia
• Governmental organizations and agencies
• Non-governmental organizations
• Public health and safety
• Regulated industries

Who perform duties in:

• Communication
• Emergency management
• Legislation
• Policymaking

How to register

Register either:

• Online at https://ccpe.sph.harvard.edu/RCC or
• Phone: +1 6173848692 or
• Fax: +1 6173848690


Health & Health Facilities, Media, Risk Identification & Assessment, Governance
United States of America

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