Documents to download

Risk communication includes issues as diverse as consumer advice on savings to informing patients about the benefits and harms of screening.

Summary of Key Points

  • People often perceive risks differently to the actual risk that a behaviour, or hazard, entails. Poor risk communication can lead to confusion, distrust and potentially fatal outcomes.
  • Government and the media provide people with key sources of information about risk. Social media is being used increasingly to communicate information about risk.
  • People’s perception of risk is shaped by many factors. These include the language used to communicate the risk and whether statistics are used, individual attributes such as gender, the type of risk such as familiar or unfamiliar risks, and the context within which the risk occurs, such as crisis situations.
  • Challenging aspects of communicating risk include clarifying how risks are measured and explaining any uncertainties involved.
  • Risk communication can be improved through careful use of statistics and numbers, being open in the information provided to the public, tailoring information to specific audiences, communicating across different mediums such as TV and radio, and using visualisations.

Acknowledgements

POSTnotes are based on literature reviews and interviews with a range of stakeholders and are externally peer reviewed. POST would like to thank interviewees and peer reviewers for kindly giving up their time during the preparation of this briefing, including:

  • Dr Teresa Ashe, Open University*
  • Ms Natalie Brown*
  • Civil Contingencies Secretariat
  • Professor David Demerritt, Kings College
  • Professor Mandeep Dhami, University of Middlesex
  • Department of Health
  • Dr Michael Evangeli, Royal Holloway*
  • Environment Agency*
  • Food Standards Agency*
  • Dr Alexandra Freeman, Dr Cameron Brick and Professor David Spiegelhalter, Winton Centre for Risk and Communication, University of Cambridge*
  • Dr Hazel Gibson and Professor Iain Stewart, University of Plymouth*
  • Professor Deborah Glik, UCLA
  • Government Office for Science*
  • Government Statistical Service*
  • Health and Safety Executive
  • Professor Mils Hils, University of Northampton*
  • Professor Roger Kasperson, Clarke University
  • Professor Dawn Langdon, Royal Holloway*
  • Professor Hugh Pennington, Aberdeen University*
  • Professor Nick Pidgeon, Cardiff University
  • Public Health England*
  • Dr Paul Reilly, university of Sheffield*
  • Mr Tom Sheldon, Science Media Centre*
  • Dr Jennifer Storey, Royal Holloway*
  • HM Treasury*
  • Professor Cherry Tweed, Radioactive Waste Management Ltd*
  • Dr Christian Wagner, University of Nottingham
  • Mr Bob Ward, London School of Economics and Political Science
  • Dr Anthony Wilson, The Pirbright Institute*

*Denotes people who acted as external reviewers of the briefing.


Documents to download

Related posts

  • The rapid production of safe, effective and consistent vaccines is essential for supporting COVID-19 immunisation programmes in the UK and globally. However, manufacturing vaccines is challenging for various reasons that include the complex processes involved, the specialist knowledge and experience required, and the natural variability of the biological materials and systems used. Urgent demand is leading to manufacturers and governments taking on significant financial risks in order to speed up production. What is the UK Government doing to accelerate vaccine manufacture? How are vaccines made? Why is manufacturing vaccines at large scales so challenging?

  • The digital divide is the gap between people in society who have full access to digital technologies (such as the internet and computers) and those who do not. Concerns about the digital divide have been particularly acute during the COVID-19 pandemic as the internet and digital devices have played an important role in allowing people to access services, attend medical appointments and stay in touch with friends and family. What impact has the digital divide had on children and adults in the UK during the COVID-19 pandemic and what has been done to tackle it?