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Communicating Risk: How we respond to risk and what that means for communication


May 21, 2020

GEM participated recently in a UNDRR Geneva-sponsored webinar facilitated by Jeanette Elsworth, UNDRR Senior Public Information Officer. The webinar explores the emotive way people respond to risk, why even if armed with all the facts, we may still have trouble persuading people to do the right thing. The webinar also touched on what behavioral economics can teach us about the way we respond to risk, and how we apply this to policy making and public-facing media communications.


Speakers include experts from behavioral economics and communications with introductory remarks from Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the UN for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of UNDRR.


Kate Orkin, Senior Research Fellow in Behavioral Economics at the University of Oxford talked about ‘Incorporating how we behave under risk into COVID-19 communications’. She proposed that key messages must: speak socially, invoke the future and use every touch point you can to be effective in changing the intended audience’s behavior.


Lisa Robinson, Head of Advisory, BBC Media Action presented the ‘3 common mistakes in designing risk communication’. She said that failure of risk communication strategies is due to the following: skimping on audience research, creating a snazzy product without a strategy for change, and avoiding conversation about risks.


Ranil Dissanayake, adviser to the UK Department for International Development added that key messages and how they are designed are important in behavioral change but he also pointed out that key messages alone cannot be effective if the target demographic is faced by more immediate problems such as joblessness, poverty and hunger. However, he agreed with Kate and Lisa on the importance of understanding the intended audience in order to be effective in communicating risk.


During the discussion, a trending topic focused on the importance of risk communication in changing behaviors, but participants also recognized the fact that it’s expensive and requires a lot of sustained work. Stephanie Speck, Head of Communications, Advocacy, Knowledge Management and IT, UNDRR gave the closing remarks, highlighting the possibility of a follow up webinar focusing on how to develop and implement a communication strategy when financial, material and human resources are limited.


For the latest in risk communication online training and workshops, visit.

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