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Health Education and Risk Communication Strategies

Integrated Scientific, Management and Communication Planning

Effective communication cannot be added after scientific and technical decision making are completed. Such an approach ensures that there will never be enough time for communication planning. In addition, given that "people problems" can be the stumbling block of risk management strategies, social science and communication input are needed to develop effective risk management strategies. To maximize resources, risk management and communication strategies must be complementary.

Planning requires thinking through the appropriateness of risk management strategies, given the social dynamics that may be quite different from remediations at Superfund sites. Similarly, communication strategies should be developed mindful of considerations such as field constraints and the state of the science. Optimally, planning of technical and communication efforts will be collaborative, particularly in MP intervention, where individual behavior is integral to risk reduction. To conserve resources, it will be useful consider of how to complement communication and risk management strategies at each phase of helping a family through the MP process.

  • Policy decision making should include input from risk management and communication experts, although representation need not be equal. Thus, major policy decisions on assessment protocols and remediation should include representation from senior communication managers who have significant experience in health education or community relations. Public information or press office experience is rarely sufficient for planning communication programs such as those for MP, which require dialogue and involvement of affected parties (Grunig et al.).

  • Technical personnel must also be part of communication planning, so that the strategies can be coordinated. If technical personnel are not involved in communication planning and implementation, the planning is unlikely to succeed. This is because communication planning involves the design of a method to deliver a risk information and health promotion message. Technical personnel must decide what that message should be in conjunction with the communication experts.

  • Communication strategies, such as those needed for MP intervention, cannot be developed without personnel experienced in community relations, public involvement, or health education They have specialized expertise and, just as toxicologists have more authority when dealing with toxicological issues, these experts' opinions should carry more weight when developing communication strategies.

  • We do not know enough about present institutional structures for MP planning to advise whether and how they might be modified. Planning mechanisms should allow for diverse input on long-term plans, yet recognize that detailed plans cannot be developed by large groups. One structure might include use of larger, more representative forums for communication planning. These forums should be mechanisms for soliciting ideas and feedback on "straw outlines." Smaller task forces can develop the more detailed plans. Although some interaction will be needed among larger groups and smaller task forces, the timelines of MP crises do not allow for consensus on all issues. The goal should be coordination and planning that allows for a great deal of local flexibility.

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