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Health Education and Risk Communication Strategies

Research Needs

Although "quick and dirty" assessments of the sort encouraged in this report are essential to expedite immediate communication, efforts of this magnitude require research, just as scientific research is needed to develop effective risk management strategies. We suggest convening a small team of researchers, agency representatives, and others to consider a meaningful, manageable research agenda. (The risk communication research agenda proposed in 1995 as a result of a national symposium could serve as a generic guide to consideration of priority needs.) We strongly recommend that social science research include input from practitioners and affected people in the initial conceptualization of research so that it ultimately is as on target as possible. The following questions describe some research that may be useful, but is not meant as inclusive:

  1. What mental models do individuals hold of insects and pesticides? Before determining whether and how to integrate IPM messages into prevention, it is essential to appreciate cognitive and emotional components of individual perception. A literature review, particularly of the environmental education literature, is an essential first step. Without an appreciation of how people think and feel about these issues, it will be difficult to construct effective messages.

  2. What variables determine the difficulty or ease of community interventions? There is a substantial social psychology literature that speaks to why some communities are more difficult to mobilize than others. This research might serve as the basis for defining a study to guide agency intervention efforts.

  3. What evaluation tools will be most useful to provide feedback on agency interventions and community-level initiatives? There has been considerable discussion of the development of useful methodologies to evaluate such efforts and a variety of models have been developed. Ideally, various evaluative efforts would be put in place. The most useful evaluative designs may piggyback on existing agency data collection to reduce the need for substantial additional resources. Although agencies have a tendency to favor quantitative research, ethnography should also be considered to develop meaningful case studies from which lessons learned can be derived.

  4. What organizational factors and coordination facilitate effective intervention? One of the most difficult aspects of multi-agency interventions is coordination among agencies. Ways to improve such efforts have been studied by organizational researchers, largely in the corporate sector. As more such multi-agency efforts become essential, organizational insights might become increasingly useful.


The above topics are merely some initial thoughts. We strongly recommend that agencies fund meaningful research that will provide useful insights, using researchers with extensive background in the issues.

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