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Attributes of an Effective Risk Communication Program

Historical Document

This document is provided by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) ONLY as an historical reference for the public health community. It is no longer being maintained and the data it contains may no longer be current and/or accurate.

(Covello, Slovic and von Winterfeldt 1987)

When designing and evaluating communication programs' effectiveness, the following maxims may be helpful.

  • The communication should be clear, understandable, informative, accurate, and concrete.
  • The source of the communication should be perceived as credible and reliable.
  • When the target population is not homogeneous, the message should be presented in several ways, each specifically designed for one segment of the target population.
  • Whenever possible, the target population or representatives of it should be closely involved in the planning and implementation of the program. The earlier the involvement, the better. This advice particularly refers to occupational hazards, where the involvement of unions is considered essential.
  • Multimode presentation is considered to be more effective than single mode presentation. This applies both to mass-media programs and to programs designed for smaller target populations. In the latter situation, face-to-face, two-way communication is also advocated.
  • Feedback about the behavior change and its consequences in lowering risk is highly effective, and should be used whenever possible.
  • Incentives or rewards are thought to be effective in inducing change.
  • Repetitions of the message are desirable to a point; too many repetitions are ineffective or even deleterious. The optimal number of repetitions is not known.
  • Certainly the message should be interesting; vividness has been shown to aid learning. But how arousing should the material be? Research results are mixed concerning the effectiveness of fear arousal.

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