Health Education and Risk Communication Strategies

Limitations of Information Dissemination Strategies

Communication can take many forms. Agencies are familiar with traditional information dissemination conducted by public information or press offices. This type of information dissemination tends to be one-way (National Research Council, 1989, 1996). Information release has other limitations:

  • There is limited data about the relationship between information, attitude, and behavior. Mounting evidence shows that the links between information and behavior are tenuous and ill-defined (Johnson, 1993). Thus, traditional public information plans that rely on information dissemination may not be sufficient.
  • Affected parties need to make complex decisions that have emotional as well as cognitive dimensions.
  • The trade-offs that affected parties need to make are potentially difficult and multidimensional. For example, are the health benefits of relocation worth the potential stress of relocation? How should coping with pesticide exposures figure into the priorities of their lives? Information alone is only one component of this type of problem-solving conducted by public information or press offices.
  • If affected individuals do not feel a sense of efficacy, a feeling that they can make some impact on their circumstances, agencies are condemning themselves to shouldering the entire burden of solving the myriad problems tied to methyl parathion and related pesticide applications. Just as important, when people feel that they cannot change their circumstances, the loss of control over their lives can increase stress, which can have adverse health consequences. Information is only one input to developing efficacy (Rile and Dunlap).

Therefore, communication strategies should promote effective problem solving, which requires

  • dialogue and exchange of information among affected institutions, agencies, and other community organizations
  • collaborative efforts that maximize resources and expertise
  • integration of affected individuals as resources and participants rather than as merely passive victims for whom agencies must take responsibility. These principles have been formulated as part two major reports: Understanding risk: Making decisions in a democratic society (National Research Council, 1996) and Presidential/Congressional Commission on Risk Management of 1997.

We strongly suggest the development of local advisory committees that include not only local civic leaders but also affected individuals who have the energy and commitment to serve as leaders on this issue.

Page last reviewed: June 20, 2014