Risk communication plays a crucial role in the today’s public controversies on science and technology development. The dynamics that emerge in the communication between the different stakeholders involved in this kind of debates, however, have not been fully understood yet.

Three-actors, one-way communication models, such as the well-know “deficit model”–where the information flows in a line from the experts to the public, through the mediation of the mass media–fail to explain the complexity of the communication processes inherent in typical real controversies, in which the relevant information about risk is produced and spread by numerous stakeholders, i.e. not only by scientists and journalists, but also by environmental associations, citizens’ committees, private companies, consumers’ association, political parties, NGOs and many others.

At the same time, the “dialogue model”–that engages publics in two-way communication–appears to be not more than a prescriptive model, indicating how communication between experts and publics should be carried out, rather than describing how it is really carried out in a typical public debate.

What we most need to describe the complexity of the risk communication processes in a real controversy is a multi-actor and multi-directional theoretical model for public communication in which the relevant information about risk is produced and shared by numerous stakeholders, whose communication strategies are adapted to the different goals and audiences.

Moreover, numerous historical case-studies indicate that this kind of debates is not limited to the close examination of techno-scientific aspects, based on techno-scientific knowledge, but focuses on a clash between values and world-views, in which beliefs, interests and alliances play a vital role.

Both deficit and dialogue models are classical transmission models of communication, and they concentrate on three actors: the sender of the message, the transmitter, and the receiver. This transmission view of communication is the commonest in all industrial cultures and it is defined by term such as “imparting”, “sending”, “transmitting”, or “giving information to others”. Dialogue model, defined by the term “listening”, adds bi-directionality at the flow of information, but it remains essentially a linear model.

Nevertheless, in a risk communication scenario, it could be useful to explore as well non-linear models, such as the ritual model of communication, characterized by terms such as “sharing”, “participation”, “association”, “possession of common values”. A ritual view of communication is directed not towards the act of imparting information, but towards the representation of shared beliefs. Ritual model can be thought of in terms of a “theatre of communication”and seems to be more appropriate in describing the dynamic communication networks between the social actors taking part in the today’s public controversies on science and technology.

In the present work the author explore the opportunity to develop a descriptive, multi-actor “ritual model of risk communication” aiming at offering more insights into the comprehension of typical risk-benefit controversies and the development of more effective strategies on risk management, with particular regard to science-based decisionmaking.

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Public Communication of Science and Technology

 

Ritual models of risk communication

Giancarlo Sturloni   Innovations in the Communication of Science, SISSA

Risk communication plays a crucial role in the today’s public controversies on science and technology development. The dynamics that emerge in the communication between the different stakeholders involved in this kind of debates, however, have not been fully understood yet.

Three-actors, one-way communication models, such as the well-know “deficit model”–where the information flows in a line from the experts to the public, through the mediation of the mass media–fail to explain the complexity of the communication processes inherent in typical real controversies, in which the relevant information about risk is produced and spread by numerous stakeholders, i.e. not only by scientists and journalists, but also by environmental associations, citizens’ committees, private companies, consumers’ association, political parties, NGOs and many others.

At the same time, the “dialogue model”–that engages publics in two-way communication–appears to be not more than a prescriptive model, indicating how communication between experts and publics should be carried out, rather than describing how it is really carried out in a typical public debate.

What we most need to describe the complexity of the risk communication processes in a real controversy is a multi-actor and multi-directional theoretical model for public communication in which the relevant information about risk is produced and shared by numerous stakeholders, whose communication strategies are adapted to the different goals and audiences.

Moreover, numerous historical case-studies indicate that this kind of debates is not limited to the close examination of techno-scientific aspects, based on techno-scientific knowledge, but focuses on a clash between values and world-views, in which beliefs, interests and alliances play a vital role.

Both deficit and dialogue models are classical transmission models of communication, and they concentrate on three actors: the sender of the message, the transmitter, and the receiver. This transmission view of communication is the commonest in all industrial cultures and it is defined by term such as “imparting”, “sending”, “transmitting”, or “giving information to others”. Dialogue model, defined by the term “listening”, adds bi-directionality at the flow of information, but it remains essentially a linear model.

Nevertheless, in a risk communication scenario, it could be useful to explore as well non-linear models, such as the ritual model of communication, characterized by terms such as “sharing”, “participation”, “association”, “possession of common values”. A ritual view of communication is directed not towards the act of imparting information, but towards the representation of shared beliefs. Ritual model can be thought of in terms of a “theatre of communication”and seems to be more appropriate in describing the dynamic communication networks between the social actors taking part in the today’s public controversies on science and technology.

In the present work the author explore the opportunity to develop a descriptive, multi-actor “ritual model of risk communication” aiming at offering more insights into the comprehension of typical risk-benefit controversies and the development of more effective strategies on risk management, with particular regard to science-based decisionmaking.

A copy of the full paper has not yet been submitted.

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