CMOS Town Hall Panel: (Host Joel Finnis): Risk Communication at the Local Level

When:  Jun 14, 2018 from 10:30 AM to 12:00 PM (AT)
Panelists: Max Liboiron (MUN), Rodd Laing (Gov't of Nunatsiavut), and Alex Zahara (MUN).
Host: Joel Finnis

Research on science and risk communication has consistently emphasized the importance of collaboration between impacted communities (‘publics’) and accredited expert groups (whether government agencies, academia, industry, or NGOs), in order to foster trust and ensure community needs are being accounted for. Although meaningful community collaboration can be difficult to achieve, it potentially avoids problems of one-way expert-to-public communication, which assumes risk is effectively mitigated by increasing public attention to expert knowledge. This ‘information deficit’ communication model privileges accredited expert perceptions of what constitutes relevant, timely, and accessible communication against local expertise and contexts. Communities can differ considerably from experts in their interpretation of these characteristics, beginning with how risks are defined and prioritized. While many agencies have no direct experience of a specific hazard or impacted activities, community knowledge is always a factor when receiving outside information. For example, ‘timely’ monitoring of hazards by accredited experts may be poorly received by communities that prioritize prevention, especially when hazards are understood by communities to be long-term and ongoing (e.g. the “event” of methyl mercury contamination as a consequence of hydro-electric development against a long-term trend of extraction and encroachment). Finally, efforts to improve ‘accessibility’ often focus on delivering streamlined, simple messaging around nuanced problems; this can become an issue when communities are accustomed to navigating complexity, and are aware that higher level information exists but is not disseminated. These disconnections are less likely to occur if communities and risk-related agencies actively collaborate on research and risk communication/management planning. These concerns, and ways forward, will be addressed in a panel discussion, with input from social/natural scientists and environmental managers, sharing lessons drawn from their recent collaborations on plastic pollution, sea ice stability, Muskrat Falls flooding and contamination, and wildfire management.