Risk Comm 101: The 7-Part Comms Model

This is the last part in our basis risk communication series. In the last post, we touched on non-verbal communication, risk comparisons and negativity in communication. We’ll discuss a communication template that we really like, in this post, as well as provide some brief summaries of laws that require communication with the public in certain circumstances.

The Risk Communication Seven Part Model, developed by Dr. Vincent Covello, is an invaluable tool for you to use in practically any communications situation. Why? Because as stated in our last post in this series your message should be tailored to the appropriate stakeholder, be concise and clear and show that you care.

This model serves that purpose. It’s a simple template that will allow you to construct your message and get your important points across while demonstrating care and commitment to your stakeholders.

  1. Empathy, caring or commitment statement – this will always come first. We’ll say it again: Tell your stakeholders you care about them. Just remember to be genuine about it and make it the first part of your message.
  2. Three key messages – For whatever reason, three always seems to be the magic number. That, and it keeps your message concise and to the point. Remember what we said about mental noise? By “key” messages, we mean you should concentrate only on those messages that are most important to your stakeholder. How do you know what’s most important to them? Use empathetic brainstorming. In other words, put yourself in their shoes.
  3. Key message 1 with 2 supporting facts – your key messages should always be supported with amplifying information. Here’s where you can really show your commitment to resolution or solution. Tell your stakeholders what you’re doing about the situation and how they can be involved in the decision-making process. As mentioned in an earlier post in this series, you are now in the midst of using the “TTT Method” of communication – Tell them what you’re going to tell them; Tell them; Tell them what you told them. Again, this helps with retention of information for stakeholders that may be experiencing mental noise. Using this model also fulfills the layered approach in communication, which is also useful in mental noise situations.
  4. Key message 2 with 2 supporting facts – Important to keep in mind: each of your key messages and each of your supporting facts should be like soundbites, and stand on their own, if you are using this (or any other model) to communicate with the media. Print reporters will quote some of what you say, and summarize the rest (if it’s important to their stories); television and radio broadcasters will edit what you give them if it’s recorded, to put together a “package” to air later; live interviews will go much smoother if you think and deliver in soundbites.
  5. Key message 3 with 2 supporting facts
  6. Repeat 3 key messages – again, we’re dealing with situations where people are highly stressed, so message repetition (TTT method) will help drill your messages home. This should just be a summary of your three key messages only.
  7. Future actions – here’s where you reiterate your commitment to resolving the issue. This is a vital piece of this model. People want to know that you’re dedicated to seeing the situation through. Just remember, if you make promises here, you better be ready to back them up.

Sometimes, you have to communicate risk info

Changes in social goals and the management of societally-shared risks during the past few decades have led to the creation of new regulations and government agencies, especially with respect to the protection of our health and environment.[i] The National Environmental Protection Act in 1969 led to the creation of several new government bodies such as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (1970), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (1970) and the Consumer Product Safety Commission (1972), just to name a few.

These new agencies were created as public demand for information increased. Unfortunately, scientific and technical information isn’t easily digestible. The charge for these agencies, in part, is to allow the public greater access to technical information and become involved in the decision-making process. For example, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), also known as Superfund, requires a community relations plan, public access to administrative records, an information repository and an advertisement of public involvement opportunities during the assessment of hazardous substances at inactive waste sites.

Here is a brief summary of some laws requiring risk communication and public involvement.

[i] Improving Risk Communication, National Academy Press, 1989, pg. 64.

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