What you'll learn

  • When a risk to the public’s health arises, all involved organizations must provide information about the risk and guidance on the most appropriate response. Effective communication eases public anxiety and minimizes the possibility of poor outcomes associated with uninformed decision making.

  • This program addresses these issues by providing the latest science of risk communication, which increases message design and delivery effectiveness.

  • Develop a state-of-the-science understanding of the individual, psychological, interpersonal, and societal factors that influence the impact of risk communications on the public’s risk perceptions, knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors, including compliance and generation and communication of risk information during crisis and non-crisis period

  • Apply this knowledge to designing effective risk communication messages drawing on the science of strategic communication and health communication

  • Become familiar with and practice methods for evaluating risk communication efforts

Course description

Every day public health information is generated and made available to the public about diseases, public policies, new products, and corporate behavior. People are accessing this information in real time via traditional news, online media, social media and word of mouth. The public’s near-instant access to this unfiltered information presents significant new risks, particularly surrounding misinformation, drawing conclusions from wrong or impartial information, and disinformation, deliberately spreading falsehoods to further an agenda. Additional risks include reputation damage for companies who aren’t responding effectively to COVID-19, have negative impacts on health or the environment, or ineffective policy outcomes when health-related guidance is misunderstood or ignored.

This applied program will provide you with the knowledge and skills you need to design effective risk communication messages that improve communication outcomes, increase trust in your organization, reduce public anxiety, and help key stakeholders make better decisions.

You will learn from some of the most notable scientists working on risk communication, crisis communication, public health emergencies, decision making, big data, and public health leadership – and how to apply cutting edge ideas in communicating risk in a complex information environment.

Leading experts will draw on both previous pandemics,COVID-19 and climate change to illustrate concepts in the program and explore implications for practice. This includes:

  • Explicitly discussing misinformation and disinformation in the context of COVID-19
  • How to effectively communicate risk during the emergence of an infectious disease
  • Analyzing case studies about climate change information as well as COVID-19 information to vulnerable communities

The Value of Risk Communication

During times of crisis messaging can be lost in the noise, resulting in unintended consequences, rejected messages, or public fear and confusion. While during non-crisis periods, ineffective risk communication can result in low-impact, wasted resources, and other undesirable outcomes. When deployed effectively, risk communication is an invaluable tool for engendering trust, protecting organizational value, and helping the public make informed decisions.

For-profit companies can benefit from risk communication by ensuring that their customers, potential customers, and members of the public have the information they need to properly evaluate the health impact of their products and operations, both on the public and their employees. By keeping the public informed about potential risks, corporations can reduce harm to consumers and protect themselves from reputational damage stemming from human or environmental harm.

Public and non-governmental organizations can use risk communication to protect public health by educating their constituents about health, environmental, and societal risks. Effective communication also increases transparency and credibility, generating trust in the organization. As the public becomes more educated, they will be able to make more informed decisions about their health and well-being.

Regardless of organizational setting, risk communication is an effective tool your organization needs to inform stakeholders, help them make decisions, and protect their health.

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