New for 2020
RSI is pleased to announce the launch of a new Master Class. The RSI Risk and Crisis Communication Master Class and Boot Camp is a unique, advanced course designed to provide risk communicators with an entirely new toolkit.
The combination of Master Class and Boot Camp is unique and will, forever, change the way you communicate risk.
In honor of our first responders
In honor of all those who have worked tirelessly during the COVID pandemic, for a limited time, in addition to our regular discounts, RSI is offering the master classes free of charge to all those working for a ‘First Responder’ organization. That’s a value of ±USD $1495 per class, offered free!
What is Risk Perception and Communication?
Private and public organizations, use risk communication techniques to inform their constituents of a risk. Organizations use these same methods to mitigate the uncertain consequences of any communication. In short, when a message is critical, risk communication of the highest order is paramount.
In both cases, understanding audience perception is key.
The stakes are indeed high when communicating adverse events. Imagine the responsibility of mounting a campaign against vaping to consumers convinced that it is safer than smoking. How important is it to prevent distracted driving? It might be something more time-sensitive like a chemical spill or an approaching hurricane. Something as long-term as setting up a provincial or state level risk communication strategy requires expertise and commitment as well. All responsible risk communicators must understand that some messages have an inherently razor thin margin of error, that whether or not the message is communicating a risk per se, an ill-conceived message and dissemination strategy can cause harm if it is misinterpreted or distorted.
At its best, risk communication must be based on accurate and verifiable scientific or technical sources. Risk communication professionals are not in the business of disseminating hearsay, pretense, or falsehoods. Simultaneously, effective risk communication strategies and messages are built on an accurate assessment of the target audience. As expected, a message can do harm when its originators misinterpret audience needs, expectations or perception.
Who benefits from Risk Perception and Communication?
RSI offers risk communication and perception services to a wide spectrum of clients. Unlike some of RSI’s more targeted services, risk perception and communication techniques are used by all sectors, including governments, multi-stakeholder organizations, civil society writ large, businesses, academic institutions, and even individuals.
At some point in every organization’s life, there is a need to communicate in a manner that requires a risk perception and communication toolkit and skill set – RSI is here to be of service.
RSI assists in risk perception and communication from the highest level of leadership, through to the technical departments of both private and public organizations.
"Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot."
by D.H. Lawrence
RSI's Risk Perception and Communication offer, broadly
RSI risk perception and communication services range from target audience research to the ex-post-facto assessment of a campaign, and every concept, design and production step in between.
RSI experts are regularly hired for long-term, in-depth, scientific and research projects, but they are also called upon at a moment’s notice for last-minute, emergency consultations. A pandemic requires immediate attention as was the case when RSI was asked to provide advice to the Canadian Government on COVID-19. RSI experts were hired by UN-Habitat for a longer term, strategic plan to create and launch the World Urban Campaign.
In both cases – short-term emergencies and longer-term strategic work — RSI senior experts were hired for their knowledge and RSI’s ability to deliver results. Whether for a chemical spill that required on-the-spot risk communication output or a long-planned merger between two international organizations, RSI’s risk perception and communication expertise was critical and is available to you.
RSI's Risk Perception and Communication offer, in detail
Either as part of a comprehensive communication campaign, or as a stand-alone service, RSI’s risk perception offer is unique. It is built on a perception model that takes into account human hardwiring, imprinting, interference and effect. This model allows RSI experts to evaluate the potential impact of a message, a situation, even a space, on a potential audience or user. Beyond this analysis, RSI offers traditional interrogatory services including, but not limited to, surveys, feedback sessions and one-on-one interviews.
The ultimate goal is to decipher the impact of an existing or planned message, and what changes, if any, are necessary to accomplish an outcome and sway a decision. A simple example of perception analysis is that of a fire alarm. How effective is it? Does it spark the reflex to get out of the building immediately? Does it work equally on all, or do different categories of people interpret the urgency differently? A more complex example is the perception analysis of a multi-country, long-term public health campaign.
Understanding how people perceive a simple alarm sound, or an extremely abstract and complex message, is what RSI does. In the end, the greater the desire to understand one’s audience, the greater the chances of delivering an effective risk communication message.
First and foremost, RSI offers risk communication services grounded in science. Unlike a traditional communication agency, the creative process serves science, fact, and real-world consequences, not the other way around. RSI has an in-house creative team and is able to offer a full-service risk communication package.
Another feature that sets RSI apart is its passion for communication goals. Communicating without an impactful goal makes for wasted effort. Communication without a goal is art, not a calculated means of informing a constituency. RSI goes to great lengths to define client goals so that messaging can meet those goals. Anecdotally, we use a metaphor: the champagne glass. Which is better, a crystal flute or a hard, plastic cup? Neither is better, but each is best at a given function, or goal. If you are going camping, you will need something rugged — the goal — hence the plastic cup will serve you better.
Subsequent to the setting of goals is the need for an in-depth analysis of the intended audience. Using its multi-decade experience in psychographics and human behavior, RSI is able to tailor messaging to its audience’s perception filters.
The RSI offer also includes the substantive and technical aspects of communication including scientific writing, editing and translation, design, photography, video, print management, and dissemination. When appropriate, monitoring and evaluation can be generated internally within RSI or, if required, by an objective third party. RSI staff are also well versed with new media, including engagement platforms. RSI experts launched their first platform in 1993 – in the very early days of the World Wide Web – on behalf of a large, multi-stakeholder organization based in Geneva, Switzerland.
RSI is focused on its ability to provide the scientific expertise needed to write and edit evidence-based content. Daniel Krewski, Chief Risk Scientist at RSI, says: “Over the past decade, RSI has been sought after for its commitment to accurate, unbiased, evidence-based information. Our client’s feedback confirms that our scientific resources are well-suited to support their communication needs.” Indeed, in-house RSI staff have extensive experience in externally-oriented science writing and document development, both for public and private sector clients. This includes the skills needed to deliver technical details to the non-technical public, as well as selecting and preparing background content and graphics to support the understanding of details on complex concepts, processes, or technology. Importantly, beyond its internal capabilities, RSI’s Associate Experts deliver expertise across all RSI sectors of activity. The combined knowledge of staff and associates, ranges from public health to urban infrastructure allowing RSI to craft sector-relevant, audience-sensitive communication.
What are the benefits of Risk Perception and Communication?
Clients, their stakeholders, and the broader community, benefits from the thoughtful deliver of audience-relevant information.
Clients benefit by providing relevant and accessible information, building trust with their audience. The opposite is true when organizations do not put forth pertinent information. Trust is far more easily broken than it is regained.
Stakeholders benefit in that they have everything to gain from an organization’s commitment to truth and transparency. Whether that stakeholder is an employee, a client, an investor, a franchisee, a member, or a donor, telling the truth to the outside world means that they can expect as much. All stakeholders feel disappointed and untrustful when an organization they work for or with, betrays the public trust. Transparency demonstrates trustworthiness and shared values, rewarding them for their trust in the client’s organization.
Finally, governments and citizens at large, are also appreciative of this transparency in that it validates their own commitment to it. Democratically-elected countries are built on open governance, a free press, and honest leaders. As for the broader community, it stands to gain from any messages that inform a general, or specific, risk concern. Evidence-based messaging impacts their lives and livelihoods directly.
In short, the strength of risk communication is to empower its audience to better understand, anticipate, and respond to risk; marketing and promotion per se, are not the goals.
What can you expect?
Organizations might want or need to know how a specific message is perceived. Or, they may want and need to know how their entire organization is perceived. Regardless of the extent and depth of the work done, RSI delivers a comprehensive report including recommendations to inform a subsequent communication strategy. That report is usually accompanied by an in-person (or virtual) presentation of the report.
Of note, though the report will follow RSI’s NCI rule (Necessary Critical Information), project leaders are sensitive to a client’s need. Reports can be tailored dependent upon distribution needs — for instance, a report to the Board of Directors will likely differ from one for technical communication staff.
Whatever the format of the report, a perception analysis seeks to focus on the perception side of the formula, not the communication side. The goal is to provide a set of recommendations to create, or modify, a message or campaign to better suit the needs of the targets.
Risk communication usually results in two types of deliverables.
An RSI risk communication contract usually calls for the delivery of a communication product per se: a message, a tool, a campaign… Alternatively, a risk communication contract may call for a set of recommendations, in which case the report is the output.
RSI is also able to research, compile, and prepare the substantive content that fuels a campaign. Clients regularly ask RSI experts to work with evidence-based subject matter. If a client needs to make a scientific argument for the safety of an ingredient, or conversely of the danger of a social habit, RSI can substantiate and compose the evidence-based message that will support the claim.
Whatever the form, RSI deliverables are subject to the strictest editorial and scientific quality control. While not all mistakes can be avoided, the risk associated with making mistakes is not lost on RSI. No matter how urgent, or perhaps because risk communication is usually so, RSI has adopted a stringent internal review process.
What is our expertise in Risk Perception and Communication?
RSI expertise spans the full spectrum of risk perception and communication needs both on the scientific and the creative/production/dissemination side.
Issue-wise, RSI experts can speak with authority to a broad range of topics and related scientific subjects. In-house and associate experts include women and men with decades of experience in government, industry, scientific research, and academia.
As for perception knowledge, RSI has internal expertise in psychographics, perception modeling, audience outreach, and participatory feedback.
On the communication side, RSI has staff, also with decades of experience, in producing and managing grassroots to global communication campaigns. The output ranges from internal reports, to multiple full-length television documentaries, and hundreds of international humanitarian, development, environmental campaigns. On the corporate side, RSI experts have advised international airports, wide-circulation media, industrial firms, and large retail chains.
In conclusion, both as a company, and through the collective experience of its staff, RSI has offered its risk perception and communication expertise to a diverse spectrum of clients. It continues to do so with diligence and with a deep appreciation of the responsibility it has to deliver meaningful messaging.
Risk Perception and Communication Ancillary Services and Tools
Beyond its broader Risk Perception and Communication offer, Risk Sciences International offers specialized services and tools. Each was initially delivered at a client's request, before being integrated into RSI's regular offering.
You have worked in risk communication for years. You understand that risk communication saves lives and livelihoods. Maybe you oversaw a public health emergency campaign, or your company traversed a turbulent labor dispute that required messsaging with both information and empathy, maybe as mayor you dealt with a mass casualty event or pandemic response. Risk communication is ubiquitous. Governments, civil society, and business, need it. Sometimes you have time to prepare, other times you do not, and every time you are expected to get it right. So, what can we teach you that you do not already know? How can we take you to the next level?Read More
An Engagement or Community Platform is an effective means to: deliver information, encourage dialogue to better understand that information, provide a feedback channel for constituents to ask questions or provide feedback, to foster a sense of community among constituents, and to provide value added tools services that can be mutually beneficial. In short, a good engagement and community platform has to be as flexible as you need it to be. It has to be sufficiently customizable to satisfy the needs of a federal agency with strict privacy concerns, meet the requirements of a company attempting to improve its environmental outreach, all the way to a grassroots community platform designed to engage youth, and everything in between.Read More
Organizations can become overwhelmed. Suddenly, there is a need for a strong internal relations effort. Often, companies and institutions do not have the requisite staff, either in quantity or training, to face the toughest crises. Or, a larger organization may be caught short handed due to illness or vacancy. Either way, Risk Sciences International is able to provide a temporary scaling up of external relations staff that is specifically trained for delicate and critical circumstances.Read More
All communicators and marketers worry about the meaning of words, phrases, and images used across borders. They rarely mean the same thing. This is especially true and critical in the case of risk communication. One cannot risk a misunderstanding or, worse, an offensive meaning or tone. Message internationalization involves the ability to adapt risk messaging across cultural, educational, and language divides.Read More
Years ago, setting up an in-house video studio was a very costly proposition requiring a high degree of technical mastery. Today, a video studio can be set up for very little investment, in-house staff are often able to operate the camera(s) and do minor edits, and the space required is minimal. A managed in-house video studio consists of a decorated or green screen studio, usually in the 10 to 40 square meter range (100 to 400 square feet), with one or two cameras, three to five LED lights, one or two microphones, probably a modest teleprompter, and a properly equipped computer. For those who wish to have a more complete installation, the investment is not more than a factor of 2 or 3 extra.Read More
Risk Perception and Communication Case Studies
RSI Staff Case Studies listed here are examples, but by no means the limits, of RSI work in Risk Perception and Communication. These are included here to provide prospective clients with a first glance into the type of work that RSI staff are qualified and able to deliver.
Geneva International Airport was concerned that its signage was become problematic. Not only was it aesthetically overwhelming after decades of revisions and additions, it was becoming a safety risk with incidents resulting from misreading of cryptic graphics and conflicting directional arrows. In addition, the airport was suffering from traffic pattern issues, both for automobiles outside…Read More
The original mandate aimed to find a new direction for the world renowned International Herald Tribune just as both the World Wide Web was in its infancy, and the newspaper faced increased competition from international and regional editions of established newspapers and magazines such as The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, and The Financial Times.Read More
RSI was tasked with providing scientific advice and content for a nuclear power reactor licensing process in an OECD country. The nuclear safety commission in question regulates and licenses all nuclear reactors in the country, and requires a full scope of technical information for licensing processes. This commission also expects that these documents are written…Read More
Under the supervision of Director Purcell and his cabinet, the six-month project began with an internal review of attitudes, projects, responsibilities and management reporting lines. The work uncovered multiple inconsistencies and inefficiencies. What’s more, there were very real risk consequences at the operational level.Read More
Environment and Climate Change Canada, with Health Canada, wanted to understand perceptions of the health risks from smoke from wildfires and from residential burning (winter heating using wood stoves, and fireplaces), and public health communication approaches and messages used in these contexts. This information would support revisions of the health messages used in the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI). The AQHI expresses the health risk associated with three common urban air pollutants, and is calculated at monitoring stations in communities across Canada to inform the public of the risk level of current local air quality conditions.Read More