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The Communication Processes Model

The communication processes model proposed by Leiss & Krewski (1989) sought to build upon previous risk communication models, to provide a more complete and dynamic representation of risk communication (Figure 1). The basic idea underlying this concept is that risk communication is a process that essentially involves the interplay of two social domains, called the ‘expert sphere’ and the ‘public sphere’. This interaction is constrained both by the nature of risk and by the conventional institutional channels that direct the flow of information and opinion in contemporary society.

On the expert side, we must recognize that hazard identification and risk estimation are matters requiring considerable technical knowledge, including measurements and analyses employing highly sophisticated methodologies. The probabilistic dimension of risk necessarily entails the use of technical language for its description. In addition, insurance coverage and
legal liability mean that non-scientific but nonetheless highly professional expertise also will be called upon in the assessment of risks and their consequences.

On the public side, the determination of risk acceptability is, in the final analysis, made by the citizenry as a whole through political decision making processes, including the electoral support of politicians and parties with certain stances on the management of risk. Of course, most decisions will still be made by public and private-sector officials, acting with the advice of experts, in a great variety of forums. However, in a democratic society the parameters within which the discretionary authority of these officials may be exercised at any time will be set by the general character of risk acceptance and perception in society as a whole, as well as by relevant economic, social, and political factors. The state of societal risk perception and acceptance must be factored into risk management decision making; if risk managers do not do so, they themselves run the risk of igniting bitter public controversy and possibly the reversal of their decisions.

The model highlights the tension between expert and public spheres which, it is submitted, is a distinctive feature of risk communication. (Other forms of social communication, such as political discourse or advertising, are not structured in this way.) The communications processes model, assumes that all participants have an identifiable set of interests that bear upon their involvement, and that these interests play a part in the outcome of risk communications processes.


Figure 1 The Communication Processes Model



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