What is Risk Communication and why do you need to do it?

Posted on May 24, 2017

What is Risk Communication:

If you google “Risk Communication” you will get nearly 34 million results, many scholarly, on the topic of communicating risk. But, Risk Communication is a little known, lesser taught, communication application.

Risk is not unknown to major project proponents. In fact, most are about due diligence reporting and risk analysis. I have read thousands of pages in due diligence reports. Companies seeking to acquire and/or advancing a project, look at everything from geology to geotechnical stability to aquatics to ROI. Sometimes there is a cursory look at social acceptance, but I’ve never seen it as broadly researched as other technical factors. Yet, several studies indicate that social acceptance can save a company millions of dollars.

Why do you need Risk Communication:

Imagine you are building a large infrastructure project right in or near a community and/or indigenous territory. In this day, most proponents know better than to stomp in and assume they can start exploring/surveying/building/ripping down/changing anything. And so, you start speaking with local residents and governments with the intent of building support for and acceptance of this project.

I am certainly a fan of open and transparent communication, but just like you wouldn’t start building a dam without understanding the soil beneath, I don’t recommend starting a communication program without first analyzing your risks and opportunities.

From my perspective, Risk Communication should include four things:

  • A historical review of the project including the technical and social issues and challenges of indigenous peoples and local communities.
  • A summary of publicly available information (particularly media coverage) which is currently informing public opinion about the project
  • An issues identification summary which allows you to explore and categorize issues and subsequently develop the necessary key messages around them.
  • A stakeholder analysis including their power, influence, and level of knowledge. Stakeholders will include all levels of governments: federal, provincial and municipal; community members; potential suppliers; other proponents; opposed environmental non-governmental organizations and especially indigenous rights-holders.

If the above four pieces are well-researched and coupled with seasoned, analytical commentary, the result is an exceptionally useful report on expected communication challenges and opportunities which factors in current public perception, historical issues, action against the project, the proponent’s reputation and the proponent’s willingness to engage with those closest to the project.

I’d like to help you perform Risk Communication on your current project. Give me a call today.


Megan Helmer, Vice President of PR Associates, a national communication firm based in Vancouver, Toronto and Ottawa


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