The Need for Better Risk Communication

In the recently concluded webinar “DRRM on Smart Cities” organized by the country’s Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) together with their counterparts from Brunei and Malaysia, one of the speakers asked the participants if they feel that we (as a whole) are better at communicating risks to vulnerable stakeholders given all the advances in information and communications technology (ICT). The response from the participants was not inspiring. 

Risk communication is an integral part of resilience building. Vulnerable communities with a healthy appreciation of the risks they are exposed to will have a better chance at success in managing these and possibly reducing their impact. They will also most likely be better prepared to recover from identified risks when they become actual events. 

Some organizations cannot execute effective risk communication because of either their timing, the channel they used, the way the message was crafted, or maybe because of the messenger. It could be that the communication was sent out too late or too early. They may have relied solely on online channels when most stakeholders do not have access to it. Or, it could be that the message was too technical that the receivers did not understand what was being communicated. It could also be that the person tasked to communicate the risk does not have the credibility to convince people to act accordingly. 

Given all the possible areas where risk communication may fail, how does one go about communicating risks so that vulnerable stakeholders can effectively manage the risk? 

A good starting point would be to check the communication’s effectiveness by soliciting feedback from the community. It is not enough for communicators to develop the material and send it out. Effort must also be made to ensure that the target recipients received the message and that the message was understood — meaning the risks are adequately explained and that the steps that must be taken to manage them are clear.  

But what if you do not have enough time to gather feedback? 

You will indeed not be able to get feedback if the communication happened too late. Hence, effective risk communication requires foresight and strategic thinking. Unfortunately, these are things that are desperately lacking in some organizations. 

Another essential thing to remember is that risk communication will be more effective if there is trust between the group communicating (the risk) and the intended audience. Trust takes time to develop and requires sustained relationship building and fortifying. This goes back to the earlier point — foresight and strategic thinking must be factored into risk communication initiatives. 

Smart cities are resilient cities. Resilient communities are grounded on a healthy relationship among all stakeholders. There can be no healthy relationship without sustained open communication. Hence, smart cities can only thrive in this volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous world if stakeholders can communicate effectively with everyone. 

In a truly smart city, effective risk communication is a staple. 

If we want all of our cities to become one, we need to constantly and consistently improve the way we communicate risks.