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Risk Communication Training for Journalists Under Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA) Dr . Margaret Karembu (PhD) Director, ISAAA Afri Center [email protected] ; http :// www.isaaa.org/kc 13 th - 14 th December 2011. Risk Communication. Biosafety.

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Risk Communication

Training for Journalists


Water Efficient Maize for Africa (WEMA)

Dr. Margaret Karembu (PhD)

Director, ISAAA AfriCenter

[email protected]; http://www.isaaa.org/kc

13th - 14thDecember 2011


…the avoidance of risk to human health and safety to the conservation of the environment, as a result of the use for research and commerce of genetically modified organisms (CBD, Cartagena Protocol)

Background and Rationale for Risk Communication in Modern Biotechnology

A component of Risk Analysis:(re: Codex Alimentarius Commission 2003)Risk AssessmentRisk ManagementRisk Communication

Risk = Biotechnologyhazard+ outrage

  • = potential for harm (e.g. mortality and morbidity statistics) + perception of potential harm

  • = facts + feelings


Biotechnology has BiotechnologyGenerated a Network of Opinions

Miracle or


and…varied perceptions on risks and benefits

..and then mass media sensations thro Biotechnology

fantasies, myths, fairy tales

Are you eating

science’s mistakes??

  • Creating:

  • Fear

  • Anxiety

  • Outrage

  • Mistrust

Leading to communication difficulties

Selective listening/reading Biotechnology

Hearing things not said

Emphasizing the negative


Feelings overrule facts

Leading to: Communication Difficulties

We cannotnot communicate!

Where do majority stakeholders get information on biotech

Ranked in importance (in East Africa) Biotechnology

Mass media – electronic & print (radio highly effective)

Special interest groups – NGOs, industry

Special media – brochures, newsletters



Where do Majority Stakeholders get information on biotech?


biotech information

from experts

is limited

  • Main Challenge: Lack of Trust and Confidence

What Biotechnologyis Risk Communication?

“A science-based approach for communicating effectively in:

  • –High concern;

  • –Low trust;

  • –Sensitive; or

  • –Controversial situations.”

    (ReF: V. Covello, Center for Risk Communication)

What is so special about high risk/stress situations? Biotechnology

When people are stressed, their perceptions and decisions are influenced by a wide range of factors, knowledge of hazard often being the least important (worth less than 5%)

Role of Risk Communication Biotechnology

  • To reduce the outrage and stress factors in risk perception

Ultimately, to facilitate informed decision-making by:

Policy-makers; opinion leaders; investors; Regulators; Farmers; Consumers etc.

Goals of Risk Communication BiotechnologyHelps develop messages that are:

1.Believable – Based on Trust Determination

2. Convincing – Based on Risk Perception Theory

3. Clear and concise – Based on Mental Noise Theory

4. Positive – Based on Negative Dominance Theory

Source: Dr. V. Covello, Center for Risk Communication

Message: Being Believable Biotechnology

Trust Determination Theory

  • People who are upset are often distrustful

  • When people think they may lose something, their acceptance of a message is based on trust and credibility

What matters most in building trust and credibility in low trust and or high concern situations
What matters most in building Trust and Credibility in low trust and/or high concern situations?


Dedication and Commitment


50%: Empathy

and Caring

15-20% Honesty +



Expertise + Competence

Note: People want to know that you care before they care what you know!

Source: Dr. V. Covello, Center for Risk Communication

Message: Being Convincing trust and/or high concern situations?The Risk Perception Theory

  • Many factors affect perception of risk, including:

    • Worry

    • Concern

    • Fear

    • Anxiety

  • People who areupset have perceptions of risk very different from scientific experts

  • Message: Being Clear and Concise trust and/or high concern situations?The Mental Noise Theory

    • People who are upset have difficulty hearing and processinginformation

    • In the presence of a perceived threat, there is limited attentionto information and limited ability to process information

    Note: In science communication

    Avoid: A+B+C = D

    Start with solution: D = A+B+C

    Simplifying language
    Simplifying language trust and/or high concern situations?

    Message: Being Positive trust and/or high concern situations?Negative Dominance Theory

    When people are upset…

    • Negative information carries more weight than positive information

    • People tend to think negatively

    Overcoming Negative Information trust and/or high concern situations?

    Avoid words like

    • No

    • Can’t

    • Don’t

    • Never

    • Nothing

    • None

    • CCO principle - Compassion, Conviction, Optimism

    Steps of GM Safety trust and/or high concern situations?

    Balanced perspective

    Accepts safety


    Endorse safety



    Shows safety




    Ensures safety




    Assures safety

    Biotech story angles examples from the wema project

    Impacts: trust and/or high concern situations?Economic, Ecological, Cultural, Health, Trade, Food Security, etc

    Consumers: How they respond, if they are against- find out why and cross check every claim

    Governance: The Biosafety law, regulations, Biotech policies, etc. Are they facilitative or prohibitive-why?

    Status: The current status of the GM technology – global, regional, national, counties?

    Biotech Story angles…examples from the WEMA project

    The ISAAA Network Centers trust and/or high concern situations?

    Thank you!



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    For more information, contact the SAAA Center near you…