A Dialogic Approach In Addressing The Public’s Concerns

The public has the right to know what risks it faces, and ongoing efforts should be made to inform and educate the public using science-based risk assessments. At the same time, public concerns about risk should be accepted as legitimate. To achieve a standpoint of dialogue, an organization managing risks or experiencing a crisis needs to listen to the concerns of the public, take these concerns into account, and respond accordingly.

During a crisis, the public should be informed about what is happening, and organizations managing crises have a responsibility to share this information. This has specific implications for the timely and accurate communication of information to the public, and for the solicitation of concerns and questions from the public. Ideally, the public can serve as a resource, rather than a burden, in risk and crisis management. Thus, crisis communication best practices would emphasize a dialogic approach.

During times of crisis, handling media inquiries and taking proactive approaches to communicate with the public are crucial for effective and ethical crisis communication. For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the leading national public health institute of the United States, develops and delivers health messages for a variety of audiences, including the public, health care professionals, public health researchers and practitioners, and policy makers. News media outlets have been the major channels for disseminating messages to these audiences. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the anthrax incidents that followed, CDC transformed its media monitoring system into a broader communication monitoring system, with both listening and telling functions, to support CDC's public health emergency response.  As public health agencies become more aware of the threat of chemical and biological weapons, and the risk posed to human populations, they have begun to assess and elevate their level of communication preparedness for all risk and crisis scenarios.

According to WHO experts, most measures for managing public health emergencies rely on public compliance for effectiveness. “Measures ranging from hand washing to quarantine require public acceptance of their efficacy, as well as acceptance of the ethical rational for cooperating with instructions that may limit individual liberty so as to protect the broader public from harm.”  This requires that the public trust not only the information they receive, but also the authorities who serve as the source of this information, and their decision-making processes. Maintaining information transparency is not only highly important for public trust during an emergency, but also in building risk communication capacity to support all phases of emergency management.

According to Covello, public health risk and crisis communication plans need to have a checklist that involves listening to people and accept and involve stakeholders as legitimate partners:

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