Risk engagement – a several stage approach

The goals of risk communication in land use planning go beyond providing information for people about hazardous situations and include:

  • raising awareness
  • educating
  • developing ideas
  • reaching agreement
  • addressing conflict and
  • motivating action.

They may also include building trust in the local authority and in the decision-making process.

People hearing news about a hazard or land use decision that affects their property and their community need time to process, consider and respond. If placed under pressure – the first reaction can be one of rejection and hostility. A good engagement strategy allows for several opportunities for people to build their understanding before making a final input or decision.

Typical questions that people express when first hearing about a natural hazard and land use planning issue include:

  • Am I at risk personally?
  • Will my property values be affected?
  • How big/ how likely is this risk?
  • What can I do about it? (e.g. personal risk management and/or insurance)
  • Are there any options for mitigating this risk and what are the costs and benefits of these?
  • Who is making a decision about this, what is the timeline for this and can I be involved?
  • Is this risk being shared by all or felt more by some?

A risk engagement approach needs to consider different communication activities that firstly prepares people for the decision that is to be made and secondly creates opportunities for council and community to build understanding about impacts of the hazard, core vulnerabilities and concerns. These stages should build both council and community capacity for a third stage of decision making, reviewing policy and considering mitigation options. A final communication task of reviewing the decisions and decision-making process not only provides useful feedback, it builds continuity for future interactions.