Risk perception, risk communication, and stakeholder involvement for biosolids management and research.

TitleRisk perception, risk communication, and stakeholder involvement for biosolids management and research.
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2005
AuthorsBeecher, N, Harrison, E, Goldstein, N, McDaniel, M, Field, P, Susskind, L
JournalThe Journal of Environmental Quality

An individual's perception of risk develops from his or her values, beliefs, and experiences. Social scientists have identified factors that affect perceptions of risk, such as whether the risk is knowable (uncertainty), voluntary (can the individual control exposure?), and equitable (how fairly is the risk distributed?). There are measurable differences in how technical experts and citizen stakeholders define and assess risk. Citizen knowledge and technical expertise are both relevant to assessing risk; thus, the 2002 National Research Council panel on biosolids recommended stakeholder involvement in biosolids risk assessments. A survey in 2002 identified some of the factors that influence an individual's perception of the risks involved in a neighbor's use of biosolids. Risk communication was developed to address the gap between experts and the public in knowledge of technical topics. Biosolids management and research may benefit from applications of current risk communication theory that emphasizes (i) two-way communications (dialogue); (ii) that the public has useful knowledge and concerns that need to be acknowledged; and (iii) that what may matter most is the credibility of the purveyor of information and the levels of trustworthiness, fairness, and respect that he or she (or the organization) demonstrates, which can require cultural change. Initial experiences in applying the dialogue and cultural change stages of risk communication theory--as well as consensus-building and joint fact-finding--to biosolids research suggest that future research outcomes can be made more useful to decision-makers and more credible to the broader public. Sharing control of the research process with diverse stakeholders can make research more focused, relevant, and widely understood.