World 100 community risk practitioners
Every day, thousands of people all over the world are helping their communities to make sense of risk. They are doing this with limited support or tools and despite their demographic and geographic distances, making many of the same discoveries about what they and their communities need for deciding the weight to give to information about risks.
In many cases these community practitioners have alighted on the specific insights and concepts that empower people to navigate information and to discuss risks in a constructive way – such as the importance of asking ‘out of what?’ when given a number in a news story, or the fact that empathy leads to understanding people’s needs, which leads in turn to understanding the true risk trade-offs they are making.
Here we share some of the discussions with people in communities around the world about what it is to have risk ‘know-how’, as well as some of the challenges they face and the insights they have developed.
For risk know-how to be empowering, community practitioners also stress the importance of connecting it to mechanisms, grounded in reality, to deal with the risk. We have also heard that not only do they want to be part of the conversation about what risk know-how means themselves, but we heard that they want to hear from each other’s experiences too.
World 100: An international snapshot of people leading conversations about risk in their communities
Global advocate for children’s play and mobility
Humans can have an ambivalent relationship with uncertainty. An entirely predictable life without risk would be unimaginably dull, and you can see that very clearly with children. In the workshops I run even just talking about uncertainty explicitly and expressing their fears can unburden people.
User Experience Librarian, UGA Libraries
My job is to help people find the information sources they need. But I also want to encourage information literacy – to interrogate some of their assumptions about what is reliable. As we look at search results together, I might point out different points of view, agendas and rhetorical strategies. We might start with sources from local, state or regional governments, then go to national governments and international agencies. After that, we might explore the grey literature, say from think tanks and NGOs. I also recommend tertiary information (handbooks, encyclopedias), which is great for non-specialists, and we look at the sources they use. We can suggest statistics databases that provide and aggregate raw data, which can be easier to consume than some of the disparate local data.
Forest kindergarten director
As an outdoor educator, we make decisions about when we need to seek shelter, because of a thunderstorm or the cold, for example. Sometimes you face the same conditions but make different decisions, because it matters how young the group is, how large a group you oversee, and how quickly you can get to shelter. What feels like the right decision one day might feel too risky a different day.
Water treatment professional
When making decisions about priorities in rural Australia, we need to clarify what the risks are to any given individual, but also how many people could be affected, how likely it is they will be affected, the kind of threat (microbial or chemical), the doses and for what period of time.
Rocio Perez Benavente
The people who contacted our information service were worried about the AZ vaccine causing blood clots, so we wanted to offer some context for the numbers. They needed some meaning for the percentages – how many in each group would be affected. We used an infographic from the Winton Centre showing the risks to different ages, and kept the information in the context of other side effect risks and risks from COVID-19 itself – helping to visualise the trade-offs.
CEO, FISH Safety Foundation
It is hard to make proper decisions on the risks if there is a lack of evidence. As a foundation working to make fishermen safer, we need to look at statistics and facts to figure out what will be the best interventions.
When we talk to our communities about climate change, it’s not only about understanding the steps that they or anybody could take, but also understanding the societal realities that they’re living in now, which affect how they can put those steps in action.
Infectious disease epidemiologist
When we shame people as a way to try to get them to avoid risky behaviours, it doesn’t generally make the behaviours stop — it just makes people want to hide the behaviours. Rather than shaming, what we can do is try to meet people where they are and engage with empathy.
Radio journalist and a coordinator for the Community Empowerment and Media Initiative
It is very helpful to speak to others in other communities about these topics and share stories because different communities understand and deal with risks and hazards in different ways and therefore understanding such, especially risk, from the community perspective is very important whenever we talk of risks. This will help in minimizing or reducing risks in communities/societies.
Chef and food writer
People are capable of complex and nuanced risk calculations on many topics. But we often also have blind spots where we overestimate or underestimate the risks or the benefits…I see this with people choosing to cut out food groups, overestimating the benefit this might have and underestimating the risks it could pose to their health.
Risk communication advisor
When we arrived in Fukushima, six months after the nuclear accident the people there told us they had had plenty of scientific lectures on radiation and associated risks but they still didn’t know whether they could drink the tap water or eat local fish from the market.
Engineer and disaster management expert
Working in Nepal after the 2015 earthquakes, the communities saw the concrete buildings that had survived the earthquakes as the buildings they would feel safe living in, but as an engineer my perception of the risk was very different. In a different earthquake many of those would not have been safe either. The buildings we designed had to be structurally sound and also make the community feel safe in them, as they were the ones that had to live in the buildings.
Researcher and activist working on intersectional gender issues
Developing local and collective knowledge at the grassroots level is great because it makes the people who are working with the communities know that they matter, that their knowledge and work matter to others around the world and that people can learn and emulate. When working with local communities, to avoid being too theoretical and abstract, a more practical and involved approach would be greatly appreciated.
Bambang Hero Saharjo
Executive Director of the Regional Fire Management Resource Center – South-East Asia
For many of these communities, it is not easy to change behaviour. They might understand the risks but if there aren’t alternative ways for them to have an income, they will find it hard to stop what they are doing. They need support or to see other communities that have been successful.
Chief Executive Officer/ European Regional Coordinator at Stella Maris
As chaplains, it’s important that we know what the risks and the benefits are of different courses of action. That experience only comes really through doing the job and learning from colleagues. Peer-to-peer learning is really important for us because you can’t sit down with the textbook and learn this. You need to be exposed to the situations.
Pharmacist tackling misinformation
Something I get very often in my work is someone saying, ‘Do you think this surgery is good for me or not?’, and I would answer, ‘according to the evidence, yes’. If I stop there, the person would be like, ‘Ok, have a good day.’ But then if you ask more questions like, why are you asking me this, usually, something that comes up is, ‘well, you know, I know someone who did have this surgery and it actually did not help them at all, or it made it worse, or it didn’t work or it ended up costing them so much money.’ That’s the core of the problem. I can give tons of data to that person, but it won’t make much of a difference because for them it’s all about an anecdote. You know, like my neighbour or my mom or my aunt. So much of our decision-making comes from testimonials and anecdotes of people that seem like we can relate to.
Associate Director for Africa at the Alliance for Science
There is great value in considering the culture of people and what influences their behaviour. We need to realise that the communities we work with are not stupid. They are making complex decisions that are influenced by cultures we may not understand. Before shoving more and more information down their throats, we need to understand the influence behind their behaviour, because there is a reason.
Writer and Consultant – nutrition and dietetics
There’s just a ton of information out there. Until a few years ago, doctors, academics and researchers gave the public advice: eat more fruit and veg, don’t eat fried food, etc. But now with the internet, everyone can share an opinion. Everyone that’s famous, looks fit, or works in Hollywood is always asked what they eat? It’s a daily mountain of commentary through the media, through neighbours, friends, the bus driver…everyone gets to have a say as to what not to eat or what’s healthy. There’s so much to process, and it’s quite impossible for the average person to untangle. How does one know what data is valid and what is not?
Policy & Projects Officer, European Animal Research Association
Mentioning the role of the animal in biomedical research is vital for transparent communication and managing expectations. For example, the majority of media coverage for Alzheimer’s omits that research was conducted with mice. By the time it gets to the public, people think ‘this is great, there is a cure coming and it’s obviously being tested with humans!’. However, if you go back to the original research that it is coming from, it shows that research was conducted on six mice. People don’t realise that a lot of everyday medicines have also come through animal testing and knowing that is important when discussing and deciding on whether you are for or against such research.
Director of Advocacy and Regional Engagement, The Mission to Seafarers
The cultural element when it comes to dealing with seafarers is fundamental, and it’s often the most overlooked part. Maybe we have approached the issue from our own cultural context, or we tried to apply our own perspective when speaking to seafarers from other regions, but it turns out, actually they have a completely different view.
Construction EHS Manager
Some label me as an advisor, a manager, but I call myself The Safety Man. I’ve got, for example, in a job right now in Germany, 70 people to take care of. It’s not only making sure they don’t fall into a hole or trip or have machine accidents; it’s also about people’s emotions. It’s a balancing act, managing the whole thing. I spend a lot of time developing risk assessments and method statements to have procedures in place to work. And then you do your initial induction safety brief, and you have a 42-page document in English. But half of the people on my team are not native English speakers. If I was given that myself as an English reader, I would not be able to consume that. So, what I often do is reduce the text by more than half and use photographs. It streamlines the process, and you can also use it to point at a picture and go yes or no; everybody understands yes and no. The risk assessment tree in general is a complete confusion for many workers. You have the hazards, the risk, the control. Hazard and risk should be one thing, people don’t understand the difference. And there are things like risk rating or the residual risks. What is residual risk? If I can’t find a clear single sentence on that on Google these days, then that’s a waste of time; it will be lost on most people.
Fr. Rico Talisic
Port Chaplain – Stella Maris
Cape Town/South Africa
I have a list of complaints from seafarers and every time I ask, ‘Would you still continue to work?’, they say yes! Despite all the cases of delayed or non-payment of salary, verbal or physical abuse, they continue working. The risk of losing employment is a major factor. As fishers in the Philippines, they would hardly earn about a month’s salary that they receive as seafarers. Some might have a chance of better employment back home, but they still continue working on ships. This situation really bothers me. Why do the fishers decide to continue working on the fishing and shipping vessels in spite of all the difficulties that they suffer onboard?