Instructional Strategies for Tailoring Risk Communication Messaging

  • Sellnow, Timothy (PI)
  • Veil, Shari (CoI)

Grants and Contracts Details


This project identifies consumer segments based on their general attitudes and values that can be used to develop effective messaging to mitigate the impact of a terrorism events. In 1989, the National Research Council affirmed for the scientific community the long-standing mantra of many communication scholars: risk communication can and should function as a dialogue among organizations, government agencies, and all relevant stakeholders. While this dialogue is certainly relevant to all forms of risk, crisis situations create an inherent constraint on dialogue. As Heath and O'Hair explain, crisis is risk manifested (Heath & O'Hair). Thus, an acute crisis situation requires the rapid exchange of messages designed to gain compliance from all stakeholders in hopes of minimizing or mitigating harm. For too long, government agencies presumed that a single warning shared through standard media channels was sufficient for reaching all stakeholders during a crisis. This linear view fails to account for the diverse informational needs and cultural constraints within the broad audiences that are confronted by crises (Sellnow, Ulmer, Seeger, & Littlefield). As a means of addressing variance of audience needs, more recent scholarship has bridged instructional research with risk communication. The objective of this blended approach is to enhance an organization or agency's capacity to generate messages that attend to the varying learning styles inherent in their audiences. Moreover, this line of research seeks to account for varying cultural preferences in crisis messages. Through ongoing message testing procedures, current research seeks to engage diverse audience in a dialogue of message preferences prior to a crisis situation. This project provides a framework for establishing a set of best practices for post-crisis communication. The existing research provides a detailed summary of the best practices that are appropriate for crisis communication (Seeger, 2006; Sellnow, Ulmer, Seeger, & Littlefield, 2009). Existing research does not, however, evaluate the effectiveness of these strategies after the acute phase of the crisis. This project provides a summary of the best practices, and provides a framework for evaluating their practicality and merit in post-crisis communication. We will focus particularly on the communication of uncertainty and messages of self-protection. We selected these two best practices because of their salience in current literature and because of our presumption that they have relevance to post-crisis recovery. This project will build on previous research that has (a) successfully identified the importance of instructional messages in raising the perceived level of self-efficacy in consumers, and (b) identified empirical linkages between message content (including internalization, explanation, and recommended actions) and perceived self-efficacy. Through the integration of these past studies responders will gain the ability to reach appropriate consumer groups with the most effective tailored messaging intended to reduce public fear and avoidance behavior. Because of the predictive nature of linking attitudes and values to messaging, communication strategies can be developed prior to a terrorist event, and deployed with information specific to an event as it unfolds.
Effective start/end date10/1/117/31/12


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