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No. 43 – The Nonadvocate Risk Communicator

October 5, 2011

As a risk communicator, you can be judged as either an advocate or nonadvocate by answering the question, “Whose communication objectives are being satisfied?” If the answer is “yours,” then you are shaping communications towards your goals and the audience will see you as an advocate. If the answer is “the audience,” then you are shaping communications towards the audience objectives and are positioning yourself as a nonadvocate. In this mode your role is to help the audience achieve its objectives and you have no right to judge audience conclusions. You can only assist in the risk communication process. A nonadvocate approach is illustrated by the following model script for speaking to a general audience.

A Model Script*

“My name is Ray Johnson. I live in Rockville, MD. I have been a specialist in radiation safety for 50 years. I have degrees from several universities. I am married with four children and thirteen grandchildren. I think of myself as a caring person. I bleed when I’m hurt. Some of you may see my role in radiation safety as biasing my answers. Let me state my goal for being here and you can judge me on the basis of my behavior and answers.”

“My goal is to share with you my professional and personal experience about radiation risks. All of you have concerns for radiation and your decisions on radiation risks can have a significant impact on health and welfare today and the future for your children. I believe you have the right, responsibility, and capacity for making good decisions regarding radiation.”

“My role today will not be to act as an expert with the answers. I will not answer questions as to right or wrong, take sides on issues, or share an opinion. My interest is to assist you in the process of making your own decisions. I can help you define the process. I can help you develop criteria for determining which facts are credible and explain different positions on issues, or even explore with you the possible outcomes on different decisions. I can be most helpful if you think of me as a nonadvocate process facilitator.”

“I will be happy to hear the first audience response. And by the way, it will not bother me if you challenge me when you see me slipping into my expert mode. I will need your help in maintaining my nonadvocacy if you want my best assistance in helping you exercise your rights.”

* This script was originally proposed by W. Larry Petcovic in the HPS Newsletter, Feb. 1986.

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