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Using Risk Communication to Disclose the Outcome of a Participatory Decision-Making Process: Effects on the Perceived Acceptability of Risk-Policy Decisions

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It has been suggested that public participation during decision making about risks can lead to more widely accepted risk policies. This article discusses an experiment to determine if this is true when people are made aware of the fact that a participatory decision-making process has taken place only through information disclosed during a subsequent risk communication effort. The results from this experiment showed that, after receiving information during risk communication that cast risk policies about space exploration as the product of a participatory decision process, participants in the study felt more supportive of the resulting decisions than did participants in a control group. This result coincided with the participants in the study group perceiving the risks associated with the decision to be lower and the benefits higher. Responses from these participants also showed that they were more satisfied with the decision-making process than they were with the outcome of the decision itself. Therefore, it may be premature to view the objective of participatory decision-making approaches—and the risk communication efforts that discuss them—as a means of making risk policies more widely acceptable to the public at large. Rather, it may be better to view the benefits of these approaches in terms of their ability to help lead to higher quality decisions that are the product of more widely accepted decision processes.

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: April 1, 2003

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