Developing a tool for assessing risk communication training

Contact: Diana Bedolla López



In recent years, a growing amount of science communication training is on offer and the focus of these courses is mainly on developing technical skills to ‘get the message across’. This training often relies on the deficit model, in which the main assumption is that the public is undereducated. This assumption is problematic because it ignores the fact that the different targeted audiences have different types and levels of knowledge and ways of interpreting information that depends on values, beliefs, and concerns. My pilot study suggests that science communication training still to a large extent relies on the deficit model, focusing mainly on teaching communication skills to convey key facts. Improving science communication training requires an assessment of current practices. However, the only assessment that is done, if any, is a self-report assessment which has been demonstrated to be misleading and does not show the real effect of training initiatives.


The overarching objective of this study is to address the lack of approaches to assess the effectiveness of risk communication training. It also aims to increase the awareness among scientists of the problems related to one-way communication and the knowledge deficit model. The intention is to improve science and risk communication training programs and strengthen scientists’ ability to communicate with their audiences, with the Society for Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry (SETAC) as the primary stakeholder. The three overarching research questions are: (1) In what ways does the deficit model persist in science communication training? (2) How does traditional risk communication training impact scientist’s development of dialogue skills? (3) How can science communication training effectiveness be assessed by trainers?


This research is community-based action research, combining qualitative approaches leading to the development of a tool through close interaction between the researchers and the practitioners. The study will be unfolded through an iterative research cycle. The planning phase includes an analysis of current training offerings in science and risk communication and a review of strategies that assess the effectiveness of communication training. A beta version of the tool will be developed in dialogue with the Science and Risk Communication Interest Group (SCIRIC) of SETAC. The acting phase involves testing the tool in an actual science communication workshop. During the reflection phase, the outcome will be discussed with SCIRIC, leading to further development of the tool, which then is presented for the organizers of another workshop, until the development of the final version of the tool.

Anticipated outcomes and significance

As of late, there are only a few efforts to assess the effectiveness of this type of training. This study will provide a valuable tool to assess training in risk communication for SETAC members. Beyond SETAC, this tool will help other scientists and trainers in science communication to improve science and risk communication efforts. Training assessment initiatives are the first step in enhancing science communication, and this tool will help scientists challenge the things they have taken for granted when communicating with others who are not their peers.