and descriptive data, such as the immediate impact of the risk communication program on the intended audience. This type of evaluation is the first step in determining whether the program achieved its goals, measuring both quantitative (how many people called a hotline number following a television news report) and qualitative data (changes to audience knowledge, perceptions and attitudes).
Elements of Evaluation Design
There are eight basic elements required of formal evaluation design regardless of evaluation type.
Clear, defined goals must be stated in order for evaluators to measure program effects.
This determines what is to be measured with respect to the stated program goals.
Study design must be formulated to permit valid, reliable measurement of data.
Instruments used in data collection must be designed and pretested. Such instruments can range some simple tally sheets to elaborate surveys and questionnaires.
This involves the physical process of gathering information.
This includes converting the collected data into a usable format for analysis
This allows discovery of significant relationships through the application of statistical techniques.
This involves compiling and recording evaluation results. From reported results, changes to the existing program can be made. In addition, new programs can be planned using reported results as a guide and benchmark.
Difficulties in Evaluation
A variety of barriers exist in evaluating health-risk communications programs. Awareness of these difficulties assists in anticipating possible roadblocks. Resources are a key constraint to optimal program evaluation. Limitations on funds, staffing, time, equipment and tools can interfere with evaluation. Additionally, when working with a variety of groups or agencies, it may be difficult to agree on program objectives and goals. A lack of clearly defined objectives leads to trouble in creating suitable measures for evaluating a program. Finally, it may be difficult to separate specific program influences when evaluating long-term effects because of the intended audience’s exposure to outside factors (ATSDR).
Effective health-risk communication is crucial to health promotion and disease prevention. The role of risk communication is becoming increasingly important as new threats surface. Recently, public concern about health risks has become heightened because of bioterrorism threats, West Nile virus, SARS, anthrax, dietary supplements, pesticides, mercury in childhood vaccines, and radiation from nuclear weapons testing, to name a few. As a result, health practitioners must learn and exercise effective methods for educating the public, calming fears that may lead to irrational behavior, responding to inquiries, offering resources and using various channels to communicate new information quickly and efficiently.
The following rules provide a brief summary of some topics discussed in the chapter. This list, developed by Covello and Allen (1988), acts as a set of “commandments” for health-risk communications, and neatly summarizes several general rules of thumb.
Seven Cardinal Rules of Risk Communication
Work to produce an informed public, not defuse public concerns or replace actions.
Different goals, audiences, and media require different actions.
People often care more about trust, credibility, competence, fairness, and empathy than about statistics and details.
Trust and credibility are difficult to obtain; once lost, they are almost impossible to regain.
Conflict and disagreements among organization make communication with the public much more difficult.
The media are usually more interested in politics than risk, simplicity than complexity, danger than safety.
Never let your efforts prevent your acknowledging the tragedy of an illness, injury or death. People can understand risk information, but they still may not agree with you; some people will not be satisfied.
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