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Improving risk communication and public participation through mutual understanding: A coorientation approach

Dimitrij Umansky (Institute of Communication Management, Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences, Lingen, Germany)
Reinhold Fuhrberg (Institute of Communication Management, Osnabrück University of Applied Sciences, Lingen, Germany)

Journal of Communication Management

ISSN: 1363-254X

Article publication date: 5 February 2018

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Abstract

Purpose

Risk communication and public participation are often hampered by conflicts and mistrust between involved actors. The present paper argues that these problems can be addressed through better mutual understanding. This argument is founded on the conceptualisation of risk communication as a social interaction, which is based on mutual understanding. The purpose of this paper is to illustrate the relationship between conflict, mistrust and mutual misunderstanding through a case study.

Design/methodology/approach

The case study explores risk communication in relation to high-voltage grid extension in Germany. Conflicts and mutual understanding between involved actors are analysed with the help of the coorientation approach. In total, 16 semi-structured interviews are conducted with grid providers, local politicians and public authorities.

Findings

Misunderstandings are exposed between the analysed actors, which are related to mistrust and conflicts. The findings suggest that improved mutual understanding might foster more effective and mutually beneficial risk communication.

Originality/value

Current research fails to sufficiently explain and improve conflicts and mistrust between actors involved in risk communication and public participation. The present paper offers a novel solution by conceptualising risk communication as a social interaction and placing mutual understanding at the centre of the analysis. The paper also introduces the coorientation approach as an analytical tool. Practitioners are advised how to pursue mutual understanding. Future research is encouraged to advance the comprehension of risk communication.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge the funding by the Volkswagen Foundation and the Lower Saxony Ministry for Science and Culture. The study was conducted as part of the Net Future Niedersachsen (Net Future Lower Saxony) research project.

Citation

Umansky, D. and Fuhrberg, R. (2018), "Improving risk communication and public participation through mutual understanding: A coorientation approach", Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 22 No. 1, pp. 2-13. https://doi.org/10.1108/JCOM-12-2016-0099

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

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