Keywords: geographical information systems, GIS, internet, mercury, nitrate, web portals, environmental risk, risk assessment, risk communication, scientific knowledge, social knowledge, vulnerability, water quality, water pollution, risk perception, public understanding
Linking environmental risk assessment and communication: an experiment in co-evolving scientific and social knowledge
Dissemination of information to decision-makers and enhanced methods of public participation are often put forward as antidotes to a perceived disconnect between risk assessment and risk communication in the public domain. However, mechanisms that support both the provision of routine, timely and relevant technical knowledge to the public and meaningful opportunities for public participation in the evaluation and management of risk are few. We argue for the need to re-conceptualise the institutional context in which risk research and communication occur as one in which scientific knowledge and public understanding are co-evolutionary instead of independent or sequential. Here, we report on an experiment to promote co-evolution of environmental risk assessment and risk communication through the instrumental use of a web-based platform that dynamically links expert and public discourses through common information sources, linked scenario evaluations, and opportunities for iterative dialogue. On the basis of technical feasibility, research value and public communication capacity, we conclude that there is potential for further refinement of the methodologies presented here.