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In this series, we explore how AI can contribute towards the processes of on-going, truly interactive risk communication

An on-going and accessible process of risk communication covering a wide variety of topics is essential to any democratic society. When people want to learn more about risk issues such as health, environment or nutrition, the ability to find this information quickly and engage with sources in a 2-way conversation to meet their particular needs is important. In this way, relevant information can be shared, concerns addressed and enlightenment gained.

If this were the typical pattern of risk communication practice then many issues around health, wealth and happiness would be in a far better place. Unfortunately, this is not the case in Asia-Pacific. On many key risk issues affecting quality of life, publics have few places to go to get reliable information let alone get personalised interaction tailored to their needs. Thus on a range of topics where people have genuine questions and concerns, whilst basic information may be available, there is little possibility to engage in a process of information exchange. This 2-way process is essential to bridging a common language on complex risk issues. The very definition of risk communication is that of an “interactive, 2-way exchange of opinions.” Without this process, many issues of importance become deeply polarised and misinformation can easily be taken at its word, which can have a significant impact on attitudes, intentions and behaviours. On important issues, merely putting information into the public domain is insufficient, and as we have seen, nearly anyone—whatever their motives—can do this.

Communicators need to appreciate how important interaction with people is on risk issues. This may require a fundamental shift in policy. Receiving information as a one-off ‘download’ may be sufficient for some, but completely inadequate for others. The enlightenment function of risk communication will not be achieved through a top-down process of 1-way communication. A process of interaction around a topic can help find common ground, resolve questions and concerns, and shape a new pathway to a solution. On many risk issues in the region, vaccination for example, the level of discussion required is far beyond information transfer. Interactive experiences have proven difficult to run at scale, and the ideal forms such as community-based interactions, face-to-face meetings and workshops are expensive. Traditional media has its limitations, and online materials are often presented as extensions of print that have limited interaction.

Publics are very interested in learning more and having their questions answered on risk issues affecting them and their families. Online represents a scaleable platform, familiar to all, but has issues with misinformation and credibility of sources in general. People want reputable and authoritative sources of information they can trust. At the same time they want to be able to engage with those sources and find answers to their questions and concerns. Implementation of these systems has proven difficult, but is essential to both the experience and engagement of the ‘user’ and in the validation of the source of information. A truly interactive system can address issues of authenticity, credibility and trust.

Interactivity is vital to efficient risk communication, and with the numbers of people wanting to take part in risk debates, online channels represent the best way to meet demands. Truly interactive and engaging systems help differentiate credible sources from the ‘noise’ of misinformation and propaganda that inhabits the risk information space on many pressing issues. Putting such an intensive system in place has proven demanding for resource-limited countries in Asia-Pacific.

Artificial intelligence (AI) offers one possible avenue towards building intelligent systems at scale, capable of information exchange. One way to conceptualise AI in risk communication is to see AI as a collaborator in the risk communication process. AI-based systems are in place as part of customer service systems around the world. Instead of merely being used to replace contact centre workers, AI-technologies are improving the customer experience by providing functionality that would be too-time consuming or expensive to do manually. This is exactly where AI-technology can help risk communication engagement systems flourish.

In Part 2, we continue to explore the imperatives of effective risk communication and how these can be addressed through AI-augmented risk communication systems.

Andrew Roberts

Author Andrew Roberts

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