Risk Communication Design

How can legal professionals communicate different levels & scenarios of risk, so that the audience can make an informed decision about what they might do?

Risk communication is complicated:

  • If the communication oversimplifies the risks or trade-offs, the audience might be overcautious (‘that is a “yellow” or a “red” territory — so by all means we should never take that action’) and overweight potential harms, missing out on potential benefits
  • Or on the other hand, the audience might take actions that expose them to liabilities and harms, because the communication made them overconfident that they had a low risk. (‘that was a “green” territory — I thought nothing bad could happen!’)

Risk communication is particularly hard when it is written down in visuals, text, and other static media. Conversations can be fluid, back-and-forth, responsive. A professional can tailor the communication to that one audience person. They can check about that person’s understanding. They can listen to the audience’s exact scenario, concerns, and risk tolerance — and then work out a proper risk communication & strategy for them.

But when the communication is meant to go out as a broadcast — as one explanation meant for many different people in the audience, or even a completely general public — there is not that opportunity for tailoring, checking-in, or responsiveness.

So how can a professional make fliers, websites, infographics, memos, or other communications that communicate risk effectively?

Cambridge University’s Winton Centre for Risk & Evidence Communication was a fixed-term project that researched & designed new communication strategies.

They created specific projects for different medical decisions (like whether to get a lung transplant, and weighing the risks involved), the results of genetic testing, or patient-clinician decisionmaking about breast cancer treatment. They created and tested them with professionals & users to make usable communications.

Winton Centre lung transplant tool visuals

Explore their website to find more projects, visuals, tools, and research to see the innovations they made in communicating risk through visuals and interactive tools. For example, see this piece about using user-centered design to create a risk tool for patient-clinician decisionmaking.

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