Developing a risk communication strategy

This page authored by Bruno Takahashi, Michigan State University, based on an earlier version developed with Maria Lapinski, Michigan State University.
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In this activity, students will work in small groups (as a part of a team of consultants) to examine a recent crisis issue, and to propose a new or improved risk communication strategy. Students will conduct an analysis of the response by an organization to a recent crisis, and then provide recommendations to improve such response. Students will then present the proposal, in a simulated setting, to the major executives of the organization.

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Learning Goals

  • Foster critical thinking skills by combining communication theory and practice.
  • Differentiate and integrate concepts related to crisis and risk communication.
  • Present to students the opportunity to experience a simulation that would test their ability to orally communicate complex concepts in a persuasive way under demanding circumstances.

Context for Use

This activity is aimed at graduate students, who will work in small groups (3-4 students) during a 3-hour period. The activity is intended to asses the students' understanding and application of risk communication theories, so it is designed to be conducted towards the end of the semester. The activity can be applied to any risk issue involving an organization (e.g. oil spill, nuclear meltdown, hurricane, etc.).

Description and Teaching Materials

  1. In the wake of recent crisis (e.g. oil spill, nuclear meltdown), The Organization (insert any company) has decided to change its risk communication strategy. Specifically, it is acknowledging that all of its activities have "risk" associated with them and that they need to have on-going risk communication activities as opposed to crisis communication in response to major events.You have been hired as a consultant by The Organization to help with this effort.
  2. You have been given 15 minutes of time to meet with the major executives in their risk management section. You need to summarize, in 6 powerpoint slides, the major issues in risk communication that you think are important for their company. These issues would be integrated into a training for all employees who are responsible for risk communication.
  3. For this exercise, you should turn in these 6 slides as well as 3 pages of supporting documentation for the choices you made. You need to use our course materials including readings and lecture notes to build the arguments for your choices. All of the choices you make for this should be based on theory and empirical research (this means research studies that test or extend these theories). We are assuming you will do some substantive research on The Organization and the crisis in order to understand what information to provide them, but the research should not be part of what you turn in.
  4. This exercise has been designed to take about 3 hours, including the development of the presentation and accompanying documents, as well as the presentation. When you are finished, you will present 6 visually appealing slides and a word document of no more than 3 pages of text (the 3 pages is exclusive of references, no appendixes or tables please). You should include a coversheet with your name and a reference list.

Teaching Notes and Tips

Students can feel the time pressure since there is quite a bit of material to cover. Students might want to include as much information as possible in the six slides, which can result in a poor presentation.


Both the powerpoint slides and the 3-page document are graded based on the ability of the students to connect the theoretical material with the case study presented to them. In addition, the presentation is graded based on the persuasiveness of the team to convince the major executives of changing their risk communication strategy.

References and Resources