• English
  • العربية
  • 中文
  • Français
  • Русский
  • Español

Understanding Stakeholder Attitudes

The public forms opinions from many sources, thus attracting and retaining stakeholders’ attention is challenging. Effective communication programmes understand stakeholder attitudes, allowing for the development of messages and materials to specific concerns.

To better understand any stakeholder’s individual points of view, consider:

  • Hierarchy: Where is the person in the organization’s structure?
  • Influence: How well connected is the person?
  • Interest: Does the person have an active interest, passive interest, or no interest?
  • Legitimacy: Does the person have some level of right to be consulted?
  • Power: What is the person’s ability to instruct or cause change?
  • Proximity: How involved is the person in the work/project?
  • Urgency: Does the person perceive the work/project as important?
  • Attitude: Will the person help or hinder the work/project?
  • Receptiveness: How easy is it to communicate with this person?
  • Support: Does the person support or oppose the work/project?

Addressing Safety

Operators benefit from independent regulators that oversee activities and verify safe operations. Communicators must articulate the appropriate role each stakeholder plays in public education on relevant issues. To succeed in delineating the roles and responsibilities of the regulated and the regulator, oversight bodies strive to deliver information in a neutral and balanced manner.

The credibility of nuclear science and technology programmes rests in public confidence that environmental, health and safety supervisors are in place and engaged in monitoring operations. Operators must reinforce the authority of the agencies that regulate them. The existence of an independent regulatory authority to control the use of radiation sources in the country provides stakeholders with a second opinion on operators. Consistent reports from multiple parties by those active in the nuclear sector help affirm communications.

Independence of Regulators

The regulatory authority should communicate its own activities to address the safety of the sources of radiation and to protect people and the environment. While remaining non-promotional, a regulator can summarize both the advantages and disadvantages of the production of nuclear energy and the applications of ionizing radiation. Regulators have an important perspective on the associated risks of using nuclear science and technology. Communication regarding their monitoring and authorizing roles help stakeholders understand the decision-making process related to new installations. However, the promotion of nuclear energy should be left to the interested operators and respective industry. The regulatory authority should remain independent to meet its responsibilities to ensure the control of any activity related to sources of radiation.

Addressing Sustainability

Sustainability is a fundamental concern for nuclear activities. For any given project, there should be a clear attempt to define and communicate a proposal for sustainable development. The lack of definitions for sustainable development presents opportunities for controversy. Communicators can anticipate these concerns and prepare materials and talking points regarding how to avoid neglect of environmental factors and other intangibles.

Due to a facility’s regional influence on jobs and economic impact, the messages may emphasize national priorities over local, or vice versa. Establishing objectives and goals for the project from the beginning and distinguishing short and long-term achievements can help keep these messages in balance for the duration of project.

The costs required to achieve the solutions is also a factor. A decision may present the loss of alternative choices. For example, money spent on siting cannot be spent on health, education and other infrastructure improvements. In the Czech Republic, outreach on nuclear waste options determined that stakeholders wanted to discuss alternatives, not just the relative risk of the proposed solution. This created a new opportunity for communication and led to the expansion of education efforts to include information about transmutation.

The transfer of negative externalities to future generations presents another set of important messages related to nuclear communications. Stakeholders debate and evaluate the potential of various solutions to create positive impacts, such as more jobs, reduced reliance on coal and fewer emissions. The array of externalities can present interesting opportunities to employ “soft” influence, such as when communities near proposed power plant sites may be offered lower electrical bills.

Talking about Risk

People often need to be reminded of the simplest aspects of nuclear technology because usually they know little about the issues. This is especially important in translating relative risk in a practical way.

Technical experts often respond to safety-related questions using relative risk comparisons. Unfortunately, this method is often ineffective with general audiences. This is in part because members of the public and other non-technical audiences have no way to judge what is being said. The comparisons are relative and often reinforce fears. Therefore, people think the expert is trying to hide something or is not being direct.

Therefore, communication is an integral part of every phase of a facility’s lifespan. From the beginning, ensure that stakeholders know how and when they will be informed about project developments.

  • Serious thought should be given as to whether it is suitable to apply risk comparisons. Risk comparisons give the impression that the other side’s experiences and concerns are not valued or taken seriously.
  • To place risk information into a broad context, consider using a before and after scenario. The situation before a new facility is built can be compared with the desirable situation after it is completed.
  • General situations should not be discussed, but rather real situations relevant to the project under discussion.
  • Communicators should be clear in explaining and stating assumptions and uncertainties in investigations, proposals and discussions. Uncertainties should be managed and illustrated using different scenarios, for example “in the best case,” “in the normal case” and “in the worst case.”
  • If there are several independent actors providing information about the programme, make efforts to compare materials and messages to reduce or explain any contradictory information.
  • Communicate step-by-step. Technical assessments take time, but leaving stakeholders to wonder what is being analyzed and quantified increases the potential for criticism and media leaks. Broadcast the purpose of each activity and forecast the impact of each step. Direct results can be shared when appropriate.

Including Messages about Nuclear’s Global Nature

Competitive pressure among countries with nuclear programmes reflects the global marketplace for nuclear goods and services. As vendors and suppliers work internationally, a robust and shared safety culture is necessary.

After the accident at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in 1986, nuclear operators realized that the consequences impacted every nuclear power plant. International cooperation became an essential part of ensuring such an accident would never happen again. For plant management, the global nature of nuclear facility management means establishing an organization which facilitates openness, confidence between employees and managers, and quality control in all activities. For the operating staff, safety culture means a feeling of personal accountability for safe operations, having a questioning attitude, effective communication between different departments, and following the rules and procedures.

Messages to Foster Trust in Institutions and the Process

Rather than simply working to impart information, stakeholder involvement programmes expand communication to help achieve mutually accepted solutions. Communication activities offer more than information delivery mechanisms. Public confidence decreases when people believe no entity has their safety and security in mind. Around the world, scepticism in government-issued guidelines will persist throughout a decision-making process. This tension among individuals and institutions requires trust be established and re-established. Throughout the lifetimes of relationships, parties will assess and evaluate the credibility and trustworthiness of others.

While facility operators make a strong case for the safety of their activities, regulators must bear the burden of proof. The regulator must find the proper balance between intervening too early or too late when signs of either a weak safety culture or actual declining performance are observed. An operator needs a respected, independent regulator to validate the safety of its operations. For nuclear energy issues, an accident for one operator is an accident for all.

Dialogue moves from one-way communication of facts to an interactive discussion and engagement. To build trust in the process, clear goals, roles and responsibilities need to be established. Regulation plays a role but is insufficient alone as a factor in establishing credibility.

  • Assign responsibilities. Successes and failures in managing nuclear communication efforts show that effective stakeholder involvement helps assign responsibility for key decisions.
  • Find ways for everyone to contribute. When efforts from across a society contribute to a decision, more people share a sense of ownership and responsibility for the decision. Stakeholder engagement also enhances the competence of the decision-making.
  • Anticipate change. Who is involved in the decision-making process will change over time? A preliminary stakeholder contact list may serve as a benchmark throughout the life of projects to site and construct nuclear facilities. However, over the years required for infrastructure development, federal, state and local elected and appointed officials, government agencies, tribes, religious leaders, nongovernmental organisations and private individuals active in the project will change. This requires ongoing attention to relationship building to retain the individual and collective reputation of nuclear professionals.

Recognizing the Need for Risk Communication

Effective communication techniques shift when the perception of risk takes control of a situation. When controversy takes root, scientific organizations no longer succeed with traditional communication campaigns. When stakeholders become distrustful, misinformation can displace the facts. Distrust and fear can trigger the emotional part of the human brain. When concern is high, and trust is low, rational thinking gives way to instinctive reactions for self-protection. In this context, the principles of risk communication apply.

Caring, openness, dedication and empathy must be shown to overcome the concerns. Researchers and scientists who can show concerned citizens how nuclear science fulfills key values that guide their lives will generate greater acceptance of the technology among new audiences.

Preventing Stakeholder Fatigue

Projects involving nuclear science and technology tend to require large infrastructure, which requires significant investment of time, money and talent. Stakeholders who begin to engage with project leaders will look for signs of progress. Communication should remain consistent and build upon itself. Updated information should acknowledge previous expectations and express future goals toward maintaining stakeholder engagement and creating an easily understood narrative.

Distinguishing Technical and Perceived Risks

Risk communication focuses on how to address the potential costs and benefits that are perceived by stakeholders. Active listening and two-way interaction helps communicators identify the major issues of concern. It is important to recognize issues of concern to the public may not be the same as the technical risks evaluated by systematic studies of a nuclear technology programme.

Nuclear professionals may be most familiar with risk management as a process that can be utilized to identify a variety of safety issues. The Electric Power Research Institute has great tools for effective risk management. In general, this activity encompasses two aspects:

  • Identifying the potential for things to change
  • Quantifying the magnitude of the consequences if they do change

The IAEA offers structures for risk management along with examples of how to mitigate the operational and economic related risks associated with building nuclear facilities. These include continuous analysis of external and internal risk factors, monitoring of project implementation and the environment, as well as interactions regarding potential implementation, licensing, permitting and long-term operation. Communicating to stakeholders on how best to mitigate the factors revealed in risk assessments is essential.

Risk perception research considers psychology, sociology and culture. It expands the notion of risk management from purely technical estimates of risks and benefits and adds dimensions of subjective assessment.

Responding to Claims

Potential for hard questions and direct confrontation can inspire professionals to avoid public discussions. However, addressing concerns and objections allows leaders to demonstrate commitment to technology and a transparent process.

In public settings with question and answer sessions, participants make claims. By posing questions based on inaccurate information, new misinformation may be distributed to larger audiences. These statements may concern harm that has already occurred or allegedly occurred due to a nuclear project. They can reveal emotionally charged subjects that bring visibility to uncomfortable topics. It is often difficult to provide quick resolution to these concerns and to deliver clear, concise answers. In these cases, standby statements help to preserve constructive dialogue. Standby statements acknowledge the concern. They respect the participant for sharing their opinion and speak to next steps that will be taken to address it.

Feedback mechanisms can be prepared in advance and designed to address broad concerns. This allows for reliable follow-up even when substantive answers may not be forthcoming until additional programme decisions are finalized. Assertions left unaddressed create new channels for rumour and misinformation. Communication programmes that integrate public forums and question and answer sessions into long-term outreach strategies take advantage of many communication vehicles. Through persistence and consistency, audience members can witness the responsiveness of nuclear officials to their concerns.

Stay in touch