is communicating. Testing and evaluating the effectiveness of communication approaches is also important (Fischhoff et al., 2011).
Both the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NCI, 2011)8 and the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency have developed guidance on communicating uncertainty (Kloprogge et al., 2007). Although both guidance documents emphasize the need for communication strategies to be developed on a case-by-case basis, they also present generalities about the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches and describe some circumstances under which one approach might be preferable over another. NIH’s workbook includes some detailed suggestions, such as the order in which to present data and color choices (NCI, 2011).
The Stage of the Decision-Making Process and the Purpose of the Communication
The most appropriate strategy for communicating uncertainty will depend in part on the phase of the decision-making process and the purpose of the communication. Chapter 5 identified three phases in the decision-making process: problem formulation, assessment, and implementation. The key to a good communication strategy is initiating communication during the problem-formulation phase and continuing it throughout the decision-making process. The purpose of the communication, however, might differ from one phase to the next.
During the problem-formulation phase, the communication strategy should ensure input from stakeholders on what uncertainties they are aware of and concerned about and on how those uncertainties should be accounted for in the assessment and implementation phases. A key goal of communication about uncertainty during the problem-formulation phase is to develop a common understanding of the decision problem, of the limits or constraints on the decision options, and of the potential uncertainties that exist in the evidence base for the decision.
The understanding gained from the problem-formulation phase will help shape the assessments that occur during the second phase of the decision-making process. Further communication might be needed to clarify issues about uncertainties and to discuss any new uncertainties that are identified during the assessment and how those uncertainties should be considered in the assessment.
During the implementation phase, the assessors will characterize the risks, costs and benefits, and other factors that were assessed during the
8 The National Institutes of Health’s workbook operationalizes the main points contained in the book Making Data Talk: Communicating Public Health Data to the Public, Policy Makers, and the Press (Nelson et al., 2009).