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Incoporating Cultural Competence into the Risk Communication & Community Engagement Strategies of the Environment Agency

by Akinkugbe , Seinde , MS

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pressure groups and governmental bodies. Few researchers argue that media
organisations are only mediators and interpreters, but not transmitters as suggested in
the social amplification of risk framework. Petts, Horman, Breakwell & Barnett (2002)
suggest that the media “only intensify or attenuate risk they capture or resonate with
an existing public mood and even the media are not alone” (p.23). This gives one an
incline that the media is just an information dissemination outlet where people merely
receive news. Information received from this avenue is amplified or attenuated when
individuals interact with their social groups or when pressure groups seek to influence
government policies. Vanhorenbeeck (2007) maintains that other agents that play an
amplifying role in the society include government organisations, private organisations
and religious bodies who attenuate and amplify risk through fatalistic views. Whatever
the arguments is, media outlets somewhat plays a role in the attenuation and
amplification of risk information. They normally capture the opinion of the public or
transmitters, play to outrage factors and set a conducive environment for risk
amplification Dunwoody & Peters (1992). In other words, the media know the stories
we like, they feed us this information but we only attenuate or amplify when we attach
our beliefs and values.

5.7 Religion and Fatalism
It is often suggested that religion overshadows an individual’s perception and
judgement of risk. This has been noted in quite a number of disasters as religious
communities tend to associate natural disasters with external forces such as the wrath
of Allah, the anger of God or an attack from the devil Paradise (2006b). In a survey
conducted in the flood prone communities of Bangladesh, it was identified that 97% of
flood victims felt that their future depended on Allah, while 95% of the respondents
called upon him during repeated flooding incidences Hutton & Haque (2003). For many
religious communities residing in hazardous areas, it matters little to them whether
disaster is as a result of natural causes, human error or political scheme. They often

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see disasters as an atonement of their sins or view themselves as victims of events far
beyond any reduction measure. Some community will go as far as to say that natural
hazards are God’s will and losses are accepted as inevitable Campbell-Nelson (2008).
This was quite visible in the Asian tsunami disaster as some people from the Aceh
community believed their misfortune was as a result of their sins and a sign to bring
them closer to Allah. This perception is partly behind the increased emphasis on the
importance of religion post tsunami and the implementation of the Syariah Law to curb
their immorality (Munawir, 2010). They place far more emphasis on religion or spiritual
science and believe there was little reason to anticipate and take precaution measures
for future disastrous events Paradise (2006a). The morality or immorality of the people
of Aceh and other religious communities is unlikely to have any effects on tectonic
earthquakes or tidal waves. However much of the attenuating or amplification of risk
associated with religion can be traced to the Holy Quran and the Holy Bible Paradise
(2008). For instance the (Sura 99th 1-8) of the Holy Quran states that

In the name of the merciful and compassionate God: When the earth shall
quake with its quaking! And the earth shall bring forth her burdens, and
man shall say, ‘What ails her!’ On that day she shall tell her tidings,
because thy Lord inspires her. On the day when men shall come up in
separate bands to show their works: and he who does the weight of a dust
particle of good shall see it! and he who does the weight of a dust particle
of evil shall see it!

While chapters like (Proverbs 3.25) maintains that “Have no fear of sudden disasters or
the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence and will keep
your foot from being snared”.


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The Bible and Quran strongly affirm both religions outlook on disasters, as they associate
natural disasters with immorality or lack of faith. Conversely the unique position that
disasters hold in these holy books shows why disasters is often viewed as a stigma
Paradise (2008). This may help explain why disaster risk reduction programmes is
underfunded in developing countries and why migrants and ethnic minority groups in the
UK are often indifferent about flood risk reduction initiatives. The case of Aceh shows the
crucial role of religion and divine retribution in the perception of natural disasters. In
addition, it shows the discord between empirical science and religious studies. What is the
correlation between a tsunami tidal wave and the sins of the people of Aceh? Strange as it
sounds, these conflicting views tend to arise during risk communication and public
sensitization campaigns, as scientific evidence underpins the work and values of most of
the agencies engagement officers working in ethnic communities. As earlier said, western
culture, with its logical, pragmatic and quantitative scientific analysis is often weak at
understanding the correlation between science and religious beliefs. Hence it is imperative
that [engagement officers] “understand their own world views and those of the clients they
serve while avoiding the misapplication of scientific knowledge” (Padayachee, 2005, p.3).

Conclusion of chapter
This chapter examined various theories of risk perception and those innate feelings
that influences perceived risk. It investigate the ways which religious beliefs and the
media shape people’s perception of risk. Above all , this chapter gave more insight into
the affective elements that shape an individual’s perception of facts. In addition it
reiterates the principle of not just offering the fact in risk communication , but
respecting people’s affective outlook. The next chapter brings the thesis to a close and
offers useful suggestion in incorporating cultural competence into the risk
communication strategies of the Environment Agency. It also suggests opportunities
for future work .


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Chapter 6
6.0 Summary, recommendation and closing remarks

6.1 Summary
In a brief recap, this dissertation has examined the importance of delivering culturally
appropriate preparedness messages in a multi-ethnic and multi–faith community. The
main discussion has focused on challenges faced by the Environment Agency in flood
risk communication. The first chapter introduces the subject area / matters and
expresses the parameters for the review. In addition, it emphasizes on the potential
benefit of the study to the EAs flood risk communication approach. The second
chapter gives a full account of the strategies used in data collection and outlines a plan
for proposed review. The third chapter reviews the concepts “cultural competence” and
“risk communication “and examines those physical and or perpetual barriers that affect
the social performance of risk communication messages. Chapter four picks up on
those arguments surrounding the communication of risk between scientific experts and
lay people. It also examines the concept risk perception and those outrage factors that
influence ones innate feelings. The fifth chapter goes further in depth by examining the
theoretical roots of risk perception and explores its values to risk management issues.
While the final chapter draws brings the thesis to a close . It also makes suggestion on
how to incorporating cultural competence into the risk communication strategies of the
Environment Agency. In addition, it also suggests opportunities for future work .

6.2 Environment Agency (Cultural Competence in flood risk communication)
In conclusion risk management has become a prevailing concern of public policy however;
the ability of the public agencies to anticipate and assess public outrage remains inept.

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This has proven to be costly in terms of reputation and litigations as they often find
themselves in murky waters when rectifying public misinterpretation and risk anxiety. Most
risk perception studies have explored the differences between experts and lay people but
the differentiation factors between emergency responders and migrant have not been
studied comprehensively Brenot, Bonnefous & Marris (1998). One’s culture influences the
perception of risk, and this may affect how an individual reacts to flood risk
communication. It is therefore of no importance in developing risk communication policies
for minority groups without proper consultation.

“Public response to communicated risk information is a direct consequence of perceived
risk (understanding, beliefs and personalization), the warning information received
(specificity, consistency, certainty, accuracy channel) and the personal characteristics of
the warning recipient (demographics, knowledge, experience, resources, social network)
while perceived risk is a direct function of both the warning information and the personal
characteristics of the warning recipient” (Mileti& Obrien ,1992, p.42). “People react to what
they hear based on how they interpret the message as individuals are stimulated
differently based upon who they are and who they are with …. “(Mileti & Beck, 1975,
p.43). Humans are frequently exposed to risk information from various media outlets;
however the way we interpret or react to these messages is often a function of our
culturally-derived perception. “Cultural experience developed throughout a lifetime, is a
mechanism for interpreting our surroundings. Lacking the knowledge of cultural norms of
an unfamiliar society or immigrants may misinterpret the communication and behaviour of
others; this can lead to frustration, stress, and even conflict” (Solis, Hightower and
Kawaguchi, 1997, p. 3). Hence order to develop an effective risk communication or
community engagement strategy, it is important that we have some knowledge of the
communities we serve or differences in opinion amongst the public prior to engagement
Brenot, Bonnefous & Marris (1998). In this way we can assess the needs of different social


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groups and improve the delivery of the agencies messages to diverse communities. It also
helps to anticipate and avoid potential conflicts when communicating risk.

6.3 Where we are - Cultural blindness and deficit model
Based on the literature, one can convincingly say that the Environment Agency is still at
the culturally pre –competence stage, since some of its risk communication strategies
adopt the deficit model. Some community engagement staff members have raised concern
about this issue; however they expressed anxiety about being inadequately trained for
certain public participation work in minority communities Environment Agency & Defra
(2005). The key to behavioural change lies in a risk communication programmes that is
multifunctional, incorporates the equality of citizenship, seeks to engage and educate the
public and understand their beliefs and bias.

6.4 Recommendations: How do we attain cultural competency?

1. Valuing diversity and equity, and institutionalizing these values in policy:
The first step in incorporating cultural competency into risk communication and community
engagement strategies is by ensuring that staff members value diversity and
institutionalizing these values in organisational policies. This may include a defined set of
values, principles or statement of intent that articulates the organisations commitment to
equality of citizenship. Staff members should be encouraged to recognise and value
multiple perspectives and policies that prohibit ethnocentrism and discriminatory
behaviours should be put in place.
2. Cultural self-assessment
Cultural self-assessment involves assessing those attitudes, practices, policies inherent in
an organisations structure that might be detrimental towards cultural competent
programmes. Areas to consider include the organisations overall culture, outreach
programmes, governance, hiring procedures and outcomes that reflect engagement of

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individuals from the widest diverse backgrounds. The main objectives of a selfassessment
audit are to answer a variety of questions including those below:

Does the agencies personnel’s including the management value diversity

and respect the cultures of the clients they serve?

Do community outreach programmes and services address the unique

needs and concerns of their clients?

Is cultural competence reflective in our policies, operations and procedures?

Does the agency provide language assistance or translators when

communicating risk in communities who do not speak English?

Are staff members including management true representation of the clients

they serve?

What procedures has the agency devised to overcome barriers that inhibit

cultural competency?

Asking this question during the initiation or reviewing stage of a cultural competency
project enables the Environment Agency to assess its efficiency or identify lapses in
services provided in minority communities. In addition it also helps to strategically plan for
the systematic incorporation of culturally and linguistically competent policies. This could
well improve client access to and utilization of services and enable supports. More
questions for organisational self-assessment can be found in the appendix page.

3. Training and support
Cultural knowledge needs to be integrated into every facet of the Environment Agencies
work. Staff members especially Community Engagement Officers need to be equipped


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with the skills and attributes that are essential in providing tailored service to minority
groups. In acquiring this knowledge and skill, they should be able to learn about what
constitutes a welcoming environment for the diverse groups they serve, and create such
atmosphere when communicating risk. Training could be organised in the form of
workshops combining theory, practices and personal experiences and it should seek to
impart the knowledge of client’s culture, values and tradition and the knowledge of the role
of language and communication styles in different communities. Programmes should be
introduced to help service providers understand some of the myths and misconceptions
regarding diverse communities. This should also involve an ethnocentric awareness
component and the prejudices or stereotyping that leads to racist beliefs.

4. Knowing the Agencies reputation
Before engaging with a community it is recommended that engagement officers know the
agencies reputation in the community. This is necessary as some communities i.e.
refugees may have a distrust or fear of government agencies and this can hinder flood risk
communication. To gain a better understanding of the agencies reputation, it is
recommended that engagement officers’ conduct a research using focus groups /
questionnaires in the community. This can be used to gain a better understanding of the
agencies reputation and offer useful insights on how to establish trust.

5. Reaching out and identifying who is in a community
In order to communicate flood risk effectively, it is imperative that community engagement
officers identify their target audience and connect with them through partnership,
participation and consultation. This helps to provide an insight into community resilience
issues in relation to flooding i.e. vulnerable groups, level of preparedness and
understanding of risk attitude towards flooding. A significant effort may be required to
identify and locate ethnic groups who would benefit from flood preparedness programmes.
However people from these ethnic groups have a strong community structure which

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evolves religious and cultural centre. In addition it is likely that they live or congregate in
one community i.e. China town. Establishing relationships with communities is often a
daunting exercise for engagement officers. Nevertheless by tapping into existing
community structures and securing the support of community leaders, access to the target
audience could be much easier. Community leaders may be family doctors, religious
leaders or even established business men or women within the community. They may be
willing to support flood risk communication programmes within their community or even
offer useful suggestions on the special needs, beliefs or ways of reaching out. However it
is important for engagement officers to approach cultural brokers with the intent to work
and be respectful of their methods of discussion.

6. Development of appropriate flood awareness material
Engagement officers must find alternative methods to reach out in order to ensure that all
members of the community are aware of the risk of flooding in their area. Educating
culturally and linguistics diverse communities’ living in flood prone area requires the
development of appropriate community education materials. Local flood education
materials are best developed within these communities when drawn up in collaboration
with local community representatives or leader’s .This ensures their support and provides
guidance in developing effective materials. Public education in flood prone communities
can take several forms. It can involve providing information sometimes characterised as
the deficit system model i.e. through booklets brochures webpage’s or even through a two
way approach such as training, workshops and online programmes. Whatever form of
communication the engagement officer chooses to use, it is imperative that messages are
simple, concise, personalised and available in languages spoken in the local area.

7. Framing risk messages
It is imperative that community engagement officers consider the way messages are
framed during risk communication. People tend be complacent about events with low

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