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

by Akinkugbe , Seinde , MS

Abstract (Summary)
This dissertation examines the importance of delivering culturally appropriate preparedness messages in a multicultural society. The discussion focuses on how cultural sensitivity / policies can help improve the quality of risk communication among ethnic minority groups and investigates ways to integrate this into the existing structure of the Environment Agency. This study is built on a collection of documented information from regional, national and international sources. In order to provide the necessary information to enable the author to construct arguments that support his proposal, content analysis was prepared in the following areas; risk communication, cultural sensitivity and the effects of culture on risk perception, hazard mitigation and warning response. The research establishes that there has been significant evidence to suggest that culture and ethnic diversity in most UK cities have sharply increased since the 2001 census. As a result of this influx, certain element of the Environment Agency risk communication strategy needs to be changed to meet the social dynamics of the diverse society. The study notes that despite all forms of acculturation by the host country (UK), immigrants still have a way of holding to some of their beliefs, norms and perception of risk from their home country which puts them at risk. Furthermore, ethnic minority groups might be more susceptible to disasters than other UK citizens due to language barriers. Therefore preparedness messages might be misunderstood and cultural differences might even distort the communication of risk (Solis, Hightower & Kawaguchi, 1997). The author is of the view that western culture, with its logical, pragmatic and quantitative scientific analysis is often weak at understanding the correlation between beliefs, human vulnerability, hazards and community perspectives (Padayachee, 2005). As a result, the study identifies that for contemporary risk communication to be successful among ethnic or minority communities, the agency staffs need to understand his / her own world views and those of the clients and public while avoiding stereotyping and the misguide of scientific knowledge. . The author concludes that if the Environment Agency fails to adopt culturally competent policies within the next decade, ethnic minority groups might remain vulnerable due to their economic status, beliefs and risk perception. As migratory patterns suggest, we are bound to see an increase in the exodus of migrants thus we must increase cultural capacity to warn / inform and help cultures from diverse communities. One must not act or believe in the superiority of our racial or ethnic group, as the society might presume “Ethnocentrism”: a paternalistic posture towards lesser groups. This may act as an agent of oppression and increase stereotyping; a theme which featured during the relief operations in hurricane Katrina.
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Bibliographical Information:

Advisor:Tom Pine & Lucy Payne

School:University of Hertfordshire

School Location:United Kingdom

Source Type:Master's Thesis

Keywords:Cultural Competence, Risk Communication, Community Engagement, Risk

ISBN:

Date of Publication:07/20/2011

Document Text (Pages 1-10)

Student Number: 06146954 Candidate Number: 294033

Table of Contents
Abstract ……………………………………………………………………………………………….. ..3
1.0 Introduction
1.1 The Environment Agency ……………………………………………………….............. 5
1.2 The Environment Agency and Risk Communication …………………………................. 5
1.3 Statement of Problem …………………………………………………………….............. 8
1.4 Key Focus of Study ……………………………………………………………….............. 9
1.5 Research Questions ………………………………………………………………............. 10
1.6 Structure of the Study ……………………………………………………………..............10
2.0 Search Strategy
2.1 Methodology ……………………………………………………………………................12
2.2 Data Collection Methodology ……………………………………………………..............12
2.3 Grey Literature …………………………………………………………………….............13
2.4 Desk-top Information Search ……………………………………………………...............14
2.5 Scope and Limitation.............................................................................................................15
3.0 Critical Discussion
3.1 The Concept of Culture: Definition, Meaning and Significance …………….......................19
3.2 So what is culture? .................................................................................................................19
3.3 Cultural Competency: What is it?...........................................................................................21
3.4 Key elements of cultural competency....................................................................................22
3.5 Risk communication /Multiculturalism: The Environment Agency perspective.................. 26
3.51 Challenges and Obstacle.......................................................................................................28
3.6 Factors Affecting Flood Risk Communication.......................................................................30

4.0 Literature Review : Risk Communication
4.1 Experts and Lay People ………………………………………………………….................36
4.2 Deficit Model of Risk Communication …………………………………………….............36
4.3 Risk Perception ……………………………………………………………………..............40
4.4 What Influences Risk Perception ? ........................................................................................41
4.4.1 Outrage Factors ……………………………………………………………......................... 41
4.5 Frames of Reference ……………………………………………………………..................47

5.0 Risk Perception: Theoretical Perspectives
5.1 Heuristics and Biases ………………………………………………………………...............49
5.2 Availability Heuristics……………………………………………………………..................50
5.3 Psychometric Paradigm ……………………………………………………………...............51
5.4 Culture Risk Theory ………………………………………………………………………….54
5.5 Social Amplification of Risk……………………………………………………....................58
5.6 Media and Risk Communication..............................................................................................60
5.7 Religion and Risk Perception …………………………………………….. ………...............61

6.0. Conclusions, Recommendations and Closing Remarks
6.1 Summary ……………………………………………………………………………………..65
6.2 Environment Agency (Cultural competence in risk communication)…………......................65
6.3 Where we are – Cultural blindness and deficit model ………………………….....................67
6.4 Recommendations - How do we attain cultural competency? ………………...........................67
6.5 Closing Remarks ………………………………………………………………………………72
Appendix A: Fundamental concepts and terminologies underlying the study............................74
Appendix B: Searched websites........................................................................................................79
Appendix C: Figures, tables and questionnaires ...........................................................................80
References..........................................................................................................................................84

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Student Number: 06146954 Candidate Number: 294033

“Providing clear and consistent direction to
citizens before, during and following disasters is
key to emergency preparedness and an effective
response” Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (2010).

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Student Number: 06146954 Candidate Number: 294033

INCORPORATING CULTURAL COMPETENCE INTO THE RISK COMMUNICATION
AND COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT STRATEGIES OF THE ENVIRONMENT AGENCY

ABSTRACT
This dissertation examines the importance of delivering culturally appropriate
preparedness messages in a multicultural society. The discussion focuses on how
cultural sensitivity / policies can help improve the quality of risk communication among
ethnic minority groups and investigates ways to integrate this into the existing structure
of the Environment Agency.

This study is built on a collection of documented information from regional, national and
international sources. In order to provide the necessary information to enable the author
to construct arguments that support his proposal, content analysis was prepared in the
following areas; risk communication, cultural sensitivity and the effects of culture on risk
perception, hazard mitigation and warning response.

The research establishes that there has been significant evidence to suggest that culture
and ethnic diversity in most UK cities have sharply increased since the 2001 census. As
a result of this influx, certain element of the Environment Agency risk communication
strategy needs to be changed to meet the social dynamics of the diverse society.

The study notes that despite all forms of acculturation by the host country (UK),
immigrants still have a way of holding to some of their beliefs, norms and perception of
risk from their home country which puts them at risk. Furthermore, ethnic minority
groups might be more susceptible to disasters than other UK citizens due to language
barriers. Therefore preparedness messages might be misunderstood and cultural
differences might even distort the communication of risk (Solis, Hightower & Kawaguchi,
1997).
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Student Number: 06146954 Candidate Number: 294033

The author is of the view that western culture, with its logical, pragmatic and quantitative
scientific analysis is often weak at understanding the correlation between beliefs, human
vulnerability, hazards and community perspectives (Padayachee, 2005). As a result, the
study identifies that for contemporary risk communication to be successful among ethnic
or minority communities, the agency staffs need to understand his / her own world views
and those of the clients and public while avoiding stereotyping and the misguide of
scientific knowledge.
.
The author concludes that if the Environment Agency fails to adopt culturally competent
policies within the next decade, ethnic minority groups might remain vulnerable due to
their economic status, beliefs and risk perception. As migratory patterns suggest, we are
bound to see an increase in the exodus of migrants thus we must increase cultural
capacity to warn / inform and help cultures from diverse communities. One must not act
or believe in the superiority of our racial or ethnic group, as the society might presume
“Ethnocentrism”: a paternalistic posture towards lesser groups. This may act as an agent
of oppression and increase stereotyping; a theme which featured during the relief
operations in hurricane Katrina.

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Student Number: 06146954 Candidate Number: 294033

1.0. INTRODUCTION
In this chapter the author intends to explain the aims, the rationale, the purpose and
the contextual background of the study. The author will discuss how the area of the
study was identified and will justify the area of investigation.

1.1. THE ENVIRONMENT AGENCY
The Environment Agency is a non departmental public body of the Department for
Environment Food and Rural Affairs and an Assembly Government body of the Welsh
Assembly Government. The Environment Agency was created as a result of the
Environment Act and came into existence on the 1st of April 1996. It took over the
roles and responsibilities of the National Rivers Authority, Her Majesty's Inspectorate of
Pollution (HMIP) and the waste regulation authorities in England and Wales including
the London Waste Regulation Authority (LWRA). The Environment Agency is the lead
public body protecting and improving the environment in England and Wales and its
work includes flood risk management, tackling pollution incidents, cleaning up rivers,
coastal waters and contaminated land and improving wildlife habitats (Environment
Agency, 2004a).

1.2. THE ENVIRONMENT AGENCY AND RISK COMMUNICATION
The responsibility for issuing risk communication messages was originally placed on
Police authority. However since 1996, the Agency took over from the police as the lead
authority for issuing flood warnings (Environment Agency, 2000). The initiation of the
Civil Contingencies Act 2004 made it a statutory duty for the Environment Agency and
Metrological Agency to monitor evolving threats and communicate the intensity of the
flood risk to the general public before, during and after a flooding incident Cabinet
Office (UK Civil Contingencies Secretariat, 2004). The Environment Agency currently
runs a flood warning service which has a purpose; to detect and observe flood
incidences, to forecast the timing and magnitude of a flood, to disseminate the warning
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message and raise the awareness of risk. The flood warning service gives members of
the public a head start in taking proactive measures to protect themselves and their
properties. This is achieved by issuing warning messages to the public by using either:
the Automatic Voice Messaging (AVM) system (which phones a wake-up advice
message directly); the sounding of a flood siren using vehicle mounted loud hailer or
by using flood wardens. In addition, the Agency issues fax warning messages to its
professional partners i.e. blue light services, local authorities, utility companies and the
media. As a result of one of the “Easter Floods actions” the Agency introduced a new
four stage flood warning service across England and Wales on the 12th September
2000. This was later updated on 30th of November 2010 to a three stage warning
service (Flood alert, Flood warning and severe Flood warning) as one of the
recommendations in the Pitt review (2007). (Environment Agency, 2010a).

The arguments for the change in the flood warning codes were that the latter warning
codes were difficult to understand and did not inform people about the intensity of a
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possible flooding event. The new flood warning message has been developed through
extensive consultation with professional partners and members of the public. It is
envisaged that this will give a clearer guidance about what people need to do to
prepare for a flooding incidence (Environment Agency, 2011). However quite similar to
its latter, it is likely to remain ineffective when communicating to ethnic minority groups
as there are known social and perceptual barriers that affects the social performance
of risk communications technologies and prevent their take-up Dash & Gladwin
(2007). Following widespread flooding in 2005 and the subsequent recommendations
of the Pitt review (2007), the Environment Agency instigated a new approach to flood
awareness activity which was more locally targeted. This new approach encourages
communities, individuals and businesses to take action to prepare for flooding and to
respond more effectively to flood warnings – by doing so, this then enables them to
better recover from flooding in the future (Environment Agency, 2009).

The effectiveness of a risk communication strategy is predicated on certain
assumptions about the relationship between the public (lay people), professionals and
government (policy makers). The premise proposes that for risk communication to be
successful, mutual trust needs to be first built between the government and the public
as this establishes a shared and well informed knowledge of each others needs. In
addition, willingness of information exchange and recognition of both individual and
organisational resilience needs to be accepted (Fordar & Roberts, 2009). As a public
body, community engagement can often be a daunting task for the Environment
Agency since some government policies, i.e. (anti terror laws) has often deepened the
distrust of some minority groups for the government public agencies Weir, Blick &
Choudhury (2007).The recent budget cuts in the public sector also bring further woes
into the agencies flood awareness initiatives.

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1.3. STATEMENT OF PROBLEM
For some time now, there has been evidence to suggest that the risk communication
procedures of the Environment Agency might remain ineffective due to its inability to break
through the boundaries of culture and ethnicity. This is even more certain as recent
incidents have revealed that the EA has been falling short in acknowledging the equality of
citizenship in risk communication. Following serious fluvial flooding in the Midlands over
the Easter period in 1998 the independent post-event report recommended making
improvements to the systems for informing the public about flood risk and communicating
flood warnings(Bye & Horner 1998). Research carried out after the 1998 floods concluded
that warnings and communication should be based on the needs of those at risk and
emphasised the importance of understanding the requirements and diversity of the local
communities. In particular, vulnerable groups within the communities should be identified
and their needs considered Tapsell, Tunstall, Penning-Rowsell, Handmer (1999).
However, the UK summer flooding 2007 revealed that the Environment Agency needs to
further bridge this gap (Pitts, 2007). Assuming an undifferentiated approach when
communicating risk to the public is rather inexcusable, as one size fits all approach is not
fit for purpose in a multi – cultural society (Richardson, Reilly & Jones, 2003). What makes
the composition of community unique is its diversity and we must be ready to incorporate
this into service delivery Graves (2011). The recent influx of migrants into European cities
further shows the need of cultural competence in risk communication. Hence, the need for
the Environment Agency to show cultural sensitivity can never be underestimated.

In recent years, the evolution of risk psychology has brought the need of cultural
competence to the fore and now it is widely accepted that there is a direct correlation
between culture, religion and the perception of risk (Vanhorenbeeck, 2007). Paradise
(2006) reports that culture serves as a filter through which people process their heuristics
of risk; it often influences people’s values and can be a social causation of vulnerability.
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Habitually, people’s heuristics of risk can be misguided thus leading to inaccurate
judgments in individual perception of risk. Religion has also been argued to be a social
causation of vulnerability, as people of certain beliefs are often known to take a fatalistic
approach in the perception of risk (Cannon, 2008). Disasters – man made or act of nature
can strike anyone, regardless of culture, religion, ethnicity or race Wisner, Cannon, Davis
& Blaikie (1994). People’s perception of a disaster and their reaction differs extensively
because of their beliefs cultural norms and values. How people respond, prepare and
actually recover from a natural disaster occurrence is often a function of their culturallyderived
perception, as this offers them a protective system that can be both comforting
and reassuring (Sheen, 2010). For this reason, responders need to understand their own
world views and those they cater for while avoiding stereotyping and misapplication of
scientific knowledge (Transcultural Nursing, 2009). Cultural competence is about obtaining
cultural information and then applying that knowledge in policies and procedures.
(Department of Health and Human Services, 2003). It helps an organisation to show
empathy and then pay attention to those cultural factors and group behaviours that
prevents certain groups from heeding to warning messages.

This chapter introduces the chosen topic area and the study examines the importance of
delivering culturally appropriate preparedness messages in multicultural society. Although
there has been a considerable amount of research on risk communication in the past,
surprisingly little has been written on traditional hard to reach groups within our
community. This research aims to bridge the gap between the Environment Agency and
ethnic minority groups. Consequently it is expected to help improve risk communication
amongst these individuals and decrease the likelihood of liability / malpractice claims often
associated with disaster aftermaths.

1.4 KEY FOCUS OF STUDY

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This study seeks to explore and discuss the significance of delivering culturally appropriate
preparedness messages. Specifically the study aims to achieve the following objectives:

To critically examine the effect of culture on risk perception, hazard mitigation,

and warning response
To establish whether there are socio – psycho barriers that affect the social

performance of the risk communications messages and prevent their take-up.
To describe strategies and offer useful suggestions in evaluating and

incorporating culturally competent communication processes.

1.5. RESEARCH QUESTIONS
The above objectives will be discussed by responding to the following
questions:

Does culture have any effect on ones perception of risk?
Is there a direct correlate between ones perception of risk and ones positive

/ negative heuristics?
How do disaster characteristics influence risk perception?
Does fatalism influence ones hierarchy of risk?

1.6. STRUCTURE OF STUDY
Chapter one of this study covers the overview, the statement of the problem,

purpose of study, research questions, hypothesis, significance of the study, and
the limitations of the study.

Chapter two deals with a critical discussion of the search strategy. This
includes the methodology, research design, data collection method, operational
measures in identifying and retrieving grey literature and the outlined plan for
the proposed review.
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