Ecological Risk Ranking

Development and Evaluation of a Method for Improving Public Participation in Environmental Decision Making

Published in: Risk Analysis, v. 24, no. 2, Apr. 2004, p. 363-378

Posted on RAND.org on January 01, 2004

by Henry H. Willis, MIchael deKay, M. Granger Morgan, H. Keith Florig, Paul S. Fischbeck

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This article reports an extension of the Carnegie Mellon risk-ranking method to incorporate ecological risks and their attributes. On the basis of earlier risk-perception studies, the authors identified a set of 20 relevant attributes for describing health, safety, and environmental hazards in standardized risk summary sheets. In a series of three ranking sessions, 23 laypeople ranked 10 such hazards in a fictional Midwestern U.S. county using both holistic and multiattribute ranking procedures. Results were consistent with those from previous studies involving only health and safety hazards, providing additional evidence for the validity of the method and the replicability of the resulting rankings. Holistic and multiattribute risk rankings were reasonably consistent both for individuals and for groups. Participants reported that they were satisfied with the procedures and results, and indicated their support for using the method to advise real-world risk-management decisions. Agreement among participants increased over the course of the exercise, perhaps because the materials and deliberations helped participants to correct their misconceptions and clarify their values. Overall, health and safety attributes were judged more important than environmental attributes. However, the overlap between the importance rankings of these two sets of attributes suggests that some information about environmental impacts is important to participants' judgments in comparative risk-assessment tasks.

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