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Risk Perception, Risk Communication and Stakeholder Involvement...

This short article is an example of how risk perception is important for managers, especially when dealing with controversial natural resource issues.
                                                          Risk Perception, Risk Communication, and Stakeholder Involvement for Biosolids
                                                                      Management and Research
                                                           Ned Beecher,* Ellen Harrison, Nora Goldstein, Mary McDaniel, Patrick Field, and Lawrence Susskind

                                                                     ABSTRACT                       hazardous waste management. However, they have been
                                                                                                minimally integrated into the field of biosolids man-
Reproduced from Journal of Environmental Quality. Published by ASA, CSSA, and SSSA. All copyrights reserved.

                                                         An individual’s perception of risk develops from his or her values,
                                                        beliefs, and experiences. Social scientists have identified factors that
                                                                                                  Those involved in biosolids management have long
                                                        affect perceptions of risk, such as whether the risk is knowable (uncer-
                                                                                                recognized the importance of “public acceptance”—a
                                                        tainty), voluntary (can the individual control exposure?), and equita-
                                                        ble (how fairly is the risk distributed?). There are measurable differ-     sense of tacit public support for the concept and prac-
                                                        ences in how technical experts and citizen stakeholders define and        tice of biosolids recycling. In the 1980s, USEPA officials
                                                        assess risk. Citizen knowledge and technical expertise are both rele-
                                                                                                wrote about the importance of developing public sup-
                                                        vant to assessing risk; thus, the 2002 National Research Council panel
                                                                                                port for biosolids recycling programs (e.g., Bastian, 1986)
                                                        on biosolids recommended stakeholder involvement in biosolids risk
                                                                                                and a report on biosolids programs around the United
                                                        assessments. A survey in 2002 identified some of the factors that in-
                                                                                                States included recommendations that reflected limited
                                                        fluence an individual’s perception of the risks involved in a neighbor’s
                                                                                                social science understanding of how people develop their
                                                        use of biosolids. Risk communication was developed to address the
                                                                                                perceptions and understanding of biosolids (CH2M Hill
                                                        gap between experts and the public in knowledge of technical topics.
                                                                                                and Consumer Concepts, Milwaukee, WI, unpublished
                                                        Biosolids management and research may benefit from applications
                                                                                                report, circa 1982).
                                                        of current risk communication theory that emphasizes (i) two-way
                                                        communications (dialogue); (ii) that the public has useful knowledge        However, during the 1990s, most biosolids managers
                                                        and concerns that need to be acknowledged; and (iii) that what may        and the industry as a whole focused on gaining “public
                                                        matter most is the credibility of the purveyor of information and the      acceptance”; for example, biosolids management con-
                                                        levels of trustworthiness, fairness, and respect that he or she (or the
                                                                                                ferences almost always included sessions on “public ac-
                                                        organization) demonstrates, which can require cultural change. Initial
                                                                                                ceptance.” Emphasis was placed on education of the
                                                        experiences in applying the dialogue and cultural change stages of
                                                                                                public about the scientific basis and experiences sup-
                                                        risk communication theory—as well as consensus-building and joint
                                                                                                porting biosolids recycling from the industry perspective
                                                        fact-finding—to biosolids research suggest that future research out-
                                                                                                (e.g., Powell Tate, 1993). Some concepts from social sci-
                                                        comes can be made more useful to decision-makers and more credible
                                                                                                ence research were brought into the field to improve
                                                        to the broader public. Sharing control of the research process with
                                                                                                public perceptions of biosolids. For example, the inven-
                                                        diverse stakeholders can make research more focused, relevant, and
                                                        widely understood.                                tion of the term “biosolids” was predicated on the un-
                                                                                                derstanding, verified by social science surveys, that it
                                                                                                evokes a lesser negative response in many people than

                                                        T   he management of biosolids (treated municipal               the word “sludge” (Powell Tate, 1993; Beecher et al.,
                                                          sewage sludge) is perceived and experienced by dif-             2004). Risk perception and risk communication have
                                                        ferent people in different ways. The recycling of biosol-            been occasional topics at biosolids management confer-
                                                        ids onto agricultural soils or for reclamation of depleted            ences in recent years (Sandman, 2000).
                                                        soils brings biosolids closer to more people, with the re-             The focus in the biosolids management field on gain-
                                                        sult that more people are becoming aware of biosolids              ing public acceptance of biosolids recycling mirrored
                                                        and assessing whether or not they represent a risk to              the approach that many public agencies, public officials,
                                                        their health or the environment.                         and industries took in dealing with the public: the “De-
                                                         As biosolids recycling and other environmental pro-              cide–Announce–Defend,” or “DAD,” approach. Bio-
                                                        grams have expanded in North America since the 1970s,              solids management experts, like other experts in other
                                                        there has been parallel growth in the social science un-             fields, worked hard to convince the public that the deci-
                                                        derstanding of how people learn, evaluate, and commu-              sions they were making were good decisions.
                                                        nicate about risks. These advances in understanding how               But members of the public are increasingly demand-
                                                        risk is perceived and communicated have been applied               ing involvement in decision-making processes—par-
                                                        in the health field and to environmental issues, such as             ticularly those regarding public services like wastewater
                                                                                                treatment and biosolids management (Monroe, 1990).
                                                                                                In particular, citizens who are, or believe they may be,
                                                        N. Beecher, New England Biosolids and Residuals Association, P.O.
                                                                                                affected by decisions are unwilling to “leave it to the
                                                        Box 422, Tamworth, NH 03886. E. Harrison, Cornell Waste Manage-
                                                        ment Institute, 100 Rice Hall, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853-       experts,” especially to experts that have a stake in the
                                                        5601. N. Goldstein, BioCycle, 419 State Avenue, Emmaus, PA 18049.
                                                                                                outcome. This trend toward increased public involve-
                                                        M. McDaniel, McDaniel Lambert, Inc., 1608 Pacific Avenue, Suite
                                                                                                ment conflicts with the traditional “DAD” approach.
                                                        201, Venice, CA 90291. P. Field and L. Susskind, Consensus Building
                                                                                                  The “DAD” approach assumes that experts are the ap-
                                                        Institute, 131 Mount Auburn Street, Cambridge, MA 02139. Received
                                                        2 Mar. 2004. *Corresponding author (        propriate group to define, evaluate, and manage risks,
                                                                                                an assumption that is now widely challenged. Experts
                                                        Published in J. Environ. Qual. 34:122–128 (2005).
                                                                                                are not always able to accurately assess risks; for exam-
                                                        © ASA, CSSA, SSSA
                                                                                                ple, not one of a group of internationally acclaimed geo-
                                                        677 S. Segoe Rd., Madison, WI 53711 USA

                                                                       BEECHER ET AL.: BIOSOLIDS RISK PERCEPTION AND COMMUNICATION

                                                        technical engineers, when asked to estimate within a      a particular risk, someone we call an “expert,” will have a
                                                        50% confidence limit the height of an embankment that      different perception of the risk than someone less familiar
                                                        would cause failure of a clay foundation, successfully es-   with it. Thus, familiarity came to be understood to be a
                                                        timated that value: some had estimates above the actual     factor in how an individual perceives risk.
                                                        fail point, some below, but none of them made an esti-       Social science research has since identified dozens of
                                                        mate that included the observed fail point (Freuden-      additional factors that affect how risk is perceived (Slo-
                                                        burg, 1988). Bradbury (1989) noted that “since societal     vic, 1999; Covello and Sandman, 2001). Sandman (1987)
Reproduced from Journal of Environmental Quality. Published by ASA, CSSA, and SSSA. All copyrights reserved.

                                                        risk management decisions on the level, acceptability,     called these “outrage factors,” because they influence the
                                                        and distribution of risk involve questions of values, and    level of concern, or outrage, that people feel regarding a
                                                        since differing values are held by those affected, risk man-  real or potential hazard. He defined “risk” as the sum of
                                                        agement decisions must take into account the political,     “hazard” and “outrage” (risk hazard outrage), where
                                                        social and ethical, as well as technical, aspects of the    “hazard” referred to the calculated probability of a dan-
                                                        policy problem.”                        gerous event and its severity. A person’s level of outrage
                                                         This paper reviews how social science research on      is influenced by outrage factors. (Because Sandman’s defi-
                                                        conflict resolution (Susskind and Cruikshank, 1987; Suss-    nition of “risk” is inconsistent with more common uses
                                                        kind and Field, 1996), risk perception, and risk communi-    of the term “risk,” this paper will refer to the sum of haz-
                                                        cation exposes the pitfalls of the “DAD” approach and      ard and outrage as “perceived risk.”) Everyone is influ-
                                                        the danger of focusing on “gaining public acceptance.”     enced by outrage factors, including technical experts.
                                                        Evolving concepts of joint fact-finding and collaborative    In general, technical experts focus on estimating risk
                                                        research and two recent experiences involving stake-      (what Sandman called “hazard”) and do not consider
                                                        holders in biosolids research are discussed. This paper
                                                                                        outrage factors that contribute to perceived risk. The
                                                        applies social science theories specifically to the field
                                                                                        public, on the other hand, tends to pay less attention
                                                        of biosolids management, some aspects of which have
                                                                                        to the calculated hazard and are significantly influenced
                                                        met with considerable public concern and conflict. The
                                                                                        by outrage factors (Covello and Sandman, 2001).
                                                        same theories can be adapted and applied to the devel-
                                                                                          Applying risk perception theory to the biosolids man-
                                                        opment of sustainable land application solutions for
                                                                                        agement field results in several striking findings. When
                                                        animal and industrial organic residuals, as well as other
                                                                                        the lists of outrage factors developed by social scientists
                                                        areas of public policy.
                                                                                        (e.g., Covello and Sandman, 2001) are used to evaluate
                                                         One note of caution: while increased communica-
                                                                                        a land application scenario in North America, it is easy
                                                        tions and stakeholder involvement in biosolids and re-
                                                                                        to see why biosolids recycling has seen greater conflict
                                                        siduals management and research have the potential
                                                                                        than other forms of organic residuals recycling (e.g.,
                                                        to reduce conflict, improve assessments of risk, and im-
                                                                                        land applications of animal manure or yard waste com-
                                                        prove research outcomes, such outcomes are not cer-
                                                                                        post). Many of the following outrage factors are in-
                                                        tain and will depend on the levels of motivation, and
                                                                                        volved, as neighbors and communities perceive a bio-
                                                        commitment applied to developing methods of substan-
                                                                                        solids land application program to be:
                                                        tive communications and stakeholder involvement.
                                                                                         • involuntary (out of their control),
                                                                                         • artificial and industrial,
                                                                PERCEIVED RISK
                                                                                         • exotic and/or unfamiliar (manure is familiar, bio-
                                                         In the late 20th century, the science and mathematics
                                                                                          solids are not),
                                                        of risk assessment advanced dramatically, driven by
                                                                                         • hard to understand (not self-explanatory),
                                                        needs in the environmental and public health fields to
                                                                                         • memorable (because of odors or other nuisances),
                                                        better understand the relative effects of various technol-
                                                                                         • dreaded (the “yuck” factor of biosolids’ origins
                                                        ogies and policies on human health and the environ-
                                                                                          creates dread),
                                                        ment. From the perspective of the technical risk analyst,
                                                                                         • potentially catastrophic in time and space (issues
                                                        risk is a concept that combines the probability of an
                                                                                          raised about biosolids point to potential short- or
                                                        occurrence of harm and the severity of that harm (Inter-
                                                                                          long-term negative effects at the land application
                                                        national Organization for Standardization/International
                                                        Electrotechnical Commission, 1999). In the 1970s, “in-
                                                                                         • not reversible (e.g., persistent pollutants are per-
                                                        vestigators tried to establish general principles of public
                                                                                          manent additions to soils),
                                                        risk acceptability, usually based on mortality statistics
                                                                                         • unknowable (there is a greater level of uncertainty
                                                        and the de minimis risk principle, which argues that if
                                                                                          regarding biosolids land application than regarding,
                                                        a risk can be effectively lowered to less than one addi-
                                                                                          for example, animal manures; biosolids have more
                                                        tional fatality per million citizens, the risk is effectively
                                                                                          diverse inputs from municipal sewers and so its
                                                        zero. Such an approach was uniformly unsuccessful, as
                                                                                          constituents are more variable),
                                                        evidenced in the nuclear industry” (Powell, 1996).
                                                                                         • having delayed effects (some effects from biosolids
                                                         Beginning in the 1980s, social scientists noted that per-
                                                                                          may not be evident immediately),
                                                        ception of risk is unique to each person and is rooted
                                                                                         • affecting children and mothers (because they may
                                                        in our values, education, experiences, and stake in the
                                                                                          happen to play around biosolids and/or consume
                                                        outcome (Covello and Sandman, 2001; Douglas, 1992;
                                                        Slovic, 1999). For example, someone who is familiar with      foods grown on biosolids-amended fields),
                                                        124                 J. ENVIRON. QUAL., VOL. 34, JANUARY–FEBRUARY 2005

                                                         • affecting future generations (because there is some    likely to be overlooked; for example, as Covello and
                                                          uncertainty about long-term effects),           Sandman (2001) point out, “making a risk fairer, and
                                                         • having identifiable victims (reported cases of harm    more voluntary (etc.) does indeed make the [perceived]
                                                          to cows and people),                    risk smaller.”
                                                         • potentially affecting them such that they have a        Uncertainty is an outrage factor that plays a particu-
                                                                                       larly important role with regard to biosolids recycling
                                                          personal stake (neighbors who believe they are af-
                                                                                       (Beecher et al., 2004). “People are averse to uncertainty.
Reproduced from Journal of Environmental Quality. Published by ASA, CSSA, and SSSA. All copyrights reserved.

                                                                                       . . . This aversion often translates into marked prefer-
                                                         • being controlled by “the system” or others,
                                                                                       ence for statements of fact over statements of probabil-
                                                         • unfair (“the farmer gets the benefits and the neigh-
                                                                                       ity—the language of risk assessment” (Covello and Sand-
                                                          bor only gets some added risk”),
                                                                                       man, 2001). Add to this the fact that some surveys (e.g.,
                                                         • morally and/or ethically objectionable (if biosolids
                                                                                       a 1994 Harris poll and work of Swazey et al. as reported
                                                          are seen as a potential threat, then it can be per-
                                                                                       in Powell, 1996) indicate a decline in public trust in tech-
                                                          ceived as morally wrong for powerful cities to foist
                                                                                       nology. Occasional media reports of scientific fraud or
                                                          biosolids on a rural community),
                                                                                       violations of ethics add to this public skepticism and
                                                         • associated with untrustworthy people (social sci-
                                                                                       sense of uncertainty. With regards to biosolids, uncer-
                                                          ence surveys have most often shown that govern-
                                                                                       tainty is further increased by the lack of an accepted,
                                                          ment officials, people from out of town, and those
                                                                                       shared definition, from one location to another, of what
                                                          who have a financial interest are perceived as
                                                                                       are “safe” standards for land application; the existence
                                                          less trustworthy),
                                                                                       of some poorly run programs; and some history of nega-
                                                         • operating by a closed process (communities around
                                                                                       tive press coverage.
                                                          land application sites too often find the process
                                                                                         Public perceptions of biosolids recycling were mea-
                                                          closed and difficult to understand),
                                                                                       sured in a telephone survey of 1069 homeowners and
                                                         • having more media attention (media stories about
                                                                                       house renters across the United States in 2002 (Beecher
                                                          a biosolids project heighten local interest and, if
                                                                                       et al., 2004). This survey found that support for the
                                                          they report opposition, public concern tends to in-
                                                                                       concept of wastewater treatment is high (93%, with a
                                                          crease), and
                                                                                       survey margin of error in the range of 3–5%). At the
                                                         • having limited or no visible benefits (land applica-
                                                                                       same time, knowledge of the word “biosolids” is limited
                                                          tion occurs far from the wastewater facility and in
                                                                                       (14%). When explained to survey respondents, the con-
                                                          communities that perceive little benefit to them).
                                                                                       cept of biosolids recycling is supported, although the
                                                         Outrage is further influenced by who communicates      respondents were quick to express some uncertainty
                                                        the issues and how they do so. For example, some sur-     around particular issues such as “heavy metals.” They
                                                        veys (Sheldon, 1996) have found that female communi-      also expressed a need for more information and more
                                                        cators may be perceived as more trustworthy. Yet, tradi-    time to personally assess risks and benefits. In seeking
                                                        tionally, the biosolids field has been dominated by men.    more information, survey respondents said they would
                                                        In the biosolids debate at the national level, many of     initially turn to and trust friends and neighbors, govern-
                                                        the more vocal concerned citizens are women who may      ment agencies, and academic researchers.
                                                        have no personal stake in the outcome and are, there-       Responses to the outrage factors that were tested in
                                                        fore, perceived by the public as more trustworthy. Add     the 2002 biosolids perception survey closely reflected
                                                        to this the fact that “men tend to judge risks as smaller   those predicted by risk perception theory. For example:
                                                        and less problematic than do women” (Slovic, 1999), so
                                                                                        • respondents favored biosolids recycling programs
                                                        many of those managing and regulating biosolids may,
                                                                                         that display clear benefits, such as providing renew-
                                                        in general, be less sensitive to risks.
                                                                                         able energy or recycling of nutrients;
                                                         Applying risk perception theory can be crucial for
                                                                                        • their level of concern increases if biosolids include
                                                        biosolids managers to better understand the diversity
                                                                                         industrial waste sources or are from a large city;
                                                        of reactions they can expect to encounter as they interact
                                                                                        • their level of concern decreases if they are con-
                                                        with the public regarding biosolids. It also helps in un-
                                                                                         tacted about the biosolids recycling program in ad-
                                                        derstanding the effects of their speech and actions on
                                                                                         vance and/or if it is supervised locally (reducing
                                                        the perception of risk. For example, biosolids managers
                                                                                         uncertainty); and
                                                        tend to reduce the perception of risk, consciously or
                                                                                        • respondents expressed trust in those who appear
                                                        not, by using arguments that remove outrage factors or
                                                                                         most knowledgeable and objective and strongly dis-
                                                        reduce their intensity: “Biosolids are widely used, well-
                                                                                         trust those who have a profit motive.
                                                        understood, natural, recycled products that are neces-
                                                        sary by-products of public wastewater treatment pro-       The concept of perceived risk has become widely
                                                        grams.” Those most vocally concerned about biosolids      accepted. However, its implications continue to be ex-
                                                        recycling tend to increase the perception of risk by using   plored. For example, Slovic (1999) noted that, inevita-
                                                        arguments, consciously or not, that maximize outrage      bly, the process of risk assessment is influenced by the
                                                        factors: “Sludge is an unknown, toxic soup full of indus-   risk assessors’ values, education, experiences, and, pos-
                                                        trial wastes.” Conscious consideration of all outrage fac-   sibly, stake in the outcome. Therefore, citizen knowl-
                                                        tors affecting a particular situation can help biosolids    edge and technical expertise are both valuable in devel-
                                                        managers address those outrage factors that are more      oping a more useful and balanced assessment of risk
                                                                      BEECHER ET AL.: BIOSOLIDS RISK PERCEPTION AND COMMUNICATION

                                                        and perceived risk. Covello and Sandman (2001) note:     good. They focus on improving how and what is commu-
                                                        “Discussions of risk may also be debates about values,    nicated, tailoring presentations to the audience, and im-
                                                        accountability, and control.”                proving explanations of technical information. Often,
                                                                                      this approach has failed, largely for two reasons: (i)
                                                                                      it ignores the fact that differences in perceptions and
                                                              RISK COMMUNICATION                opinions regarding biosolids recycling are rooted in the
                                                         Risk communication is a specialized field of commu-    diversity of people’s values and beliefs, and (ii) it only
Reproduced from Journal of Environmental Quality. Published by ASA, CSSA, and SSSA. All copyrights reserved.

                                                        nications, a response to the needs of those who wished    utilizes one-way communications. Sometimes, this ap-
                                                        to bridge the gap between the knowledge of the experts    proach has caused more harm than good, because it can
                                                        and of the general public on technical topics. Properly   be perceived as dismissive and arrogant.
                                                        applied, risk communication can help people with dif-      Deeper conflicts regarding biosolids management are
                                                        fering perspectives and levels of expertise to share a    usually not resolved by traditional one-way communica-
                                                        common understanding of the level of risk (actual dan-    tions. Rather, they tend to become entrenched, with
                                                        ger) involved in a particular activity. Sometimes, risk   people stuck in their widely divergent positions. How-
                                                        communication techniques are applied with the intent     ever, if dialogue—the third stage of risk communica-
                                                        of increasing the level of concern and heightening the    tion—occurs, some softening of conflict becomes possi-
                                                        perception of risk, such as when a public health agency   ble, even if significant differences of opinion remain.
                                                        wishes to increase public response to a risk such as     Many organizations and individuals in diverse fields,
                                                        radon in indoor air. At other times, risk communication   including biosolids management, are better developing
                                                        is used with the intent of decreasing the level of concern  their abilities to establish dialogue around key issues.
                                                        and decreasing the perception of risk, such as when the     As individuals and organizations share more informa-
                                                        level of concern about a new technology is thought to    tion and undertake dialogue with diverse stakeholders
                                                        be higher than the communicator believes is warranted    and the general public, they often come to see the need
                                                        based on his or her understanding of the hazard (of     for a significant change in values and organizational
                                                        course, the communicator’s assessment of the risk may    culture (stage four of risk communication). This change
                                                        be skewed by his or her personal perception, experience,   is substantial and involves the concept that “strategies
                                                        or stake in the outcome, and some such uses of risk com-   for building consent differ significantly from tactics for
                                                        munications can be seen as manipulative). To change     minimizing the opposition” (Potapchuk, 1991). At the
                                                        the perceived level of risk, risk communication strives   beginning of the 21st century, this is the “cutting edge”
                                                        to change the number and intensity of outrage factors    of risk communication efforts: stages two, three, and
                                                        (Covello and Sandman, 2001).                 four build on each other and are necessary to maximize
                                                         Risk communication is not intended to be a substitute   the effectiveness of risk communication (Covello and
                                                        for risk management. It is not intended to be a way of    Sandman, 2001).
                                                        hiding something or manipulating opinions. Rather, its     To create the necessary climate and culture for stage
                                                        aim is to ensure that a diverse range of people share a   four risk communication—for widespread dialogue in
                                                        common, accurate understanding of the level of risk so    organizations and an entire field, such as biosolids man-
                                                        as to ensure “policy decisions and public discussion based  agement—there are obstacles to be overcome (Covello
                                                        on the best information available” (Powell, 1996). “It    and Sandman, 2001). These include:
                                                        involves multiple messages about the nature of risk and
                                                                                       • the fact that technical experts tend to like clear
                                                        other messages, not strictly about risk, that express con-
                                                                                        boundaries and logic, not emotion;
                                                        cerns, opinions, or reactions to risk messages” (National
                                                                                       • the belief that the public is irrational;
                                                        Research Council, 1989).
                                                                                       • discomfort with empowering the public by bringing
                                                         Covello and Sandman (2001) describe four stages of
                                                                                        them into the decision-making process;
                                                        risk communication:
                                                                                       • the belief of those working on an environmental
                                                         (i) Ignore the public—this was common before the        management problem that they are doing good and
                                                           mid-1980s;                         should not be challenged so much by different kinds
                                                        (ii) Improve explanations of data, especially data re-     of information and opinions;
                                                           garding risk—this, if used alone, is usually part of   • the personal discomfort that comes with significant
                                                           the “Decide–Announce–Defend (DAD)” approach;        change; and
                                                        (iii) Engage in dialogue—two way communications and      • the level of personal and/or organizational commit-
                                                           sharing of information and understanding; and       ment required to make significant change.
                                                        (iv) Affect change in individual and/or organizational
                                                                                       The authors have observed numerous examples and
                                                           values and culture.
                                                                                      heard many statements of these obstacles in the biosol-
                                                         To date, biosolids managers have mostly focused their   ids management field.
                                                        communications efforts on gaining public acceptance by
                                                        utilizing just the second stage of risk communication.
                                                                                         STAKEHOLDER INVOLVEMENT
                                                        They have believed that they have the best information
                                                        and the most expertise, therefore all that is needed to    The biosolids management field is beginning to exper-
                                                        attain agreement is to educate the public. Furthermore,   iment with the third and fourth stages of risk communi-
                                                        they have perceived that their work is for the public    cation. It is becoming more widely recognized that “peo-
                                                        126                 J. ENVIRON. QUAL., VOL. 34, JANUARY–FEBRUARY 2005

                                                        ple care about the decisions you make, but they care      lenged by another expert that the public perceives as
                                                        even more about the process you used along the way”       equally credible. This scenario has played out numerous
                                                        (Kim and Mauborgne, 2003). A National Research Coun-      times in biosolids management debates (e.g., Gaskin
                                                        cil panel on biosolids recommended stakeholder involve-     et al., 2002).
                                                        ment in biosolids risk assessments (National Research       In addition, those expressing concerns about biosolids
                                                        Council, 2002a). Thus, there are increasing efforts by     recycling believe that much biosolids research has been
                                                        biosolids managers to inform people who may be af-       supported by entities with a real or perceived stake in
Reproduced from Journal of Environmental Quality. Published by ASA, CSSA, and SSSA. All copyrights reserved.

                                                        fected, explain how decisions are being made, and in-      the outcome of that research (i.e., wastewater treatment
                                                        clude stakeholders in decision-making. Communica-        facilities or private land application contractors seeking
                                                        tions and public participation in biosolids management     to efficiently dispose of biosolids). This has led to partic-
                                                        programs have gained heightened importance, including      ular distrust of some research outcomes. The source of
                                                        formal incorporation into the U.S. National Biosolids      this distrust may be largely attributable to the source of
                                                        Partnership’s Environmental Management System for        research funding, which, in several studies of research
                                                        Biosolids (National Biosolids Partnership, 2002).        (mostly in the medical field), has been found to be a
                                                         The interest in improved dialogue and collaboration     significant predictor of research outcome (Bodenhei-
                                                        with the public is also extending into research on conten-   mer, 2000; Cho and Bero, 1996; Friedberg et al., 1999;
                                                        tious aspects of biosolids management. The Water Envi-     van Kolfschooten, 2002).
                                                        ronment Research Foundation (WERF) sponsored two          In response to the distrust and confusion created by
                                                        social science studies on public perception and participa-   dueling science in public policy conflicts, social scientists
                                                        tion regarding water reuse (Hartley, 2003) and biosolids    have developed cooperative processes for integrating
                                                        management (Beecher et al., 2004). Applying the find-      technical knowledge into policy and action. These in-
                                                        ings of these projects to its own research processes, in    clude “joint fact-finding,” “collaborative research,” and
                                                        July of 2003, WERF convened a three-day “biosolids re-     “citizen science”—the definitions of which can blur in
                                                        search summit” of diverse stakeholders. It included neigh-   practice. What these approaches share is that they bring
                                                        bors to sites who report illnesses they attribute to bio-    together multiple, diverse stakeholders in knowledge-
                                                        solids application and local officials from communities     gathering and scientific inquiries. They include recogni-
                                                        seeking to restrict application. More than 170 attendees    tion that environmental issues, such as biosolids man-
                                                        discussed research needs and helped set a research agenda    agement, are complex and multidisciplinary and need
                                                        for biosolids. Also in 2003, diverse stakeholders were     to be addressed with a diversity of perspectives and
                                                        brought into the development and implementation of       expertise.
                                                        a field research project regarding air emissions from       Joint fact-finding (Ehrmann and Stinson, 1999; Con-
                                                        biosolids land application.                   flict Resource Consortium, 1998) usually involves the
                                                         The WERF research summit was credited with having      cooperative collection and review of data and informa-
                                                        achieved improved mutual understanding and a rela-       tion by diverse stakeholders. It aims to create a common
                                                        tively fair process (Beecher, unpublished data, 2004).     pool of knowledge that all stakeholders are more likely
                                                        In contrast, the air emissions research project process,    to find credible and useful. It most often involves com-
                                                        facilitated in part by one of the authors, did not include   piling existing scientific data and findings and coming
                                                        diverse stakeholders from the beginning of the project     to agreement on mutually acceptable information. It
                                                        and involved them in only some decisions, thus it has      may or may not include conducting actual new research
                                                        been viewed by the public stakeholders as less fair and     studies. Collaborative research (Lasker and Weiss, 2003)
                                                        credible. The research summit has led to follow-on ef-     involves cooperation among several investigators in the
                                                        forts and projects.                       primary scientific research process. Citizen science re-
                                                         Scientific research has traditionally been a process     fers to the involvement of people who are not profes-
                                                        conducted by one or a few technical experts who are de-     sional research scientists in the collection of data. Each
                                                        tached from the issues and the diversity of stakeholders.    of these processes provides opportunities for scientists
                                                        Depending on how different researchers frame research      to understand and incorporate concerns of diverse stake-
                                                        questions and make assumptions and decisions, the out-     holders. Each approach can allow for the incorporation
                                                        comes of similar research can be significantly different.    of local, sometimes nontechnical, knowledge, while giv-
                                                        When fed into a contentious debate, such as that about     ing appropriate weight to the scientific knowledge of tech-
                                                        biosolids recycling, these differing outcomes confuse the    nical experts.
                                                        public, increase uncertainty and distrust in science, and     In a joint fact-finding or collaborative research effort,
                                                        lead to conflict. Those in conflict over the issue choose    stakeholders may work together to jointly understand
                                                        studies and scientists who, they feel, support their posi-   the problem, develop the research question(s) and/or
                                                        tions. One scientist’s facts, no matter how well technically  hypothesis(es), develop the methodology, gather data,
                                                        supported, may not be considered credible by all stake-     analyze data, draw conclusions, and communicate re-
                                                        holders, because interpretations of data and a study’s     sults. While joint fact-finding or collaborative research
                                                        limitations legitimately vary. Without shared understand-    usually take more time, effort, and money than tradi-
                                                        ing of a study’s analysis, assumptions, interpretations, and  tional research processes, they can help avoid delays
                                                        limitations, the public has no way of fairly comparing     and costs that accrue when conflict erupts over science-
                                                        one study with another. The end result is usually that     intensive policy decisions.
                                                        one expert supporting a particular conclusion is chal-       The effectiveness of this kind of stakeholder involve-
                                                                       BEECHER ET AL.: BIOSOLIDS RISK PERCEPTION AND COMMUNICATION

                                                        ment in research has not been evaluated much, if any,      science most useful to society and most applicable to
                                                        by objective studies. And there are only a few studies that   real-world problems. For example, Cash et al. (2003)
                                                        evaluate collaborative efforts (Lasker and Weiss, 2003)     propose that “science with impact” involves three key
                                                        or stakeholder involvement in addressing policy dis-      aspects: it must be credible, legitimate, and salient.
                                                        putes, mostly because it is difficult to measure and make     The credibility of research derives from the scientific
                                                        comparisons regarding what might have happened if a       adequacy of technical evidence and argument (Cash
                                                        collaborative process had not been undertaken. In 2001,     et al., 2003):
Reproduced from Journal of Environmental Quality. Published by ASA, CSSA, and SSSA. All copyrights reserved.

                                                        the USEPA released an evaluation of “stakeholder in-
                                                                                         • good data derived with quality assurance,
                                                        volvement and public participation” that provides some
                                                                                         • good methods that are acceptable to peers and are
                                                        lessons learned within the agency (USEPA, 2001) re-
                                                        garding stakeholder involvement in addressing policy
                                                                                         • good analysis that yields reasonable findings ratio-
                                                        disputes. In addition, a current National Research Coun-
                                                                                          nally explained from the data, and
                                                        cil panel is attempting to evaluate the effectiveness of
                                                                                         • conclusions that are defensible and reasonable and
                                                        different models for public participation in policy deci-
                                                                                          the limitations of which are clearly acknowledged.
                                                        sions and what the common critical elements are (Na-
                                                        tional Research Council study of public participation in      In short, credibility is enhanced by stressing integrity
                                                        environmental assessment and decision making, per-       in research (National Research Council, 2002b).
                                                        sonal communication, 2003).                    Legitimate research is created through attention to the
                                                         Those involved in nascent efforts to involve stake-     way in which it is conducted. People perceive a research
                                                        holders in the design and oversight of research regarding    effort as legitimate if the production of the informa-
                                                        biosolids management have provided mixed anecdotal       tion and technology has been respectful of stakeholders’
                                                        reviews. Some of the involved scientists find the intense    divergent values and beliefs, unbiased in its conduct,
                                                        communication and extended time frame required of such     and fair in its treatment of opposing views and interests
                                                        efforts to be cumbersome and frustrating. Other scientists   (Cash et al., 2003).
                                                        have found value in improvements to research questions       Salient research is most useful to the variety of stake-
                                                        and methodologies resulting from diverse stakeholder in-    holders. It is relevant to the needs of decision-makers
                                                        volvement. Likewise, nontraditional stakeholders have      and other users of the information. It answers mean-
                                                        reported both frustration with the process and apprecia-    ingful questions, can be put to use by various stakehold-
                                                        tion for the efforts at inclusion. Additional work, led     ers, and it informs, shapes, and frames decision-making
                                                        by WERF, is being done to improve the efficiency, use-     (Cash et al., 2003).
                                                        fulness, and fairness of stakeholder involvement in de-      There has been extensive research in the field of bio-
                                                        signing and overseeing research on biosolids, waste-      solids management, more than thirty years. Yet public
                                                        water management, and related topics.              conflict continues and some concerned stakeholders
                                                         As noted above, one critical consideration is how      distrust some or much of the existing research. As one
                                                        funding for research flows: who provides it and how it     scientist involved in biosolids research noted, “having
                                                        is managed. In the biosolids management debate, con-      completed a thousand studies, what makes us think that
                                                        cerned citizens have expressed skepticism regarding       the 1001st study will convince skeptics?” Biosolids re-
                                                        the findings of research funded by those with a financial    search and policy decision-making could benefit from
                                                        stake in the outcome. To avoid this credibility problem,    applying the concepts of joint fact-finding, collaborative
                                                        it may be necessary to develop a new mechanism for man-     research, and other forms of stakeholder involvement.
                                                        aging funding. Further, as learned from the ongoing col-
                                                        laborative research effort investigating airborne emis-              ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
                                                        sions from biosolids land application sites, it is important
                                                                                         Appreciation is extended to the Water Environment Re-
                                                        to involve a diverse group from the start—including not
                                                                                        search Foundation, Alexandria, VA, for support of research
                                                        only scientists, but also people with local, “real-world” ex-  that led to this paper.
                                                        perience (including biosolids managers and site neigh-
                                                        bors). Working together, this diverse group of stakehold-
                                                        ers defines the research agenda, design, and protocols;
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