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RTI to develop risk communication framework with CDC to improve response to public health threats

The team will recommend best practices for public health professionals to communicate about emerging and ongoing health risks

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, has been awarded a two-year contract by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to implement and develop a risk communication framework.  

The framework will enhance risk communication capabilities among state and local health entities so they can better prepare for and respond to threats to people’s health, such as disease outbreaks and natural disasters. In partnership with CommunicateHealth, the research team will solidify best practices and tools to communicate with the public, distribute resources to intended audiences and conduct an evaluation to help inform future response activities. 

“The changing communication landscape presents a number of challenges for public health communicators,” said Dr. Sarah Sheff, an RTI research communications analyst and project co-lead. “Our team is excited to work with CDC to develop a framework that will address these challenges and support public health professionals at federal, state and local levels as they communicate about emerging and ongoing health risks facing the country.”  

The project tasks will also include:

  • Scanning research for best practices and current risk communication science
  • Collecting input from CDC and state and local health departments
  • Evaluating the framework, materials, and tools 
  • Developing trainings for CDC and state and local health departments 
  • Delivering the risk communication framework to a broad audience 

“This project is a great opportunity for RTI, as it blends our organizational expertise in health and risk communication with the practical experience we have developed as implementors of public health communication campaigns,” said Jon Poehlman, director of the Center for Communication Strategy and Design at RTI. “We look forward to working with the CDC to bridge these areas and improve our nation’s ability to respond to public health emergencies.” 

Building on the Crisis and Emergency Risk Communication Model (CERC) , the framework will incorporate the profound changes that have occurred in traditional media, such as the emergence of social media and misinformation. The tools can be adapted for any public health situation happening over time and will equip health partners with best practices for framing and explaining risk. 

By establishing evidence-based risk communication actions and tools, communities will be better prepared to address problems quickly, like long-term health issues, climate and other environmental events, mental health and other daily stressors.