Stakeholder Engagement & Communication

CRESP assesses, recommends and demonstrates approaches to encourage the involvement of a diverse group of stakeholders to help shape decisions focused on achieving technically sound nuclear waste management. Project activities include:

  • Conducting focus groups and surveys;
  • Developing communication tools and educational materials; and
  • Carrying out case and organizational studies’

Lead Researchers

Joanna Burger, Rutgers University
Michael Gochfeld, Rutgers University
Karen Lowrie, Rutgers University
Michael Greenberg, Rutgers University
Hank Mayer, Rutgers University
Matthew Weber, Rutgers University

EM Sites Impacted

  • EM Complex-wide
  • Hanford: Richland Operations Office and Office of River Protection

Current Project Areas

Measuring and Communicating Environmental Management Objectives and Accomplishments 

Project Objectives
Progress has clearly been made toward what former Secretary Hazel O’Leary called “closing the circle on the splitting of the atom.” However, it is unclear how much community stakeholders understand about what the local DOE site has completed and has underway. Quite a few factors likely contribute to an unclear image of what has been accomplished, such as what seems to outsiders is an inordinately slow pace of remediation at some sites and lack of trust of in government, especially the federal government. These two drivers and other drivers of stakeholder perceptions are difficult to counter. However, we also believe that the DOE, EPA, and the states are likely contributing to a lack of clarity about what has been accomplished by communicating unclear and mixed messages to non-expert and underserved community stakeholders. Our goal is to assist EM by testing a process that will more effectively communicate EM’s accomplishments and plans by demonstrating the collaboration of a SSAB, DOE site experts, social media, and CRESP.

Relevance and Impact to DOE
The challenges and opportunities posed by environmental justice issues, the need to use metrics to monitor progress, and the increasing importance of social media in communicating with the public is a challenge at DOE sites. Some DOE sites, measured by EPA EJ metrics clearly have a EJ issues. EM has created environmental cleanup metrics, but they may not be comprehensible to local community groups, especially those with limited time and accessibility. We believe that it is possible to work with the SSABs to evaluate EM’s current site metrics and engage the larger community in making the metrics more useful and relevant.

EM Sites Impacted

  • EM Complex-wide
  • Savannah River Site

Evaluation of and Approaches for Improving EM Risk Communications

Project Objectives
The goal of this project is to provide EM evaluation of risk communication practices and public responses and provide actionable recommendations to EM and field offices for improving risk communications, as well as anticipating related potential hot-button issues.  Over the past few years, CRESP has provided EM and field offices with risk communications guidance, often in response to specific crises.  Clearly, risk communication needs are evolving in response to technological and social changes (e.g., use of social media and message amplification) and societal contexts (e.g., COVID-19, racial and socio-economic inequities).

Specific objectives for the current Budget Period are:

  • Social Media Communications – (i) develop case studies of social media amplification of messages related to EM scope, including messages that are factually accurate and inaccurate, as well as positive, neutral, or negative; (ii) carry out a workshop on social media best practices and pitfalls with international experts and participation of senior management and communications specialists from EM headquarters and field offices; and (iii) prepare a publication or report for EM that reviews best practices and pitfalls in use of social media for risk communication specific to EM challenges.
  • Environmental Justice (EJ) Analysis at EM Sites – DOE-EM has an overall strategy, and each site already should have an analysis. However, the issue recently has become more prominent and newer economic and census data may necessitate revisions to past practices. Hence, CRESP proposes a review in several stages: (i) use EJ SCREEN (an EPA tool) in conjunction with most recent available data to determine which, if any, EM sites show evidence of an EJ issue. Additional review will be of recent documents (e.g., NEPA and RCRA documentation) to evaluate how EJ was addressed.  A proof-of-concept evaluation has been completed for Oak Ridge. If no evidence is found of an issue at any of the sites, CRESP will write a review report and stop. If CRESP finds evidence of EJ issues at specific sites, the CRESP will discuss results with the site management and EM, review the site EJ report and offer suggestions.
  • Evaluation of COVID-19 messaging on DOE staff – During the current COVID-19 events everyone has been bombarded with an endless stream of direct and indirect messages about their behaviors and actions. Because there will be more hazard events, for example, fires, weather events, violence, breakdown of emergency numbers, DOE should take advantage of this opportunity to find out which messages have been most salient to its staff and what DOE can do in preparation for future events that are not DOE-related. CRESP proposes organizing focus groups at one or two DOE-EM sites and discussing the most and least salient messages with attendees. Is there anything that DOE could have done in terms of message content, delivery mode, timing, and so on to reduce employee stress levels?

Benefit to EM:
HQ and EM sites need a consistent strategy for communicating hazards and risks that are present or perceived, and to implement a sound communication and response strategy to unusual or catastrophic events that require immediate response. This means providing basic risk information required on human health and safety, technical and contextual frame for nuclear and chemical safety, ecological health and well-being, and the inclusion of environmental justice communities and issues. EM management and communications practitioners need to be skilled in using and responding to social media, including message amplification and erroneous information.

EM Sites Impacted

  • HQ and all EM sites, as well as nuclear and chemical facilities both public and private

Evaluation of Environmental Justice Issues Near DOE EM Sites

Project Objectives
The goals of this project are to provide EM with information that it can use to inform its decisions about EJ issues near its major EM sites. This information will be grounded in published in data bases and informed by interviews with key stakeholders in headquarters and selected sites.

Specific objectives for the current Budget Period are:

Environmental Justice (EJ) Analysis at EM Sites – DOE-EM has an overall strategy, and each site already should have an analyses and ideas in place. However, the issue recently has become much more prominent and newer economic, census and health data, as well as new opportunities for policy formation and implementation suggest that past practices should be revisited. Hence, CRESP proposes a review to determine:

  • Which, if any, EM sites show evidence of an EJ issue. A draft has been completed and we will brief EM in the near future. They may want a deeper probe than our current analysis.
  • Interviews with key leaders in DOE HQ and with members of the President’s Committee that has written several important reports and associated document review.
  • Interviews with key stakeholders and site management at 1 to 3 EM sites.

Benefit to EM:

HQ and EM sites need a consistent strategy for dealing with this challenge that is increasingly voiced across the United States. The CRESP team has members that have been involved in these issues for more than 30 years, that is, before the environmental justice executive order 12898 was issued, and we believe that EM would benefit from a deep review of data, as well as suggestions offered by key stakeholders across the United States and from DOE HQ and sites.

EM Sites Impacted

  • HQ and all EM sites.

The Role of Social Media in Public Engagement

Project Objectives
This project is designed to aid the DOE in better understanding how to engage community members and key stakeholders via social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter. Community members are members of the public who reside in focal DOE communities; key stakeholders are other interested parties within and near focal communities. The first objective of this research will be to develop a clear understanding of the core social media channels available to DOE for communicating with community members and key stakeholders. The second objective of this research is to examine how core social media channels are perceived by their target audiences. The third objective is to inform the development of strategies to better leverage social media channels to combat misinformation and to accurately communicate the DOE’s message with community members and key stakeholders. The cumulative research leverages multiple methods to build a comprehensive understanding of how social media can be utilized to build stronger relationships with relevant communities.

Relevance and Impact to DOE
The development of effective strategies for proactively using social media to communicate with external audiences can help organizations to interact with their external audiences in meaningful and engaging way. The proposed white paper will review the current social media environment and provide a roadmap for thinking about how to effectively build the Department of Energy’s social media presence. Social media allows the public to engage in direct conversation with government agencies and civic officials, and vice versa. At the same time, the modern social media landscape is complex, and it is challenging for agencies to know how best to engage in conversation with public audiences.

Social media has become an important channel for government communication with audiences. Beyond being an important channel for external communication, the volume of social media means that it can be an important tool for listening and understanding audiences. The Department of Defense has more than 1.8 million followers on Facebook and posts multiple times a day in a variety of contexts. The Department of State has more than 6.1 million followers on Twitter and effectively uses the channel to communicate externally. Further, social media can be effective for local and regional communication. For example, the California Energy Commission has more than 15,000 followers on Twitter, and effectively reaches an audience of millions with each tweet as content is shared through their network. Improving the use of social media has the potential to allow the DOE to both engage with and understand their audiences in a meaningful way.

All Publications: Stakeholder Engagement & Communication, 2006-2019 (pdf)

Highlighted Publications & Reports

CRESP Stakeholder Engagement and Communication

Mayer, H, Greenberg, M & Lowrie, K 2019, DOE-EM Mission, Metrics and Communications: Initial CRESP Report, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee.

Greenberg, M, Apostolakis, G, Field, T, Goldstein, B, Kosson, D, Krahn, S, Matthews, R, Rispoli, J, Stewart, J & Stewart, R 2019, ‘Advancing Risk-Informed Decision Making in Managing Defense Nuclear Waste in the United States: Opportunities and Challenges for Risk Analysis’, Risk Analysis, vol. 39, no. 2, pp. 375-388.

Burger, J, Gochfeld, M, Kosson, DS, Brown, KG, Bliss, LS, Bunn, A, Clarke, JH, Mayer, HJ & Salisbury, JA 2019, ‘The costs of delaying remediation on human, ecological, and eco-cultural resources: Considerations for the Department of Energy: A methodological framework’, Science of The Total Environment, vol. 649, pp. 1054-1064.

Thorpe, C, Mann, C, Fisher, A, Hand, R, Hyatt, N, Riley, B, Schweiger, M, Mayer, J, Arendt, C, Kruger, A, Kosson, D & Corkhill, C 2018, ‘Evaluation of Novel Leaching Assessment for Nuclear Waste Glasses – 18314’, WM’2018, WM Symposia, Phoenix, Arizona.

Greenberg, MR, Apostolakis, G, Fields, T, Goldstein, BD, Kosson, D, Krahn, S, Matthews, RB, Rispoli, J, Stewart, J & Stewart, R 2018, ‘Advancing Risk-Informed Decision Making in Managing Defense Nuclear Waste in the United States: Opportunities and Challenges for Risk Analysis: Managing Defense Nuclear Waste’, Risk Analysis, vol. 39, no. 2, pp. Medium: X; Size: p. 375-388.

Greenberg, M & Schneider, D 2017, Urban Planning and Public Health, First edn, American Public Health Association.

Greenberg, M, Mayer, H, Powers, C & D, K 2017, ‘Nuclear Waste Management and Nuclear Power: A Tale of Two Essential United States Department of Energy Sites in Idaho and New Mexico’, in Nuclear Portraits: Communities, the Environment, and Public Policy, First edn, University of Toronto Press, Scholarly Publishing Division, Toronto, Canada, pp. 217-237.

Greenberg, M, Coon, M, Campo, M & Whytlaw, J 2017, Finding Locations for Endurably Objectionable Energy-Related Facilities: The CLAMP Policy, Charter 15, in The Routledge Research Companion to Energy Geographies, vol. 6, Taylor and Francis, p. 386

Omnibus Risk Review Committee & Greenberg, M, Chair 2015, A Review of the Use of Risk-Informed Management in the Cleanup Program for Former Defense Nuclear Sites, prepared for US Snate Committee on Appropriations and the US House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations, Vanderbilt Unviersity, Nashville TN.

Greenberg, M, Weiner, M, Mayer, H, Kosson, D & Powers, C 2014, ‘Sustainability as a Priority at Major U.S. Department of Energy’s Defense Sites: Surrounding Population Views’, Sustainability, vol. 6, no. 4, pp. 2013-2030.

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