The Use of Focus Groups in Assessing Ethnic and Racial Group Concerns About Nuclear Waste Cleanup

  • Angela C. HalfacreEmail author

A lack of confidence and widespread distrust in US government institutions has led policy-makers in this country to experiment with new approaches to incorporate citi zen participation in their policy decisions. These experiments reflect the idea that the relationship between government and the governed should be one of collaborative decision-making; “communicating withrather than tothe public is more likely to meet public expectations” (Beierle & Cayford, 2002; Bradbury, 1994: 363; Hester, 2006; see Koontz & Thomas, 2007 for an overview).1 The absence of citizen input can hinder the implementation of laws and subsequently, produce increased litigation over agency decisions. For effective policy-making, agencies increasingly attempt to include citizen views in the development, implementation, and evaluation of policies.

Ethnic and racial minority and low-income groups concerns about environmen tal risk and their impressions that their viewpoints are not being represented in the political and societal arenas sparked the emergence of the US Environmental Justice Movement in the last 30 years. A variety of governmental agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, have incorporated environmental justice principles in their agency protocols for environmental evaluation and decision-making. Environmental justice includes the equal distribution of environmental risk, but some research indicates that in the United States there are several instances of environmental injustice, even racism, with regard to risk exposure. Considering many agencies' concerns about environmental justice, these governmental depart ments are attempting to include further citizens in the policy-making process to address the historic problems surrounding risk communication. Central to the issue of risk communication is understanding the diversity of the audiences confronting environmental problems. By understanding differences in risk perception across groups and then effectively communicating to diverse audiences, policy-makers are more likely to receive helpful feedback on their approach and react to that feedback. Thus, policy-makers can better move towards creating legitimate and efficient two-way communication between themselves and the public. In this chapter, we analyse focus group data collected at former nuclear weapons facilities to assess differences and similarities among ethnic and racial groups.


Focus Group Environmental Risk Risk Perception Racial Group Focus Group Interview 
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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceCollege of Charleston

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