Michelle Patel is the Deputy Director of Analysis and Insight within the Science team at the Food Standards Agency. With twenty years in Government and a background in communications she remains an endlessly curious scholar of public attitudes and behaviours.
Her personal academic interest is in how the citizen perspective is brought into food regulation. In 2018 she started work to transform how the Food Standards Agency approaches its social science, combining skill sets from the communications insight team with more traditional social science disciplines, and establishing a strategic foresight function to increase the organisation's capability in horizon scanning. She now leads a fine team of over forty analysts including social researchers, economists, statisticians, operational researchers and intelligence analysts and has access to leading experts and a wide range of research tools to understand how and why people do what they do and what the future holds when it comes to food, seeking to provide better evidence so we can make better decisions.
Putting science into context: the future of social science in risk analysisSee more
22/06 - 14:00Visit the agenda
Title of talk
Digital methods in social science for risk communication
22/06 - 15:20
Abstract of talk
The involvement of social scientists, including social researchers, economists and communications experts, can provide vital information when assessing, managing and communicating a risk.
Digital tools are helping us to do this at a scale and pace which was previously impossible. I will outline some digital research methods that are used at the FSA to understand people.
Web-push surveying has allowed us to have statistically-valid data from a wider range of consumers, on broader topics, more frequently, more economically and with a larger sample size. Rapid turnaround surveys allow us to gather survey data from a nationally representative sample in a matter of hours.
However, it is not just about the numbers. Online ethnography has allowed consumers themselves to record and tell us about their food safety behaviour in contexts and ways that reflect their lives and values. The use of digital cameras and sensors allows us to observe behaviour in real life - in both domestic and commercial settings, bridging the say-do gap and helping inform risk assessment modelling as well as develop better risk management strategies. Social media listening allows us to observe what people are talking about when they talk about food, to scan for emerging trends and risks and, when we need to, to listen in real time.
Digital techniques can also increase participation; since the start of the pandemic we have successfully run three multi-method studies, including an online deliberation study. Using digital methods in this way increases our ability to understand consumer views more holistically and ensure the actions we take on their behalf are appropriate and in line with the values of the people and communities we serve.
Finally, experiments mirroring online behaviour are allowing us to test and evaluate behavioural interventions at pace and scale.
In this session, I will describe our current methods and how they are being used to connect with attitudes and behaviours to better understand food risk.