Liz Foote Location June 17, 2020

I recently came across this article, “‘By failing to prepare you are preparing to fail’: Lessons from the 2009 H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic.” when one of the co-authors (Jeff French) shared it on Twitter. It really resonated for obvious reasons, but my big takeaway was that we continue to undervalue the role and significance of public outreach and communications. This is more evident than ever with COVID19, where we’ve seen a lot of great examples but also a lot of not-so-great examples. I am hoping this lesson can finally be learned, that we need to assign more clout and resources to these roles within organizations and agencies. 

The 2014 study examined the role and effect of communications carried out during the swine flu pandemic. They found “a lack of planning and a low value attached to the skills required to produce effective communications,” and also noted that in multiple countries where the case studies were conducted, there was “a dearth of good quality audience research to inform the development of communications.” Instead, top down, expert-led “one size fits all” approaches were used, and “little thought had been given to the tone, targeting or channelling of messages.” There was also very little effort to evaluate the communication efforts, but when it occurred, evaluation showed very low levels of public compliance with the key behavioral messages.

I’m curious if people have examples they can share of effective COVID19 related communications along with evaluation data, and I’d also love to hear peoples’ ideas on how we can use this moment to advance behaviorally-informed communications and outreach efforts & infrastructure, not just for public health but all areas where we have “wicked problems.”

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