Communicating in Times of Coronavirus

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The world faces an unprecedented crisis. People’s livelihoods and health are under threat. Citizens are worried about the future. Many fear that the institutions created to help them are not up to the task.

In these trying times, communicating with citizens is one of the most important jobs for any organization working on sustainable development and international co-operation.

Here are 3 big challenges for communications teams:

  1. Providing accurate information and guidance.
    Misinformation and fake news can spread fast, with harmful consequences. Citizens – at home and in partner countries – need to know how to stay safe and adopt behaviours that mitigate the impact of the virus.
  2. Demonstrating action and building trust.
    Even before this crisis hit, public institutions suffered from falling trust. Citizens need to know that development institutions have a solid plan and are putting it into action.
  3. Securing public support for international co-operation.
    In some countries, COVID-19 has led to an increase in nationalist rhetoric. Yet, our shared future depends on global solidarity, international development work and multilateral co-operation.

Since the COVID-19 crisis began, communicators around the world have sprung into action to take on these challenges. This page brings gathers advice and inspiring examples from members and partners of the OECD DevCom Network. We plan to update this page regularly: please share your links with us at dev.com@oecd.org.


CHALLENGE #1: PROVIDING ACCURATE INFORMATION AND GUIDANCE

Addressing this challenge means (a) sharing the facts and fighting fake news, and (b) promoting behaviours that help mitigate the effects of the crisis – like handwashing or social distancing .

     a. Sharing the facts and fighting fake news

For comprehensive advice, we recommend this brief by Social Science in Humanitarian Action and manual by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Their advice includes:

  • Keep messaging simple, consistent and factual.
  • Use credible and authoritative sources and messengers.
  • Issue messages as soon as possible (i.e. before fake news gains traction).
  • Do the research to understand where your audiences go for trusted news.
  • Reach people through multiple channels.
  • Be honest: acknowledge when something is not yet known.
  • Focus on solutions and provide audiences with a sense of hope and agency.

The World Health Organisation is the global authority for health information on COVID-19, and the UN has launched a global portal.

Meanwhile, many other organisations are seeking to convey accurate information:

  • The OECD’s online platform on the coronavirus brings together policy advice and real-time data, including analysis on the implications for sustainable development work.
  • The African Union’s online platform provides latest data and briefings, emergency numbers and communications guidance for its member countries.
  • The Ibero-American Secretariat (SEGIB) has created a microsite bringing together content from its 22 member countries, and including a chatbot.
  • Several countries have announced initiatives to tackle fake news. India has launched a WhatsApp chatbot and Myanmar has created a special team. The UK (DfID) has announced funding focused on South-East Asia and Africa.
  • American Libraries Magazine has assembled a set of trusted resources with accurate information on the virus.

     b. Promoting behaviours that help

In his blog post on promoting behavioural change, Peter Harrington (Oxford Policy Management) calls on communicators to target messages to audiences’ values and to choose messengers whom people trust. Indeed, COVID-19 has unleashed people’s creativity, as OECD DevCom highlighted in its post about Viet Nam’s handwashing dance.

Here are some of our favourite links:


CHALLENGE #2: DEMONSTRATING ACTION AND BUILDING TRUST

Kirsty McNeill (Save the Children) proposes 12 rules for communicating during COVID-19. She calls on communicators to, for example: amplify the hope; show health workers as heroes; and remind people there’s a plan #ForPeopleForPlanet.

Many development organisations have made announcements about measures they are taking to stop the spread of the Coronavirus and address its impacts.


CHALLENGE #3: SECURING SUPPORT FOR INTERNATIONAL CO-OPERATION

Many of the above announcements by development organisations come hand-in-hand with a crucial message: our global challenges are universal, and we can only achieve a fairer, greener, safer tomorrow by working together. The COVID-19 crisis is thus an opportunity to remind audiences of the importance of our global efforts.

For different perspectives on the urgent need for more international and multilateral co-operation, we recommend the following readings:

  1. Tackling COVID-19: A Problem So Big, You Can See It From Space
    by Kaysie Brown and Megan Roberts (UN Foundation)

“By accentuating deep connections across multiple global challenges, the COVID-19 emergency should serve as a clarion call for heightened multilateral cooperation across multiple shared dilemmas, not simply in the public health domain.”

  1. Covid-19: time to unleash the power of international co-operation
    by Mario Pezzini (OECD Development Centre)

“The Covid-19 crisis is an opportunity to reconfigure multilateral co-operation, and engage governments on an equal footing to create joint solutions. International co-operation systems must draw on lessons that are already emerging and prepare not for the next crisis but for one that is already under way, and whose consequences will be many times larger: the climate emergency.”

  1. Tackling Coronavirus (COVID-19): Contributing to a Global Effort
    A joint statement by the Development Assistance Committee (DAC) of the OECD

“We recognise that COVID-19 is a global crisis that does not respect national boundaries. This crisis demands a strong, coordinated, inclusive and coherent global response. International and multilateral cooperation is more important now than ever.”

  1. Covid-19: Africa must act locally, but keep thinking globally
    by Olusegun Obasanjo, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Jonathan Oppeneimer

“It is crucial that the world’s leaders recognise that disease knows no boundaries, that this is not someone else’s problem, somewhere else… We should strengthen multilateral responses. We are all in this together.”

  1. Will European public opinion on international cooperation change in the face of COVID-19?
    by Katja Sergejeff (European External Affairs Programme).

“Diseases like COVID-19 do not respect national borders and the pandemic will have an impact on the discussions on global cooperation in the health sector. EU citizens may also demand a more fundamental reflection on the failures of European and international cooperation and a constituency for change may emerge after the crisis phase has passed.”