Reflecting on COVID-19 communications
Karen S. Palmer is a health care systems analyst and policy researcher, an adjunct professor at Simon Fraser University, and a Senior Research Associate with CanCOVID.ca. She has been joining the COVID-19 Open Online Briefings since early on in the pandemic and has recently launched a Perspectives Brief entitled “How Language Shapes Change: Perspectives on the Most and Least Effective Communication Strategies and Tactics during the COVID-19 Pandemic” Download: English / Français.
It is my nature and training to have a global perspective, but it can be easy to forget that there’s still a pandemic and can even feel isolating, like being among the few wearing a mask at the supermarket nowadays. But, joining 4SD’s Open Online Briefings, I am constantly reminded that we are a global community, that we share values and purpose, that the pandemic is not over, that we can all contribute to the solution, that we can always do better. In writing this new report on COVID communication strategies, I learned that the words we use, and how we communicate with the public to make meaning, really matters. I learned that radical transparency in public communications is critical, and that being honest when we are uncertain helps to build trust and fend off misinformation.
“How Language Shapes Change: Perspectives on the Most and Least Effective Communication Strategies and Tactics during the COVID-19 Pandemic” Download: English / Français.
The Briefings provide a safe space for sharing and they are the only place that I know of where there is real time information from people in-country across different continents – I can have a sense of what is going on that hasn’t been filtered through other kinds of media. How else would I hear the struggles of today from someone in Mozambique, Chile, Nepal, and the UK all in a one-hour session? The unfiltered nature of the Briefings allows me to hear the raw emotion in peoples voices and their concerns about what is really happening on the ground in that moment in their life. It anchors information in a way that we can’t hear otherwise. Issues ranging from long-COVID, to the recent earthquake in Türkiye and Syria, are all summarised delicately by David Nabarro; for me the Briefings are a touchstone.
The sensemaking and reflection which is part of what 4SD promotes, shares much synergy with this new publication, where the story is told by informants from Canada and beyond. I am simply the listener and narrator – the story is what I learned from the informants – all communications scholars and/or practitioners – and I can honestly say, this is one of the most interesting reports I have ever worked on. It provokes questions of what will we learn, what could we have done better, and – perhaps most important –will we have the insight and courage to reflect on our mistakes and do some things differently going forward?
I hope that something in this report resonates with people who read it, and that something might change their own practice in how they communicate. In this world where we are all connected in one big complex system, and where the pandemic has exemplified our global connection, we must communicate with meaning, within and beyond our local/provincial and national bubbles.
We can all connect and communicate better with one another and be a part of the solution.
About this 4SD Reflection
This article is a reflection by Karen S. Palmer, inspired by the 4SD Foundation Open Online Briefings of Dr David Nabarro.
Participants of the 4SD Foundation Open Online Briefings are invited to share their reflections on how they are navigating complexities from their own perspectives. The views and opinions expressed in these reflections do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of 4SD as an organization or it’s associated personnel. Any content provided by authors are of their opinion and are not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual or anyone or anything.
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