April 12, 2021
“How does a communication officer decide which COVID message to share on? If I share every piece of information I receive, does that create greater confusion?” HealthWest’s communication officer reflects on these and other unexpected questions that COVID raised in her work and how this led to the development of the Better Health Communication project.
Last year threw up a series of new communication dilemmas that I had not yet experienced as a communications officer for an organisation working in public health.
I was getting many requests to share new and adapted COVID messages from different sources, mostly reputable organisations seeking to address gaps in the official health information for specific cohorts, such as cultural and linguistically diverse groups (CALD).
The urgency of the pandemic made me feel compelled to quickly re-share and distribute information I received to my networks. But I had so many questions.
How do I decide which information to share?
How do I know which version is better than the other?
How do I check or vouch for the accuracy and appropriateness of a particular translation?
If I share every piece of information I receive, would that create greater confusion?
At a deeper level, I wondered if all the work going into these messages was actually helping the people that needed to hear, read or watch it.
Quite a few articles last year have already touched on the various communication issues raised by COVID: the need for stronger community engagement, the importance of trusted messengers, a more vigorous translation process (Grills & Butcher, 2020; Abby Wild, 2020; Abigail Wild et al., 2021).
Most of this is focused, rightly so, on engaging with the intended audience and getting the message right. But in this blog, I’d like to also raise the importance of trust among people who work in communication-related roles.
The importance of trust
Responding to any communication requires a level of trust. Different groups of people trust different sources or messengers to different degrees. We see an excellent example of this in cohealth’s communication strategies through the “health concierge” program, where trusted, familiar local residents are empowered and trained to support their neighbours in the same housing estate (Eddie, 2021; Renaldi, 2021).
While we instinctively understand the importance of trust in public health messaging, we might miss the need for trust also among staff who regularly produce health messages. This includes communication staff, translation or language teams, service delivery staff and health promotion officers.
When I was most inundated with requests, the information I tended to share was from organisations I knew and staff who I had some connection with. I felt I could trust their processes, that they would also ask the same questions I was asking, and that I could reach out to them with questions if I needed to.
Rolling out information requires trust at every level, including among the staff doing the communication work. This trust cannot be built in a hurry. Yet for the most part, people who work in health communication remain siloed in their own organisations, and often even within their own department.
This has negative consequences because useful knowledge and resources are not shared, work is duplicated, and staff feel isolated and cut off from peer support.
Leveraging local knowledge and networks
The Better Health Communication project has been created with the belief that we can leverage the collective local knowledge already existing in teams and organisations across Melbourne’s west, and that together we can support each other to better communicate about COVID to all members of our communities.
While the focus of this project is on COVID messages to CALD communities, the deeper drive behind this is the hope that a stronger network between staff who communicate about health across a region might support better health communication more generally.
Go to the Better Health Communication site
For more info
Contact Deb Tan, Communications Project Manager
Eddie, R. (2021, April 4). The shot messengers: Public housing residents trained to advise on vaccines. The Age. https://www.theage.com.au/national/victoria/the-shot-messengers-public-housing-residents-trained-to-advise-on-vaccines-20210331-p57fiu.html
Grills, N., & Butcher, N. (2020, September 4). Better engaging culturally diverse communities during COVID-19 [The University of Melbourne]. Pursuit. https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/better-engaging-culturally-diverse-communities-during-covid-19
Renaldi, E. (2021, March 20). Residents of Melbourne’s hard tower lockdowns mobilise against off-radar COVID misinformation. ABC News. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-03-20/covid19-community-efforts-to-combat-vaccine-misinformation/100015548
Wild, A. (2020, September 7). Rethinking the COVID message for multicultural communities [Monash University]. Monash Lens. https://lens.monash.edu/@politics-society/2020/09/07/1381215?slug=rethinking-the-covid-message-for-multicultural-communities
Wild, A., Kunstler, B., Goodwin, D., Onyala, S., Zhang, L., Kufi, M., Salim, W., Musse, F., Mohideen, M., Asthana, M., Al-Khafaji, M., Geronimo, M. A., Coase, D., Chew, E., Micallef, E., & Skouteris, H. (2021). Communicating COVID-19 health information to culturally and linguistically diverse communities: Insights from a participatory research collaboration | PHRP. Public Health Research & Practice, 31(1), e3112105. https://doi.org/10.17061/phrp3112105