KWR rapport - KWR 2020.074

Guiding Principles for Effective Communication during a Public Health Crisis


Crisis communication is most often associated with public relations, and attempts to manage public perceptions of a crisis event so that harm is minimised for both the public, including the wider community, victims and their families, and the organisations’ reputation and image. Science communication in turn is communicating science to an audience to help them make informed decisions. Combined, both crisis and science communications aim to support the target audience in question with information to minimise harm through informed decision-making. This report includes a literature review, a list of guiding principles, applications comparing to real world examples, and interviews with KWR colleagues, all delivering an overview of science and crisis communication in times of public health emergencies. The analysis is articulated into categories of how to approach a crisis communications strategy, as per the literature: Strategy, Form and Content (Coombs, 2019), with guiding principles of science and crisis communication identified and explained.
The aim of this report is to support an integrated and resilient crisis communications approach for KWR, partners and members, enabling the delivery of coordinated and cohesive messages to its target audiences. To this purpose, the report includes several operational and practical tools to apply effective science communication methods during times of crisis. The tools are: 1) A step-by-step guide on how to communicate during a crisis; 2) An analysis and summary of “do’s and don’ts” in crisis communications from real world cases; 3) Application of the guiding principles in KWR research (COVID19 and toxicology); and
4) A presentation for colleagues on how to implement these guiding principles across teams, and sharing with partners and members of different groups (BTO network, for example).
Another output of this study is a blog shared on the Watershare and KWR websites and in the BTO newsletter, to reach interested parties.
Finally, it is important to note that this report is a starting point and can be improved upon with lessons learned from KWR staff and partners and future research. The report is structured as follows. Section 1 describes science communication in general, followed by definitions of crisis and risk communications provided in Section 2. Section 3 dives into the guiding principles within each category to deliver effective communications during a public health crisis, followed by a special section on considerations about when communicating with the media (Section 4). Finally, Section 5 concludes and highlights a way forward with future research opportunities.

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