Resource Overview

Role of Messaging in Risk Communication

Risk communication is the real-time exchange of information, advice, and opinions between experts or officials and people who face a threat to their survival, health, or economic or social well-being from a hazard (such as a zoonotic disease outbreak)[1]. Effective risk communication can manage people’s expectations during an emergency and assist response efforts by increasing efficiency and minimizing duplication or contradictory information.

As evidenced in the 2014-2015 West African Ebola outbreak, an effective response can depend on behavioral and social norm changes. These changes require robust, trustworthy communication and commitment to community engagement to support those affected by an outbreak to:

● Define the issue or problems affecting them.

● Reflect on the causes of the issues including how their behaviors impact them.

● Identify their ability to improve the issue.

● Organize themselves to address the issue.

Engaging communities prior to an event fosters trust and strengthens dynamic exchange between communities and health facilities that can accelerate community-led action in an emergency situation. Community engagement helps to ensure communities see the benefit in adopting the behaviors advocated in an emergency response and willingly cooperate with response teams.[2]

Coordinated, consistent messages are critical to providing an effective communication response, enabling multiple stakeholders to speak and engage the people they serve with one clear voice across all channels of communication.

[1] WHO Risk Communications Webpage.[2] The Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3). (2017) The SBCC Emergency Helix: A Framework for Strengthening Public Health Emergency Programs with Social and Behavior Change Communication. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs.

Purpose of this Resource

The purpose of this document is to provide a synthesized, indexed reference of accurate, standardized COVID-19 information from the World Health Organization (WHO) and other trustworthy sources. This information is presented in simple, clear language to support the development of messages and materials needed for communication interventions.

As information is rapidly evolving, as the world learns more about COVID-19, it can be challenging to navigate and synthesize all the information presented online. This resource aims to facilitate easy access to recommendations from the WHO, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and other trusted sources to provide an easy way to check the technical accuracy of information and link directly to associated content on relevant websites to:

Support the sharing of consistent and credible information across numerous channels.

Inform activities and materials designed to raise awareness, promote healthy behaviors, and mobilize individuals, families and communities to take action to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Provide a foundation of credible information to which more detailed and specific information can be added as it becomes available.

Provide a tool that can be easily adapted to individual country contexts to support coordinated response activities.

The primary intended audience of this resource includes program staff designing or implementing COVID-19 risk communication messages or community engagement activities. This could include staff from government ministries, departments, agencies, and supporting technical partners.

The ultimate intended audiences of the messages that may be developed based on this synthesized guidance include, but are not limited to, the public at large, employers, health care workers, schools, industries, and those working as a part of COVID-response.

The content in this document is directly referenced from WHO and CDC websites, as well as other trusted expert sources. It is presented along with source links and associated documents in alignment with the principles for effective message development for risk communication in the table below. This list, as well as additional tools and guidance to support the selection and adaptation of information in this guide for different contexts and audience needs, is provided in Part 6 of this document.

The organization of the document and how to navigate it are described below.

Tool: The Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Risk Communication Message Development

Using this Resource

It is recommended to consult this reference resource guide when designing communication tools, messages, and/or interventions for COVID-19. The information appropriate to your audience needs can be selected and content can be applied through a full spectrum of communication activities and channels as appropriate to your context and needs. Examples of these communication activities include but are not limited to:

  • Public announcements and press conferences/releases

  • Media communication (print, video, radio, and public awareness campaigns) and social media

  • Social mobilization and partner engagement

  • Interpersonal communication

  • Community engagement as appropriate.

Please note that not all information or messages are appropriate for every activity or channel of communication.

  • It is recommended to review the principles of effective messaging presented in Part 6 of this document before developing messages and materials with the content presented in the guide.

  • It is also recommended to identify your intended audience and understand their specific needs and barriers, as possible, before designing interventions or developing messages.

Understanding the behaviors, knowledge, aspirations, and feelings of an audience can help identify information needs to frame messages and activities that resonate and motivate behavior change. It also informs the selection of approaches and delivery channels to which audiences are more likely to respond for the desired changes to occur.

Your messages may need to be adapted for the intended audience, channel, or activity being designed depending on the context of when, where, and how the messages you develop will be used. Pre-testing of any materials is recommended, if possible (See Part 6)

Navigating this Resource

This reference resource is organized into 6 parts primarily based on broad audience categories. Each part may contain content that is relevant or of interest for different groups or sub-audiences, as indicated by the topic questions.

Part 1: Orientation to this Resource: Provides an orientation to the resource.

Part 2: Content relevant to the General Public: Catalogues and presents information for the prevention, detection, and general management of COVID-19 along with other commonly asked questions and information on a variety of cross-cutting topics that have broad relevance for the public at large.

Part 3: Content relevant to Health Workers and Health Facilities: Catalogues and presents information relevant for health workers and others working in or managing care facilities, and provides links to additional technical and operational guidance provided by WHO and CDC for those working with these groups.

Part 4: Content relevant to School Administrators, Teachers, Parents/ Caregivers, and Children and Adolescents: Catalogues and presents information and resources related to school safety and management in the context of COVID-19, as well as guidance developed by UNICEF and WHO for talking with youth of different ages about COVID-19.

Part 5: Content and Technical Guidance Resources relevant to Special Industry, Response Organizations, Program Managers, and Decision Makers: Catalogues and presents information and links to operational and technical guidance provided by WHO and CDC related to the travel industry and ports of entry as well as those working in settings like migrant camps, prisons, COVID-19 test laboratories, wet markets. It further includes information and links to operational and technical guidance provided by WHO and CDC for authorities, decision makers and actors supporting case management, surveillance, and other response pillars. Additional audiences include other health and social service program staff including, but not limited to, those in working in the areas of malaria, immunization, HIV, and homelessness.

Part 6: Resources and Tools for Messaging: provides a short package of tools and templates from the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs and other partners on effective messaging design, selection of communication channels, audience needs and pretesting to support adaptation and use of the information presented in parts 2-5.

Within Parts 2-5, information is presented in a frequently asked question format organized under broad topic headings.The full range of topic headings addressed in a particular part is easily accessed by clicking on the part icon and header listed on the home page (image below left). The side bar also allows for easy movement between the different parts of the document (image below right).

The full range of sections associated with each part is easily viewed by clicking on the topic of interest.

Frequently asked questions associated with each topic heading is accessible by clicking on the question.

Topics of interest can also be quickly accessed by using the search function, indicated by the magnifying glass icon in the top right corner.

Search results will appear as noted here.

Internal links through the document also facilitate access between sections of the document that have related content. For example, any reference to physical or social distancing is linked to the associated topic heading and frequently asked questions.

Under each topic question, top-line content is presented first, followed by information that provides additional detail, anticipates audience concerns, and seeks to answer the questions how and why for each promoted behavior.

Efforts are taken to ensure each topic is comprehensive, as some readers may not have time to review entire sections of the reference resource. As a result, there is repetition of some information between associated topics, or across the different parts of the resource guide.

External links to the sources of the content and technical guidance provided are posted at the end of each section (on the right-hand side) as seen to the right. The date the website was last visited is noted alongside the source.

Checking these source links along with national and local guidelines as you use the guide is highly encouraged as guidance may change rapidly.

Differences between WHO and CDC guidance (such as the recommendation on physical distance) are noted and linked for your reference and discussion at the country level.

Checking these source links along with national and local guidelines as you use the guide is highly encouraged as guidance may change rapidly.

Process for Development and Update

The world is still learning about COVID-19, and guidance is changing rapidly in response to new knowledge and evolving characteristics of the outbreak and the global response.

As there is much that is yet unknown about COVID-19, this document presents information and content that is publicly available and endorsed on The World Health Organization and The US Centers for Disease Control websites, as global leaders in the response to the pandemic. Other content is included when it comes from a credible expert on a specific technical area, as noted and referenced in that specific area. Links to source information are provided for each topic along with the date the page was last visited.

The final update to this guide was made on September 25, 2020. As noted earlier, it is recommended to use the links provided under each topic question as a simple cross check to the information in the guide.