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  • Shawna Bruce

Hello? Is Anybody Listening?

Updated: Nov 18

This week, across Canada, we had five provinces (Ontario, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and Manitoba) with record-breaking numbers of infections and deaths due to COVID-19. On the deadliest day of the pandemic for the province of Manitoba, there was an anti-mask rally happening while triage was being done in cars in a hospital parking due to a lack of hospital space. Canada's top doctor Theresa Tam summed it up at a recent news conference stating, "Canada could potentially see 10,000 new daily-cases by mid-December."


We have failed to flatten the curve to avoid this unprecedented strain on our healthcare system. We do not have the hospital beds or the health professionals needed to manage this pandemic at this rate of growth.


Why are we failing so miserably as a society to do what is being asked of us? Why isn't anybody listening? Why are we not understanding how our individual actions really can make a difference?

My heart goes out to the communications teams across Canada. Every day they are being asked to help promote the wearing of masks, the washing of hands and imploring us to practice social distancing. They have been recycling and re-inventing the same risk messaging for months to get us to listen.


Let's speak directly to that risk messaging for a moment. I am a vocal advocate that we need researchers and risk and science experts working alongside communicators to make the science real for people. Scientists are not always great at communicating their research (there are exceptions to this generalization), and communicators aren't always effective when conveying the science (note comments above). But the magic happens when they are working together to present real facts and statistics that allow audiences to make informed decisions. Together, they can frame the information to have it make sense and share the truth.


The team at Fraser Health has produced some great examples of how transmission of the virus works and how one person can negatively impact so many. They have also created their communications in several different languages that reflect the cultural mosaic of their communities. But most importantly, they have made their resources available to others. Their approach is a good best practice to follow. Why can't we have a national toolbox for communicators so that they can share good examples of risk messaging templates that can be branded and localized to meet their needs? Why can't we stop re-inventing the wheel and focus efforts on creating clear, consistent, relevant, fact-based communications products?

As we start ramping up for increased cases and the potential for a vaccine on the horizon, we need to take a pause and ask our organizations the following questions:

  1. Are we emphasizing information relevant to practical actions individuals can take with good imagery and graphics? And, are we collaborating and leveraging good examples from others or always re-inventing the wheel?

  2. Are we writing in clear, plain language that is appropriate to the culture? And, are we offering it in the languages spoken in our community?

  3. Are we respecting our audiences and addressing their concerns? How are we monitoring to understand their concerns, and what is our feedback loop? Is it working?

  4. Is our organization the trusted source of information, or do we need to partner with someone who is?

  5. Where are audiences getting their information and, are we making the information available on these platforms or in these locations?

  6. Are we working with the science experts to share the facts about this pandemic in relevant ways?


Photo Credit: Fraser Health (November 2020)


We need to pivot our communications to ensure we are developing messaging that reflects the seriousness of our current situation. We need to be sharing the facts that highlight how individual actions can make a difference in stopping the transmission of this virus.


I recently read that our front-line health workers have now become our last line of defence. What happens next with COVID-19 into the Holidays and beyond is in our hands. The experts in this space recommend we double-down on washing those hands, wearing our masks and physically distancing to the point of staying home if you can. It is time we take heed, and ALL start listening to this advice.


#riskcommunications #communications #COVID19 #science #pandemic


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Risk and Crisis Communications, Emergency Public Information, Public Engagement and Media Training visit our website or connect with us at bruceandassociatesltd@gmail.com.

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