Europe is better prepared to cope with mass outbreaks like Swine Flu or Ebola, thanks to a multi-year, Europe-wide research project. Tech experts, governments and universities have worked together to discover precisely how people act in pandemic situations and what authorities can do to change their behaviour. The result is the Effective Communication in Outbreak Management (Ecom) toolbox, an open resource of the basics authorities need to communicate with the public in a disaster scenario – from questionnaires and blueprints for apps to data gathering tools.
Results & Impact
Recommendations and a toolbox comprised of seven key messages, such as variability in how personal risk is perceived and how health workers interact with communities. Resources including questionnaires, apps and infographic templates are now available online for all European governments to use, in the event of a national or Europe-wide pandemic such as Swine Flu or Ebola
Erasmus MC, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, Hamburg University of Applied Sciences, Radboud University, Strategic Social Marketing, Rotterdam Rijnmond Public Health Service, Centre for Bioethics and Social Science in Medicine University of Michigan, Elastique
Marketing and design agencies from the private sector collaborated with universities and government bodies to conduct Europe-wide research into behaviour patterns, risk perception and effective crisis communication. The findings of the research were used to develop an openly accessible toolbox for government to use in the event of a disease epidemic, including questionnaires and checklists to assess risks and communication needs and templates for disseminating information to the public
Cost & Value
Resources are free for governments to use
A cross-sector research project is using governments, universities, research institutes and private companies to prepare the EU for the possibility of a major disease epidemic.
The research program Ecom – Effective Communication in Outbreak Management: development of an evidence based tool for Europe – came to a close in February 2016, after four years of work. As a result of the research the project has created an adaptable, research-driven toolbox of resources and guidance, equipping governments to communicate in the event of a major outbreak.
The online suite includes downloadable questionnaires that governments can use to find out the likely take-up of vaccinations among communities, and checklists for assessing the urgency of a given pandemic situation. Ecom’s team of experts from the worlds of social marketing or epidemiology are also available to provide analysis of a government’s own data-gathering, or to offer specialised advice.
The toolbox also supports governments to put those solutions into practice. It provides prototypes for posters and interactive resources to educate the public about pandemics, communicating the roles of different authorities and agencies. The Pandemic Information Life Assistance app helps people analyse their own level of risk and guides them in how they should behave in emergency situations. These are designed to be put into use when a pandemic situation strikes, regardless of the nature of the virus itself.
Tools are based on seven key findings areas. They include the importance of trustworthy source information, the media’s tendency to focus on discrete, high-profile stories rather than the broader messages governments want to communicate, and the role of health workers in encouraging vaccination take-up.
Mass disease outbreaks present special problems for governments. Although scientific knowledge regarding disease control and prevention has increased in recent years, communicating this knowledge and its practical lessons, such as the need for vaccinations or antiviral therapy, is challenging.
Ecom’s cross-sectoral approach, bringing together scientific expertise, government knowledge and the social and behavioural expertise of marketing firms and design agencies, responds to this problem. The result is a preparedness strategy founded on how ordinary people make choices, perceive risk and respond to government messaging. Often, this isn’t the way decision makers expect.
One of the seven major conclusions of the report, for example, criticised a tendency among policy makers to assume that people always make rational and evidence-based decisions about their health. It urged instead an approach that took into account more complex environmental, social, behavioural and economic factors, adapting messaging to different groups and allowing for engagement with public health workers, among other steps.
In keeping with the expertise of the report, conclusions and response tools are packaged in an open format that prioritises ease of communication and use.The private companies involved in the project include Elastique, a design and communications agency based in Germany, have developed digital and printed tools that communicate complicated ideas to policy makers and providers in an accessible way. Strategic Social Marketing, experts in marketing and communication, applied their analytical tools to research on vaccination behaviour and service delivery.
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