D2.4 Existing communication channels and guidelines
One of ENGAGE’s goals is to identify solutions that contribute to building societal resilience. More specifically, it aims at examining the existing processes, practices, approaches, tools, and guidelines for authorities and first responders.
The main goal of task 2.4 is to describe all the communication channels and guidelines that first responders and authorities use to communicate with society to improve societal resilience, in addition to understanding their communication strategies. Therefore, the deliverable objectives are: (1) To identify what communication channels and emerging technologies are used by authorities and first responders to communicate with the public and vice-versa. (2) To analyse the communication guidelines authorities and first responders use to manage the communication process. (3) The identify how the communication process is managed by authorities and first responders. (4) To understand how authorities and first responders consider the cultural and gender diversity of the population and refer to digital literacy in the communication process with the public.
The study of this deliverable is based on a qualitative approach. We analysed the communication channels and guidelines used by authorities and first responders, collected through snowball sampling. We also conducted 30 semi-structured interviews with professionals from authorities and first responders across seven countries.
The first research question addressed the communication channels and emerging technologies that authorities and first responders use to communicate with society and vice-versa. Findings showed that authorities and first responders use various communication channels to communicate with society and vice-versa, with a strong preference to traditional and social media. The study also showed that few organizations already started examining innovating and emerging technologies to improve the communication process. From the affordance’s perspective (i.e., what do the channels enable and what they do not), most organisations used communication channels that allow both unidirectional and multidirectional communication with society. However, it was noticeable that most of the communication process was conducted in a top-down approach.
The second research question examined the existence of written communication guidelines among authorities and first responders. Here, the picture was more complex. On the one hand, among international authorities (e.g., WHO, CDC), various communication guidelines were found. Also, it was found that concerning specific communication questions, such as what channels to use and in which events, who is authorised to use them and under what circumstances – authorities and first responders had written guidelines. These guidelines were implemented, in most cases, as a component within more general policy papers (e.g., like different chapters or sections) and in a few cases, also as independent guidelines. Regarding crises and emergency risk communication, there were very few written guidelines.
The third research question examined how messages are developed, what information is disseminated in the top-bottom communication, what information is needed and received in the bottom-up communication, and how the effectiveness and success of messages are measured. The interviews supported the findings of the first part of the analysis. They also provided more details on how messages are developed by authorities and first responders, their preference for top-down communication over bottom-up communication and how they measure the effectiveness of their communication strategy.
The fourth research question examined the differences between the communication process and the varied phases of emergencies and disasters, before, during and after crises. Regarding the use of communication channels, we showed that most channels are used in all phases of crises, excluding the specialized channels (e.g., warning systems that are relevant only for the initial alert phase). A similar picture was found regarding the use of communication guidelines.
The last research question focused on diversity. It examined how authorities and first responders refer to different genders, cultures and citizens from less fortunate societies (e.g., low socioeconomic status, digital illiteracies and more). While diversity was perceived to be very important by the interviewees, very few organisations described specific written guidelines that related to diversity. They relied heavily on oral practices, mainly regarding cultural diversity and minorities, and on training. Especially regarding gender diversity, several interviewees regarded it as a form of discrimination.
The findings of the study lead to several conclusions aligned with the initial objectives. The first conclusion is two-fold. On the one side, it relates to the wide choice of channels and the possibility of authorities and first responders to learn from each other and adopt new channels. On the other side, it emphasizes the importance of learning how to use these various channels properly.
The second conclusion is that more specified and unique communication guidelines should be developed. We recommend that as part of deliverable 2.5, ENGAGE will develop a document or a template to support the process of developing communication guidelines.
Following the second conclusion, the third conclusion is related to the need of authorities and first responders to develop organised procedures for developing messages, choosing communication channels, top-down information strategies and the role of bottom-up communication.
The fourth conclusion relates to the need to consider diversity in the communication process. This should be integrated within the communication guidelines.
Recommendations for future activities/work in ENGAGE
The discussion section described in detail the necessary recommendations for future WPs and deliverables. For D2.5: develop a suitable material for authorities and first responders, based on deliverable 2.4. For example, templates for developing communication strategies and diversity guidelines. For D3.1 and D3.2: the recommendations in deliverable 2.4 are part of the basis for the choice of promising solutions. Understanding how authorities and first responders design their communication strategy can also contribute to D3.2, which aims at recommending a blue print for an innovating emerging technology of an AI-chatbot. For D4.1: the identified uses of communication channels and the communication strategies of authorities and first responders can serve the initial validation process of solutions. For D5.1: the use of the results of this study is shaping ENGAGE’s communication and dissemination strategy. Last, for D5.4 and D5.5: the results contribute to the website and knowledge platform of ENGAGE.