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6 Ways to Incorporate Social Context and Trust in Infodemic Management

By Wayan Vota on April 30, 2021

covid-19 infodemic

Please RSVP Now to learn more about information integrity at the Global Digital Development Forum on May 5. Our amazing agenda features a conference track dedicated to information integrity during an infodemic in English, French, and Spanish languages.

During the COVID-19 digital response, people seek more information, from more sources than usual in order to make sense of their situation. Infodemiology is not only about guiding people to the best and most trustworthy information but also about:

  • Understanding how they seek information,
  • How they communicate with others,
  • Why they trust some pieces of information and not others,
  • How best to include them in formulating new and more appropriate information and messages.

Through dialogue and inclusion, they will become partners in the co-creation of knowledge, the embedding of better understanding and the adoption of the most effective behaviours.

The political and social context in which information is circulating is at least as important as the quality of information. It may not matter how accurate information is if people are not prepared to believe it. If they do not believe it, they will not act on it.

Just providing accurate information is not enough to ensure people make the right decisions. Information must be delivered through trusted sources. Misinformation gains traction and multiplies when trust in government authorities and health providers is low. But trust is a process: it cannot be built overnight.

Tackling misinformation may inadvertently strengthen the claims of those who spread it.
Banning misinformation and the channels over which it is shared, or penalising people who create and/or circulate inaccurate information, can backfire by adding credence to claims of government or corporate censorship and repression of alternative views.

6 Ways to Increase Trust in Infodemic Management

This Social Science in Humanitarian Action Brief looks at how building trust in public health authorities and epidemic response takes time and is an ongoing process. However, in the short term, mistrust can be mitigated by responding in contextually appropriate ways through meaningful community engagement:

1. Use social science to understand the socio-economic, political and historical context in which information is circulating.

The worldviews of an affected community will impact how information is filtered. Local contexts and cultural framings can shape meanings and influence how information is received, interpreted and shared, and determine which voices are most trusted. Recognizing this will help to identify key influencers and platforms, common ground, potential allies and main challenges.

2. Adapt communications to respond to the concerns of different groups of people, using trusted sources and platforms.

There are many affected communities, facing common challenges but each has unique needs. It is important to adapt messages to reflect the diversity of audiences – offline and online. Use language, rationales and justifications that appeal directly to target groups.

Consider how different meanings could be attributed to particular phrases or images and what feelings these might evoke. Test all communications outputs (videos, posters, messages) with intended audiences. Focus on understanding the role of local news media, advertising platforms, artistic representations and community platforms as well as online media.

3. Establish dialogue and create feedback systems.

People need to be able to express their views, opinions and concerns and freely ask questions that will be answered by people they trust. Appropriate suggestions should be incorporated into response and future plans to ensure people feel included and heard.

Perceptions can change as events unfold: engagement needs to be ongoing to understand why and to identify barriers and enablers that influence capability to sustain, as well as to adopt, positive health behaviours. Behavioural change is more likely to be successful and sustainable if the community is directly involved in developing solutions from the earliest stages.

4. Include diverse groups and listen with an open mind

Misinformation and rumours are influenced by people’s life experiences and current situation. Information and communications should be empathetic rather than judgemental or patronising. Infodemic management needs to engage with multiple stakeholders, including media agencies and platforms through which messages will be disseminated.

Consultations should include representatives of vulnerable and marginalised groups who understand the practical challenges faced by their communities, and the origins of concerns and barriers. Place them at the centre of efforts to engage communities and build relationships based on pre-established trust.

5. Be transparent, consistent and open, particularly about uncertainty, controversy and mistakes.

Be honest about what is being done in response to the epidemic. Be open about what is known and unknown and where there is uncertainty; prepare audiences for the likelihood that advice may change.

Be clear about how decisions have been made and transparent about who played a role in decision-making (e.g. pharmaceutical companies, private outsourcing, the role of decentralised authorities, representatives of minorities, etc.). If new information suggests that mistakes have been made, be honest about this and explain what is being done to address them.

6. Offer compelling narratives that build a sense of capability and motivation to act.

Develop accurate messages that explain the truth clearly rather than only dismissing misinformation and debunking myths. The same information reaches different audiences: understand who these audiences are and what their distinct, and potentially competing concerns may be.

Recognise where concerns originate and identify what messages are more likely to generate positive emotional response and a sense of togetherness and solidarity. Social scientists can support infodemic managers to engage local communities, build trust and co-create solutions and messages that are more likely to lead to effective responses.

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Written by
Wayan Vota co-founded ICTworks and is the Digital Health Director at IntraHealth International. He also co-founded Technology Salon, MERL Tech, ICTforAg, ICT4Djobs, ICT4Drinks, JadedAid, Kurante, OLPC News and a few other things. Opinions expressed here are his own and do not reflect the position of IntraHealth International or other ICTWorks sponsors.
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