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[Protocol] PubliCo. A new risk and crisis communication platform to bridge the gap between policy makers and the public in the context of the COVID-19 crisis

Giovanni Spitale; Sonja Merten; Kristen Jafflin; Bettina Schwind; Andrea Kaiser-Grolimund; Nikola Biller-Andorno

Introduction

Since the end of 2019, COVID-19 has unfolded significant impact on citizens around the globe. While more severe measures are being reinstalled in order to curb flareups, it is likely that public adherence will gradually decrease, and that discontent will start to mount. Providing high-quality information and countering fake news is not enough. What is needed in addition is creating feedback loops: In order to continuously refine and adjust preventive measures and communication strategies, policy-makers and authorities need information – preferably based on real-time data – on how the public receive the messages delivered, not only at a cognitive but also at an emotional and behavioural level.

Methods and Analysis

Against this backdrop, our project aims to develop a tool that helps tackle the “infodemic” manifested in the COVID-19 context, with a focus on a nuanced and in-depth understanding of public perception. We intend to foster effective and tailored risk and crisis communication as well as an assessment of the risks and benefits of prevention, containment and control measures, as their effectiveness will crucially depend on public trust and cooperation. The project adopts a trans-disciplinary multi-stakeholder approach including a participatory citizen science component. Methodologically, we propose a combination of literature and media review and analysis, and empirical studies using mixed methods. Building on real-time data and continuous data collection, our research results will be highly adaptable to the evolution of the current emergency (e.g., with respect to vaccine development).

Ethics and dissemination

PubliCo does not fall under the scope of the Swiss Human Rsearch Act. However, being conscious of the risks that such a tool could create in a non-democratic context, we meticulously self-assessed potential risks and took care to ensure data protection in the coding and structure of PubliCo.

Project results, interpretative briefs and intermediate datasets will be publicly available via the project website (www.publico.community) and via open science repositories (Zenodo).

Strengths and limitations of this study

  • PubliCo is a new modular and flexible tool to provide bi-directional interaction between citizens and policy-makers for risk and crisis communication
  • PubliCo relies on quantitative and qualitative data to provide a precise, timely and rich analysis of complex phenomena
  • PubliCo is open and transparent by design
  • Although important safeguards are put in place at a code level, in a non-democratic context it could be used to spy on people
  • Communicating complex notions with moral implications (e.g. health risks) is a challenge.

This work is part of the PubliCo research project.

This project is supported by the Swiss National Science Foundation, project number 31CA30_195905, by the WHO, and by the Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI)
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