Impact Canada

COVID-19 Communications to Drive Positive Behaviour Change

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Key Insights

To help maximize the accuracy and effectiveness of communications materials in Canada, Impact Canada reviewed over 125 sources to rapidly garner insights on what is working in COVID-19 communications campaigns and policy responses internationally, as well as what has been effective during past epidemics more broadly.

The following key themes and additional considerations were identified:

Demonstrating Efficacy

Contextualized experimental evidence (i.e., tested as COVID response)

In crisis situations, people are more likely to engage in the desired behaviour if:

  1. they think the infection would cause severe illness for them,
  2. the behaviour is perceived as effective,
  3. the behaviour is perceived as having few costs/barriers,
  4. they believe they could perform the behaviour if they wanted to.

Evoking Strong Emotional Responses

Contextualized experimental evidence (i.e., tested as COVID response)

Emotions are strong drivers of behaviour, including disgust, fear, and appeals to empathy. Used with care and coupled with advice about protective actions, evoking an emotional response can amplify messaging efforts.


Emphasizing Collective Action, Altruism/Moral Responsibility and Civic Duty

Behavioural science literature on crisis communication

Emphasizing that self- isolating and physical distancing are altruistic choices in that they help keep each other safe - especially vulnerable populations - can drive compliance in times of public health pandemic, as can communicating gratitude for supporting greater social good.


Making Social Norms Salient

Behavioural science literature on crisis communication

We conform to normative information about other people’s current attitudes and behaviors. Ads should build strong norms around protective behaviours, making them seem normal and expected by making unseen behaviours more visible and leveraging dynamic norms (i.e., information about how other people’s behavior is changing over time).


Emphasizing Adaptiveness and Instilling a Sense of Control to Support Mental Health

Public health literature on strategic communication during pandemics/epidemics

Uncertainty and loss of control while in self-isolation have been suggested as possible drivers of negative mental health outcomes. Ads should provide support to the general public to effectively cope with quarantine and isolation, including practical advice on seeking help, maintaining a routine, exercising at home, combating boredom, and engaging with loved ones virtually.


Addressing pandemic fatigue

Public health literature on strategic communication during pandemics/epidemics

However unwarranted, perceived severity of the pandemic may decrease over time, leading willingness to perform protective behaviours or comply with other public health advice to also decrease among the general population. It is important for ads to acknowledge and reinforce long-term effort and temporal framing, as appropriate, to combat potential “pandemic fatigue”.


Sources

  1. Behavioural science literature on crisis communication, as well as public health literature on strategic communication during epidemics;
  2. Rigorous experimental data from international messaging trials (e.g., UK, Ireland) that tested public perceptions of COVID-19 communication materials, as well as the psychological mechanisms likely driving their efficacy; and,
  3. PCO’s internal behavioural science expertise, as well as insights from a global community of academics, practitioners, and experts actively applying a behavioural lens to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The key insights outlined above were put forward in a report. Impact Canada has and continues to work with communications partners across the government of Canada to apply these insights to specific departmental needs in response to COVID-19, as well as to roll-out behaviourally-informed social media campaigns.

Interested in receiving the full insights report? Contact us here.

Summary

Objective

Support the development of federal COVID-19 communications to drive positive behavioural change.

Approach

Application of the principles of behavioural insights and what is working internationally to the development of federal COVID-19 communications campaigns.

Contact Us

For more information, contact the Impact and Innovation Unit of the Privy Council Office.