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OECD Report - First lessons from government evaluations of COVID-19 responses

Posted On Feb 12, 2022 |

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development just released their first evaluation report on COVID-19 responses in several countries.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected different countries with varying degrees of intensity, managing the crisis has presented most governments with an unprecedented challenge. This OECD paper draws lessons from the assessments that governments themselves have conducted on their COVID -19 responses.

It summarises the findings from 67 such evaluations conducted in OECD countries during the first 15 months of the pandemic. These initial evaluations show that many governments have reached similar conclusions and allow us to draw important lessons that can inform ongoing policy responses to the crisis and enhance future resilience.

Our analysis.

We're very pleased that the importance of good risk and crisis communication is clearly mentioned as one of the key messages.

Trust is the cornerstone of any communication activity during an emergency or long-term crisis such as the current pandemic and this is also recognised in this report.

"Trust requires transparency, not only through frequent and targeted crisis communication,but,more importantly,by engaging stakeholders and the public in risk-related decision-making."

It's strange, however, to find "internal communication" as a key finding in this report. Many of us who specialise in risk and crisis communication know that internal communication and coordination always come first - above all else.

It seems that many governments are either discovering this well known truth or are finding it a real challenge to create good internal channels.

"To be effective, crisis management needs to rely on predefined internal communication and reporting channels, which can prove challenging between levels of government."

The framework for assessing COVID -19 responses in this report places "crisis communication" only under the crisis management part of the emergency cycle.

Again, as professionals, we know that risk communication and crisis communication go hand in hand at all stages - including preparation, response and recovery.

Some may argue that "risk communication" only takes place before an emergency and "crisis communication" during - we argue that "emergency risk communication" should be part of the whole cycle.

Some key recommendations/finding on communication in the report:

  • Evaluators reported that conveying relevant information in a timely manner to the local or regional level and to front-line staff was a major challenge encountered by governments in their response to the crisis.
  • This particular evaluation points to the need to simplify information channels and chains of command in times of crisis by having the national government talk directly to the local level.
  • 58% of centres of government that responded to the OECD 2020 Understanding Public Communication Survey identified crisis communication as the most challenging communication competency, namely due to human resource and co-ordination-related issues. A majority of countries stated in the same survey that they deploy surge capacity or staff to support their communication during crises.
  • Some governments paid special attention to producing communication material in multiple languages (whether in the form of social media posts, podcasts,or apps) and to targeting specific audiences, such as hard-to-reach populations.
  • Yet, governments encountered important issues linked to the consistency and clarity of messages relating to critical health issues. The increased frequency of communication and rapidly changing narratives may have led to mixed messages and hindered mitigation and recovery efforts.
  • Governments could consider implementing more collaborative forms of crisis communication, moving away from a one-way, top-down approach, and engaging in conversations with a variety of stakeholders to co-construct messages and learn from their concerns and experiences.

You can download and read the full report here: First lessons from government evaluations of COVID -19 responses: A synthesis

Categories: Crisis Communication, Risk Communication