Public outreach strategies during a pandemic

In effort to inform and engage the entire nation, countries must devise strategies for the general public along with customized approaches for unique population groups.

 

Public outreach is a significant part of the fight against Covid-19. The main goal is to engage the public in the fight by raising awareness, through education on the health risks and information about safety guidelines. To achieve this, governments are required to use a variety of methods and communication platforms in order to reach the entire population.

 

We’ve seen that information campaigns which broadcast a national slogan will resonate with the public, promoting the assimilation of the guidelines and increasing awareness. However, unique communities and demographics in the population should be addressed with more personalized public outreach efforts.

 

Common strategies as part of a global effort to inform and engage the public:

  1. Positive messages from the government.
  2. Information provided by government officials to the public — Experts claim that this information method contributes to the credibility of the citizens.
  3. Official websites in almost all countries with information about the pandemic situation. Various guidelines can be found on the official government websites, which are updated daily.
  4. A strong national information campaign slogan: Spain’s “Defeating the coronavirus”; Germany’s “Staying at home to prevent infection and contagion”; Russia’s “Stopping the corona”.
  5. Apps and text messaging alerts.
  6. Public service announcements broadcasted on television.
  7. Visual advertising and printed signs.
  8. Social network sharing.
  9. Adapting campaigns for minorities and unique populations — In order to convey the messages to all sections of the population, personalized campaigns are required for certain target audiences, such as ultra-Orthodox communities.

 

Adapting the national information campaign for ultra-Orthodox communities

Informing the ultra-Orthodox sector posed a significant challenge due to its unique characteristics and lifestyles. Our experience with the community in Bnei Brak has taught us what the difficulties are, and how to overcome them successfully.

 

Characteristics of the ultra-Orthodox sector

The ultra-Orthodox sector is a closed community, which makes internal decisions to manage internal systems and institutes. The sector has many disagreements with the state and its views, including the approach to the field of medicine. The ultra-Orthodox sector maintains a completely different lifestyle from the common lifestyle in Israel, and therefore receives independent status in the management of community life.

 

The ultra-Orthodox sector’s reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic

In the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, the infection rates in ultra-Orthodox sector immediately increased due to the high population density, family size, lifestyle and lack of connection to the media. The ultra-Orthodox public expressed its sentiment of not believing in the pandemic, and was severely criticized in the media for their approach to dealing with the high infection rates. In addition, the first restrictions imposed included a temporary ban on prayer in synagogues, and restricted movement/arrangements for Passover. All of these factors have left the ultra-Orthodox public withdrawn, defensive and confused.

 

Dedicated information effort for the ultra-Orthodox sector
The information provided by the state was not resonating with the ultra-Orthodox cities due to discordance of standpoints — national narratives instead of religious values — and most of it was not reaching the sector due to a lack of connection to the media in these cities.

 

  1. Harnessing the leadership: The ultra-Orthodox public is divided into sub-sectors led by separate leaders. Harnessing the power of the public is only possible by first harnessing the power of the leaders. Due to this fact, conferences were held in the presence of the sub-sectors leaders along with doctors, experts, and government representatives in order to hold a dialogue, present the data, and explain the dangers. Following these conferences, the leaders decided to close the synagogues and distribute new guidelines in the context of prayer and Passover.
  2. Distribution of an instruction brochure: A printed handout which includes full explanations of all the relevant concepts, dangers, as well as recommended actions and new lifestyle accommodations.
  3. Speakers and announcements systems: Vehicles circulating all across the town to diffuse information and the new guidelines.
  4. Signage: Signs warning of the presence of a verified patient in the building were hung throughout the city, as well as signs detailing the new guidelines with the signatures of the rabbis.
  5. The synagogue as an information hub: In synagogues, where there is a lot of activity and frequent visitors, information was shared by meeting with the residents and distributing brochures.
  6. Adapting to the way of life: Providing a step-by-step explanation of how to adapt the way of life of the community to help people modify their customs and ordinances — for example, how to kiss the Torah scroll and the mezuzah.
  7. From an enforcement effort to an information effort: Harnessing the law enforcement forces and the army soldiers to communicate information to residents on the city streets.
  8. Automatic telephone calls: Pre-recorded calls to all land lines in the city residences, since the residents usually do not have smartphones. The calls include an update on the infection rate in the city and the new guidelines.
  9. Collaborative signs: Signs are signed by medical experts and community leaders to inspire trust and solidarity.
  10. Municipal hotline: Many calls were addressed to the municipal hotline with questions about the pandemic, the new guidelines and the risks.
  11. Mourning signs: Mourning signs with the names of all those who have died from Covid-19 in the city were hung, to create deterrence.
  12. Information via charity organization: From fear of the public not trusting the municipality and the state, much information was communicated through charity organizations in the community.
  13. Narratives: The signs and brochures reflect the community’s religious values and mission, instead of a national and state mission. Combining quotes from the Talmud and Halacha to create a religious Narrative.

Following the success of the information effort in Bnei Brak, similar efforts took place in other ultra-Orthodox communities in Israel.

 

References:

 

  • Citizens’ information is a key tool in the global response to the Coronavirus, Corona National Information and Knowledge Center for the Campaign, 16.07.2020.

 

  • Information policy regarding the Corona epidemic in European countries, Corona National Information and Knowledge Center for the Campaign, 12.04.2020.

 

  • How do European countries manage to deal with the corona plague?, Corona National Information and Knowledge Center for the Campaign, 12.04.2020.

SYN-RG-Ai are experts in the field of crisis management, with an emphasis on COVID-19.

Avraham (Avi) Cohen

Avraham (Avi) Cohen

Co-Founder, SYN-RG-Ai Integrative Solutions for Smart Cities management. Colonel (ret.) after 30 years as commander at IDF C5i Branch, cyber defense and Electronic Warfare.

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