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The importance of getting Covid-19 public health messaging right

03 December 2020

The BPS has developed a series of recommendations for more effective public health messaging, which takes techniques from behavioural science.

The guidance forms part of a larger piece of work carried out by a team of researchers through the Health Psychology Exchange, which aims to inform and assist public bodies in their pandemic response strategies.

It draws upon real-life examples of key messaging during the crisis, including the iconic “Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives” campaign, and the follow-up motto of “Stay Alert, Control the Virus, Save Lives”.  

Dr Tracy Epton, who led on the guidance document, says:

“It’s important to provide clear and consistent messaging so people know exactly what behaviours they need to do, as well giving them the information and tools they need to perform these behaviours”

Based on the evidence the team gathered, there are three key recommendations for improving the response to public health messaging.

Firstly, it’s important to reach people who do not perceive themselves at risk, secondly you need to communicate with diverse communities with different needs, and finally there needs to be an increase in trust to ensure the public adhere to recommended behaviours.

A team from Greater Manchester, Dr Daniela Ghio from the University of Salford and Dr Chris Keyworth from the University of Manchester, who worked on the guidance with Dr Epton developed a formula for effective communication with the acronym TRUST:

  • Transparency
  • cRedibility
  • Unified messaging
  • Social responsibility
  • Timeliness

Professor Angel Chater, lead of the BPS Covid-19 Behavioural Science and Disease Prevention Taskforce who produced this guidance, says: 

“We are regularly asked by our public health colleagues how to best communicate COVID-19 recommendations.

This guidance highlights psychological considerations, based on a review of scientific evidence, to help with public health efforts to support disease prevention behaviours.”

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