Covid-19 reminded the world just how crucial effective communication is in a crisis. Public health communicators have been on the front lines of the pandemic for nearly two years, wrestling with new issues and needs nearly every week.
Communicators have faced challenges like never before, and they desperately need up-to-date information, insights about what kinds of messages and outreach are and aren’t working, and ideas they can put to use right away to protect people.
To meet this need, The Rockefeller Foundation partnered with Hattaway Communications to create a communications community of practice—a place for public health communicators to regularly gather, compare notes, and learn from leading experts.
We began in January 2021 with just over two dozen communicators from governors’ offices and public health agencies involved in the State and Territory Alliance for Testing (STAT), an initiative the Foundation launched to help states respond to Covid-19. As of December 2021, the community has convened 21 times and reached 950 participants from over 300 organizations.
What’s a community of practice? Quote
A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a common concern, a set of problems, or an interest in a topic and who come together to fulfill both individual and group goals. - Communityofpractice.ca
Creating a productive platform for learning
This Community of Practice (CoP) meets every other week for conversations with diverse experts. Our goal was to have a CoP that recognized the importance of authentic communications shared by authentic messengers. Our featured guests address urgent topics, share hard-earned lessons from their work, and make themselves available for specific questions from the community. The webinars followed the model of:
Research + Strategy + On the Ground + Takeaways
The on-the-ground perspective was perhaps the most useful for our audience. We heard from doctors, social media managers, and contact tracers who were on the front lines of communicating about testing, vaccines, and other Covid-19 precautions. For example, in looking at reaching diverse audiences, we included speakers who were working one-on-one with all kinds of people, looking beyond simple demographics. For example, Lucy Schulson, M.D., of the Boston Medical Center Immigrant & Refugee Health Center joined to share highlights from conversations with her unique patients and the hesitations they had about the vaccine.
We ensured that our speakers shared materials or resources for immediate use. These materials included videos for Christian audiences, methods for debunking vaccine narratives, and an entire resource hub for vaccine information. Every tracking survey presentation included messaging guidance presented in a turnkey message brief that attendees could put to work in their own outreach immediately.
The community has tackled dozens of topics and challenges raised by its members. For example:
● How to encourage Christians to take the vaccine. David French, Senior Editor at The Dispatch and a columnist for Time, joined Co-founders Curtis Chang and Kris Carter of Christians and the Vaccine for a lively discussion.
● How to respond to common Covid-19 vaccine questions. Representatives from the International Vaccine Access Center at Johns Hopkins University team shared Vira, the Vax Chatbot.
● Combating disinformation aimed at the Latino community. Voto Latino’s President María Teresa Kumar and Media Matters for America’s President Angelo Carusone talked about the Latino Anti-Disinformation Lab.
● Communicating with conservative audiences. Led by former Congressman Denver Riggleman (VA-05) to address some of the misconceptions about conservatives' motivations and fears.
Tips for Organizing a Community of Practice
Throughout this year, we’ve learned what to focus on when building this community of practice. These tips can help you build our own community of practice around shared topics and frustrations.
● Let The Community Guide, but Make Sure You Lead: Regularly check in with your members and ask them for feedback and suggestions on what would be helpful to them. But they’re looking to you for new ideas, so keep your eye out for interesting, unusual, and breakthrough presenters who are not common knowledge so that your members learn something new each time.
● Respect Their Time: Structure your sessions so your audience knows what to expect and include a recap email or resources page for those who were unable to attend.
● Prioritize Action: Think of how your audience will use the shared information. When putting together sessions, focus on actionable recommendations and share content that members can use right away
● Make Time for Real Talk: Leave space for interaction and real-time workshops.
“The interactive nature of the webinar was helpful.” - Attendee
“I appreciated the engagement with the audience and the follow on discussion that you invited” - Attendee
Hearing the research findings was very interesting and will help guide our future messaging. It largely reinforces what we have been doing so it's nice to hear that we are on the right track. - Attendee
Pastor’s toolkit from Christians and the Vaccine
Virality Project’s Tips for Debunking Vaccine Narratives
Vaccine Resource Hub from the Johns Hopkins University team
Our CoP brought together communicators who were dealing with this pandemic from varied angles. The biweekly sessions provided the opportunity to share timely information and quickly determine what was and wasn’t working. As the pandemic evolves, surfacing new threats in both our on- and offline environments, the importance of these communities will only grow. As we look toward 2022, we look forward to growing the community and supporting its critical work keeping our country safe.
Interested in exploring a CoP? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.