COVID-19 Communication & Behavior Change: Report and Webinar

Effective and inspiring messaging must be at the center of a more resilient, empathetic, and effective response to this global pandemic. Learn about the insights we uncovered from our recent Challenge.

Effective and compelling communication is crucial for bringing about positive behavior change, but in a pandemic, it can mean the difference between life or death. The COVID-19 Communication Inspiration Challenge brought people together from all over the world to answer this question: How might we rapidly inform and empower communities around the world to stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak?

We were deeply inspired by the outpouring of responses to this Challenge. To better understand which messages around COVID-19 are resonating around the world—and what is still missing—IDEO assembled an interdisciplinary team of health experts, researchers, data scientists, and designers to develop an insights report, synthesizing the hundreds of submissions from the Challenge. We're pleased to share the Insights and Learnings Report with you.

COVID-19 Communication & Behavior Change Webinar

To delve further into behavior change communication around COVID-19, IDEO hosted a webinar with a panel of global leaders to examine insights generated by the Challenge, best practices for sharing trusted information, the importance of community co-creation, and the future of post-COVID-19 communication. More than 2,400 participants joined from all over the world. Panelists included:

  • Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer at IDEO
  • Khalid Hashi, Founder and CEO of Somalia-based organization OGOW EMR
  • Tracy Johnson, Senior Program Officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
  • Andréa Mallard, Chief Marketing Officer at Pinterest

Here are some of the key takeaways from the conversation:

On Cutting Through the Noise

  • Say less—better. Andréa Mallard, Chief Marketing Officer of Pinterest, warns that it’s far more dangerous to have too much information, rather than too little. “At Pinterest, we made the decision to cut out a lot of information when people were searching ‘COVID-19.’ It’s very easy for misleading or even dangerous information to pop up, so we connected with the WHO and CDC to make sure that anything that was displayed came from sources of authority and could be trusted. As a brand or platform, it’s critical to figure out who your initial source of authority is.”
  • Encourage people to look outward. “Whenever there’s a crisis like this, people tend to be inward-focused,” says Mallard. “But what’s amazing to me is how quickly people start to look outward, asking how they might take action or help others.” Her recommendation: Be keenly aware of this emotional arc and nudge your users to become outward-looking more quickly.
  • Tone is everything. “Establishing eye-contact with whoever you are speaking to and saying in some shape or form, ‘I know you know you know’ is really important,” says Paul Bennett, IDEO’s Chief Creative Officer. “We’re in a moment of tonal truth...acknowledge the shared humanity on both a personal and organizational level.”
“We’re in a huge shift from human-centered to humanity-centered.” — Paul Bennett, Chief Creative Officer of IDEO

On Rebuilding Community Through Inclusive Co-Creation

  • Contextualize Information. Khalid Hashi, founder of Somalia-based digital health company OGOW EMR, notes that organizations should take a localized and contextualized approach to communicating information in a way that makes sense to their audience. “In Somalia, we reached out to local activators on the ground to develop a communications strategy. We translated information from the WHO and made it accessible for local audiences. Continuously thinking about who you can reach through your awareness campaigns is crucial—it's exceptionally important to design for all."
  • Reach those who are most vulnerable. “In thinking about the most vulnerable populations, understand the thresholds that those people need to seek care,” says Tracy Johnson, Senior Program Officer of User Experience and Innovation at the Gates Foundation. “Who are we missing? How are we bringing them into the conversation? Can we elevate their voices through communication?”
  • Co-create with those who you’re designing for. “You should never design for someone who’s not in the room,” says Mallard. “I don't think there's ever been a better proof point for diversity and inclusion...without deep nuance and cultural literacy, you'll never be able to design good solutions, so you need those people at the table.”
“I hope that we can find ways to reframe how we think about our connection to each other through design. We need to take care of each other.” — Andréa Mallard, Chief Marketing Officer of Pinterest

On Engaging People During Times of Stress

  • Enable meaningful action. “Pinterest is an inspiration company, and inspiration at its core is about creating an urge to act,” explains Mallard. “People feel paralyzed. They can wash their hands and stay home, but in many ways those are passive actions.” She asks: “How can you enable people to act in ways that are meaningful? A meaningful act of contribution—even if it's small—feels better than the passive things we can do to help."
  • People are awesome. “People are looking for ways to help,” adds Bennett. “Despite these dire circumstances, I feel very inspired by how so many people are rising to the challenge.” He suggests that organizations focus on “creating things that are joyful, playful, and celebratory, rather than fear-inducing. The last thing we want to do right now is to make people frightened.”
Sketchnote by webinar attendee Becca Barad