Communications in a Time of CrisisMarch 19, 2020
Human service organizations across the country are playing a uniquely challenging role as part of the nation’s response to COVID-19, delivering essential services during a constantly evolving public health crisis while planning for the long-term needs that communities will face in the recovery phase. Recognizing that the pandemic will place a strain on an already under-resourced sector, nonprofit leaders across the country are advocating for policymakers to include human services in immediate and long-term relief packages being considered at the federal and state levels.
The National Reframing Initiative offers the following tips for using research-based communications strategies to make a strong and fair case for human services in these advocacy asks.
- Appeal to Interdependence and Collective Action. COVID-19 has shone a spotlight on our shared responsibility for the health and well-being of our neighbors. We are seeing unprecedented public and private actions to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic. Human service communications should reaffirm that we are all in this together, now and as the impacts of the pandemic are realized in the future, and avoid messages that activate individualistic views and behaviors.
- Tell a Cohesive Story. Human service advocates have a complicated message to share right now, as a workforce on the frontlines of a public health crisis, as problem-solvers shoring up and reconstructing the systems of well-being that people of all ages rely upon on a regular basis, as committed leaders whose expertise will be vital to the rebuilding process facing our nation, and as employers who have a significant economic impact on their communities. To the extent possible, communicate this full story consistently and avoid pulling out single pieces that limit the sector’s scope to just crisis or just economic impact. Any one of these points can be the emphasis of a particular communications piece, but acknowledging the full scope consistently will ultimately lead to a more comprehensive policymaking response.
- Lean into Explanation with the Construction Metaphor. The public and policymakers have big gaps in their knowledge base about human services, which has resulted in limited support for the sector. It will not be enough to assert that human services need to be supported right now due to the crisis—we will have to fill in the blanks. The research-based Construction Metaphor meets this need because it helps people think through how human services work and what human services need to be successful by associating those unfamiliar concepts with a concept the public is familiar with (constructing a building). Communicators can rely on the Construction Metaphor to explain the role that human services are playing building well-being during the pandemic, how human services themselves are being impacted, and the role human services will play as communities rebuild. Feel free to use or adapt the message below in your communications.
Sample Construction Language:
We’re all going through a storm right now that is destabilizing our health and well-being, it will be worst for those whose well-being was already on a shaky foundation. Human services are the construction crews that are shoring up our foundations in the near term by providing things like meal delivery and nutrition support, mental health services, and housing support. In the long-term, human services will be an essential part of the team rebuilding the structures of emotional, social, physical, and financial well-being that the pandemic is weakening. Our ability to weather this storm hinges on ensuring that human services have the resources now to function properly in an ever-changing environment and to plan and prepare for the rebuilding process that will follow.
- Match Challenges to Solutions. As we’ve discussed in previous newsletters, weighting communications too heavily towards the challenges and problems, or “crisis” framing, can backfire by leading the public to believe that the problems identified are too big to solve. When identifying challenges brought on or exacerbated by COVID-19, identify solutions that can help address the challenge whenever possible. Maintaining a balance between recognizing the very real and serious challenges and presenting concrete steps that the nation or a community can take to address the challenges will keep more people engaged and open to seeing their role in participating as advocates and supporters.
The National Reframing Initiative plans to share additional communications resources and recommendations as this public health crisis unfolds. We invite and encourage you to share your ideas, examples, and challenges to ensure that we are helping you meet your most pressing communications needs. Please email Bridget Gavaghan, Director of the National Reframing Initiative.
SPOTLIGHT: FrameWorks’ Special Resources on Coronavirus
This week, the FrameWorks Institute is launching a special email series focused on framing social issues during the coronavirus pandemic. If you’d like to receive these emails, take a few seconds to sign up here. You’ll need to opt-in to this series, even if you already receive their regular newsletters.