This article highlights the ineffective risk communication used in Wuhan, China, amidst the COVID-19 outbreak and offers recommendations for effective message-centered communication.
Based on the effective and ineffective communication strategies implemented in Wuhan, China during the COVID-19 pandemic, a simplified Government-Expert-Public risk communication model was designed to illustrate a collaborative network for effective risk communication. Utilizing a message-centered approach provides scientific and systemic methods to communicate risk effectively. The following are nine evidence-based, message-centered best practices for risk communication:
- Infuse risk communication into policy decisions
- Treat risk communication as a process
- Account for uncertainty inherent in risk
- Design risk messages to be culturally sensitive
- Acknowledge diverse levels of risk tolerance
- Involve the public in dialogue about risk
- Present risk messages with honesty
- Meet risk perception needs by remaining open and accessible to the public
- Collaborate and coordinate about risk with credible information sources
Unfortunately in both internal and external communication, Wuhan’s government’s decision making, information dissemination, and risk interpretation failed. Specifically, government leaders did not infuse scientific risk communication into policy decisions, stalled at reporting and presented risk messages dishonestly, and failed to account for inherent uncertainty and different levels of risk tolerance.
Based on this experience, several lessons from the outbreak management showcase the need for effective risk communication, and the following principles are offered as guidance:
- Be accessible and open with risk information
- Communicate early and often about risk
- Use a strategic method for communicating uncertainty
By implementing these communicative practices, government, expert, and public communication will be more effective.