I remember back to when I first started pushing back in Central Government on NZ on the idea that the Canterbury Earthquake recovery would be done in 2 years. This was the conversation that was happening in rooms in which I was being asked to provide advice, and appearing in documents too.
One of the hardest but most effective changes I managed to influence at a strategic level was pushing out this narrative to a 5-10 year window, possibly stretching out to decades. This was reflected when I was extensively interviewed for the Paua Productions’ trio of earthquake documentaries in 2013. I close the documentary episode calling attention to the lengthy time frame, and that he journey that was likely to be taken would not be straightforward.
I remember the Allright? campaign’s Canterbury Rollercoaster narrative that was being developed at the time too, or shortly afterwards, articulating the experiences that residents were reporting about their journey through unpredictable earthquakes.
I think we should be doing this again to give voice to all those experiences, and to start to plot out the challenges we have yet to face. For example, even though we have done well so far in New Zealand, there are challenges in ensuring that we keep going as further challenges and communities see cases start to emerge through transmission of new variants of the virus. Even though the vaccine campaign in New Zealand is only just beginning, we are already seeing challenges to this from how this vaccine responds how new variants might evade the immunological defences that are initiated and bolstered through vaccination, meaning that these vaccines will most likely have to be tweaked. This then sets up new challenges about how we deal with those who are yet to be vaccinated, and those who are already vaccinated, but who may now have sub-optimal responses to different, and possibly more frequently encountered variants of the coronavirus behind the current pandemic.
Our Covid19 journey is by no means over. We have entered a new stage.
Just as the vaccine has evolved, so will our messaging, the messages we try to communicate, and how we communicate them.
The virus has evolved quickly. We need to be just as nimble. It could be argued that right now we are playing catch-up. So we need to do this, quickly, and effectively. I have argued that low-risk does not mean no-risk. This is a key communication challenge now.
Calm analysis holds the key.
Not knee-jerk reactions to ‘lock ’em up’. But a careful recalibration of the balance between structure and empathy is required.
What kind of structure is now needed? Apparently there are new categories such as “casual-plus” – technical terms that have been used in the health arena, but I wonder how these are understood more widely by communities.
And what about empathy? Empathy for whom? Empathy for those who have not adhered to isolation requirements and are now getting lashed on social media? Empathy for those whose lives have been turned upside down once again, being thrown into the latest loop of the emotion roller-coaster?
Have we got this balance of empathies right?
I’ll be writing a series of articles over the next few days about Covid19 messages, messaging, messengers, and more. Be sure to check back often to read more.