Government and public health officials are coming up against a universal truth in risk communications and awareness raising – people will make their own determinations about risk using a range of information, feelings, rationalisation and historic knowledge. 

They’ll check in with others, assess what suits them based on convenience, perceived threat and circumstances, and act accordingly. 

The processes for decision making are not straight forward, based in life biases and sometimes – often – emotions.  

Every Australian in lockdown under COVID19 is weighing up what they believe, with their own reality and experience.  Some disagree with the entire concept, we know that. Others are tired. Some don’t think it will happen to them. 

This happens in all emergencies, in fire, in flood and storms. It’s happening in COVID19. In many cases with COVID19, deprivation (knowledge, belief, choice or human contact) is driving our response to the risk. 

Media is currently talking about not just the ‘big events’ potentially leading to COVID19 spread, but the everyday small choices people are making. 

How are you going being derived of human contact, family, ‘normal life’, playgrounds? How is your mental health or ability to pay bills going? 

It’s not just the assessment of risk that drives being able to do what you know is right or required. But the differing responses between states – and countries – to such a public health emergency doesn’t help settle the response. 

And where the response is compromised, risk communication struggles. 

It’s hard enough for communication experts – who have to use behavioural understanding plus societal understanding plus reasoning plus myth busting for communities – to get cut through.

As humans we’ll always (often) look for loopholes until we experience the reality.  It’s a reality that in reality, none of us want. 

It’s not just epidemiologists who are looking at how NSW, Victoria, other Australian states, New Zealand and other countries tackle the response to COVID19. 

Behaviouralists and communication specialists are eyeing this off just as much, wincing or cheering. 

It’s the world’s biggest and most frightening case study. 

Reference: https://lnkd.in/gpg2Bjdx

Wow I’ve had a good time talking to people lately.  In the name of work I mean 😊

For the past few months, I’ve been focusing on writing content for a range of clients based on interviews – both employees and product supporters. 

Harking back to my journalist days, I’ve had a ball planning out the overarching strategic approach and questions, getting to know the ‘subjects’, ahem, people, and writing bang on content for clients with a human edge. 

The power of words. And natural human stories. My favourite. 

Sound like something you need? Feel free to have a chat. 

Shoot me an email or give me a call 💻 ☎️ 

www.nataliestaaks.com.au 

I had a doozy of a topic to facilitate at the IABC  #converge21 communications conference last night – ‘what has your government done well or badly in covid communications?’ 

Starting with ‘the good’ there was a crazy silence.

For the ‘bad’, there were plenty of examples.

It’s perhaps not so surprising when considering a worldwide, fast moving, frightening pandemic with a large impact. 

Some of the international participants were still living it. Political infighting and media manipulation seem universal. It can also be difficult to separate out the action of government from the communication of the action by communicators. 

When I was preparing, I was looking for non-Australian examples. This link collects a number of international marketing and public health campaigns, not all government. 

Some interesting examples – from an American-based ‘You’re freaking us out, wear a mask’ to Finland using teddy bears to demonstrate social distancing on buses before donating them, to Thailand’s ‘Dear Crisis’, resilience building campaign. 

Thanks to the participants at my virtual table for contributing to the discussion 👍

This article about how to keep/instill/grow a corporate culture in a distributed work model made me do a happy dance. 
https://www-entrepreneur-com.cdn.ampproject.org/c/s/www.entrepreneur.com/amphtml/364250

A combination of forced work from home (pandemic style) and choice (working for myself) gave me real insight (like many) and a further interest in the alignment between culture, HR, leadership and internal communications.

When I hear senior executives note that they can’t temperature check the health and culture of their organisation without being able to walk the floors and see people I think it’s a lazy and old-fashioned attitude. It’s also not inclusive.

Though I get it – face to face contact is amazing – managing a team during a pandemic I found that while collaboration in a remote environment does take some additional work – a distributed team is really just like any other team, whether they work face-to-face or not.

The author notes that “corporate culture is more than creating a friendly break room with comfortable chairs and bringing in a box of doughnuts on Friday – developing it means intentionally engaging employees, educating them, and providing venues for interactions, knowledge sharing and training.” 

Culture is what creates a real sense of trust and engagement, he says. This is a challenge in many organisations regardless of where their employees work. The consequences of COVID-19 has just highlighted this more.

This article provides great data that indicates not only was teleworking increasing prior to COVID19 for employees as well as gig workers, but that self-employed and home-based self-employed population has grown. Add partners, third-party providers and freelancers outside of the corporate structure to the ecosystem and traditional structures including internal communications will be challenged and fail.

Despite the oft-stated importance of culture, building, maintaining and living it and whatever values are important to an organisation, it takes work – from all levels – an appropriate investment including commitment and budget, an understanding of how it connects to real life and more than lip service.

Collectively, we need to get our shit together. I can put my hand up and say my own attitude to running teams, supporting and leading organisations and living remote work life has changed markedly, and needed to. This is not reinventing the wheel and expectations have never been higher as the world shifts in post-pandemic reality.

I’ve forgotten how to travel. On a plane. Between States.

I can travel 5 kms from my home, or I can drive around regional Victoria.

But 12 months of home-time has dulled my air travel knowledge.

I forgot to book parking; failed to check-in online, had to google what I could take in hand luggage; wore boots that were hard to remove at security.

Remembered my mask.

A few friends have paused when told I’m flying and looked at me quizzically – asked “was I ready to take the chance travelling on a plane” or simply “was I beside myself with excitement to be leaving the State”.

The answer to both was yes, kind of. Because COVID is still a thing, and the risk while low, is still there and regardless, stuck in our psyche. What happens if I get stuck in another State and can’t come home? Yeah, that’s in my head too.

That hesitancy is a challenge for our governments and tourism bodies both.

Staying home, staying close, has been drummed into us. We’ve got a ways to go to balance it out.

When I corrected an (incorrect) belief my more than 70 year-old Dad had about easing restrictions and what we could do, my irritation was obvious to him. Why was he not taking responsibility for himself and his own knowledge and reading the q and a on the DHHS website?

‘Now wait on,’ he cautioned me, adding. ‘I’ll read tomorrow’s (local) newspaper. I’m not looking at a website.’ 

That to him is foreign. So how else is he going to get his information? 3AW news grabs. 

With a back ground in emergency management and an extreme anxiety and interest in not getting fined (or the coronavirus), I’m a voracious newshound and reader including of Q and A. 

My Dad is not. And my more technology literate mother isn’t either. 

Everyone makes their own decisions, based on the information they have, having checked the information with their peers, friends and community networks for sense making, logic and what they’ve heard. 

Misinformation has been rife. Understanding is low and wishful thinking is rampant. Wilful misunderstanding is a reality. 

But have we – the Government, Authorities, community networks, local government – done the best we could? No.

Have we done the best we could at the time with the information we had at the time? Maybe.

Is it acceptable this far in? No. That’s a failing. 

Trying to parrot the rules to others, let alone following them, continues to be a challenge. 

Shared responsibility and accountability may be the aim.

But blame shifting should not be.

I had to tamp down my impatience with my Dad, take a deep breath and come at it from a different understanding and approach aiming for the same outcome. 

So should we all. 

Teamwork makes the dream work. Such a cliche. But I’ll take it any day.

Next week I finish up with Brimbank City Council after almost 18 months as the Communications Manager of a bloody awesome team.

It’s a team that together we’ve reshaped and expanded, nurtured and grown. I’m so crazily proud to have lead them and so privileged to support them in their talents and their most excellent way of operating.

When I joined, I thought I knew what local government was because I’d been around it lots. I didn’t, not really.

Ahhh the things I’ve learned. The skills I’ve expanded. Care, but I don’t care.

It’s been amazing to lead an organisation‘s communication efforts during COVID19.

It’s been amazing to introduce and nurture an internal communications function.

It’s been amazing to be so close to community and to experience community leadership at a political level.

What I’ve loved most is the team members who have been busy with me every day, who have trusted my leadership, guided me when I didn’t know the way and jumped in when I asked them to.

Who wore funny hats, shared their stories, and dressed up at Halloween with full makeup 😊

What a privilege.

That’s what I’ll take with me when I walk out the virtual door. Gratitude and friendship.

Last week I flippantly said to someone “honestly, if you have to do a pandemic, this is the team you want to do it with”. And I laughed.

Then I stopped. Because hells yeah, I’ve been through a pandemic with the best bunch of people around.

I’ve worked with Brimbank City Council for more than 12 months. For about half that time I’ve talked to my team on Zoom as we’ve navigated crisis, advocacy, staff and community communications required in a diverse and COVID19-prone municipality.

A skilled, dedicated, multi-disciplined team that has shifted and morphed and grown through crisis with smiles and tired faces.

Together we’ve onboarded new team members in circumstances far more challenging than just starting a new job. Hello lockdown life, remote schooling, opening and closing facilities and public health concerns.

Team building and being a team has taken on new meaning for organisations unfamiliar with remote work and entrenched in physically turning up every day.

But I can’t be sorry to be in this position. I know my team members better now than I ever would’ve, though I miss their real faces. They know me more than I would’ve allowed under other circumstances.

As a people manager I’ve grown, because of them and this pandemic, and how bloody good is that.

Thinking tonight of all those small businesses back in lockdown and many restricted again to providing takeaway services.

I can’t imagine the challenge they are facing the second time around, having only just started to emerge from the first. 

Arguably the rest of us are on a knife’s edge of being in a similar position; just one more thing 2020 is throwing at us. 

To the friends and family locked in alongside the small businesses, this will not be an easy time. 

Before, we were apparently all in it together. 

This time is different; it’s like they’ll be looking out at the world still doing its thing, still different but absolutely freer.

Sending love

Back in lockdown

There are few communication colleagues I can think of who would not have been impacted in some way in their roles, and in what they have been called upon to communicate, during what is a public health emergency with a global impact and a massively local reach.

The most challenging for me has been communicating about an emergency while in an emergency.

It’s hard to believe that a ten year background in emergency management has not prepared me for this. In previous roles I’ve analysed, considered, empathised, coordinated and managed issues from the sidelines. Even when I’ve been working with impacted communities, at some stage I’ve been able to move through and on to the next emergency.

This one. Nope.

For a while, I was an interested spectator, enjoying the challenge and novelty of moving home, then a frightened and locked down participant, a furious judge, a cautious but hopeful we could open, small business owner. All the while I was also communicator and a manager.

Last week like many I listened in agony as both my home municipality and work municipality were named as a coronavirus hotspot, with details of what that meant to me – to us – as a person and as a communicator still to come.

This week has been a high of anticipation waiting for the what if and where.

Today, with my home municipality not currently identified for lockdown, I heaved a sigh of relief along with recognising a continued underlying unease and trepidation because it could still be us/me.

But the work municipality is being split, a literal and perhaps figurative split for a further challenging four weeks. Past the adrenalin rush, the need to communicate externally and internally is doubling down with a new challenge that continues to stretch experience, knowledge, innovation and resilience.

Buckle in.

What’s been your biggest challenge as a communicator through COVID19?

Behaviour change is an interesting beast.

Like many I’ve watched the increase in coronavirus-positive numbers climb the past few days, alongside the increase in relaxed community behaviour towards physical distancing and hygiene practices.

Many people are desperate for real connections and a bit of normality to real life.

Pulling back on some of the planned restriction-lifting today, the Victorian Premier laid the blame on families and individuals ‘not doing the right thing’ and essentially making a choice that wasn’t theirs to make.

When something doesn’t resonate, is not understood, doesn’t work logically, is new and inconvenient and has not been experienced or does not seem likely/real, it takes time and effort to make it stick.

Time – and a strong understanding of the coronavirus pandemic and the community behaviour required – is not a luxury we’ve had.

For me, fear works.  Threatening to ‘lockdown’ the separate suburbs I live and work in if numbers don’t improve is good enough for me.

However, I bet asking people to stop hanging out with close family and friends when they should be isolating, from a virus that for many is as invisible as it is insidious in other countries, will continue to be a challenge for Victorians.

The behaviour beast

What’s been your biggest challenge as a communicator through COVID19?

There are few communication colleagues I can think of who would not have been impacted in some way in their roles, and in what they have been called upon to communicate, during what is a public health emergency with a global impact and a massively local reach.

The most challenging for me has been communicating about an emergency while in an emergency.

It’s hard to believe that a ten year background in emergency management has not prepared me for this. In previous roles I’ve analysed, considered, empathised, coordinated and managed issues from the sidelines. Even when I’ve been working with impacted communities, at some stage I’ve been able to move through and on to the next emergency.

This one. Nope. 

For a while, I was an interested spectator, enjoying the challenge and novelty of moving home, then a frightened and locked down participant, a furious judge, a cautious but hopeful we could open, small business owner. All the while I was also communicator and a manager. 

Last week like many I listened in agony as both my home municipality and work municipality were named as a coronavirus hotspot, with details of what that meant to me – to us – as a person and as a communicator still to come.

This week has been a high of anticipation waiting for the what if and where.

Today, with my home municipality not currently identified for lockdown, I heaved a sigh of relief along with recognising a continued underlying unease and trepidation because it could still be us/me.

But the work municipality is being split, a literal and perhaps figurative split for a further challenging four weeks. Past the adrenalin rush, the need to communicate externally and internally is doubling down with a new challenge that continues to stretch experience, knowledge, innovation and resilience. 

Buckle in.