Citizen input matters in the fight against COVID-19

Britt Lake at FeedbackLabs: “When the Ebola crisis hit West Africa in 2015, one of the first responses was to build large field hospitals to treat the rapidly growing number of Ebola patients. As Paul Richards explains, “These were seen as the safest option. But they were shunned by families, because so few patients came out alive.” Aid workers vocally opposed local customs like burial rituals that contributed to the spread of the virus, which caused tension with communities. Ebola-affected communities insisted that some of their methods had proven effective in lowering case numbers before outside help arrived. When government and aid agencies came in and delivered their own messages, locals felt that their expertise had been ignored. Distrust spread, as did a sense that the response pitted local knowledge against global experts. And the virus continued to spread. 

The same is true now. Today there are more than 1 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 worldwide. The virus has spread to every country and territory in the world, leaving virtually no one unaffected. The pandemic is exacerbating inequities in employment, education, access to healthcare and food, and workers’ rights even as it raises new challenges. Everyone is looking for answers to address their needs and anxieties while also collectively realizing that this pandemic and our responses to it will irrevocably shape the future.

It would be easy for us in the public sector to turn inwards for solutions on how to respond effectively to the pandemic and its aftermath. It’s comfortable to focus on perspectives from our own teams when we feel a heightened sense of urgency, and decisions must be made on a dime. However, it would be a mistake not to consider input from the communities we serve – alongside expert knowledge – when determining how we support them through this crisis. 

COVID-19 affects everyone on earth, and it won’t be possible to craft equitable responses that meet people’s needs around the globe unless we listen to what would work best to address those challenges and support homegrown solutions that are already working. Effective communication of public health information, for instance, is central to controlling the spread of COVID-19. By listening to communities, we can better understand what communication methods work for them and can do a better job getting those messages across in a way that resonates with diverse communities. And to face the looming economic crisis that COVID-19 is precipitating, we will need to engage in real dialogue with people about their priorities and the way they want to see society rebuilt….(More)”.