Our project DECIPHER has the explicit goal of reaching out to different parts of society to share our findings and make them applicable in relevant contexts of managing and containing public health crises and/or pandemics such as COVID-19. We intend to address stakeholders in the scientific, political, educational, health, and media sector in Germany and internationally to advance research and practice of pandemic risk and crisis communication. Some of our activities are listed on this website.

“Risk Communication can save lives”: Mercator Fellows invited panelists at the Open Research Forum on Risk and Crisis Communication of TU Ilmenau

On June 22nd, the Mercator Fellows of the DECIPHER project were invited by TU Ilmenau’s vice-president to speak at the Open Research Forum on Risk and Crisis Communication on campus.

The panelists, well-known scholars from the US, Norway, Sweden, Germany, and Italy, discussed good and bad practices, misinformation, regulation, policy-making and other topics regarding the COVID-19 pandemic and other crises with the audience on-site and online.

Timothy Sellnow from the University of Central Florida in the US, gave an opening keynote on the theory and history of crisis communication as an academic discipline. Among other aspects, he underlined the crucial role of TU Ilmenau for developing and institutionalizing the field in Germany and Europe. He also stressed how important it is to conduct more cross-national and cross-cultural research on risk and crisis communication including more countries of the Global South.

Martin Löffelholz, Decipher Spokesperson and Chair of Media Studies at the Technische Universität Ilmenau, facilitated the panel. The panelists were Deanna Sellnow from the University of Central Florida, USA; Bengt Johansson of the University of Gothenburg, Sweden; Audra Diers- Lawson from Kristiania University College, Norway; Andreas Schwarz from Technische Universität Ilmenau, Germany, and Fabiana Zollo from Ca’ Foscari University, Italy.

The panelists discussed, for example, how the pandemic was handled by governments and health institutions in countries like the UK, the US, Germany, Sweden, and Italy. They pointed to best and worst practices in risk and crisis communication and the main challenges in the respective countries during COVID-19. From there, they deduced important goals for the DECIPHER project, that besides analyzing COVID-related communication in seven countries aims at developing guidelines for more effective and ethical risk communication in the context of pandemics.

Dr. Deanna Sellnow raised the issue of how politicization and polarization of COVID-19 turned into a political issue and mentioned a few shortcomings of the media coverage that to some extent did not follow the guidelines in risk and crisis communication created by scholars in the field. Also, she highlighted how the pandemic forced higher education institutions to mature and improve their formats and contents of online teaching. Dr. Audra Diers-Lawson and Dr. Andreas Schwarz explained how DECIPHER will benefit from the comparison of seven countries and how the findings can be used to improve pandemic risk communication for minorities and immigrant groups. Dr. Fabiana Zollo talked about the so-called ‘infodemic’ and how computational methods can be used to get a better understanding of the role of social media during a public health crisis.

The panel was also open for questions and comments from the audience on-site and online. Many questions addressed further details of the DECIPHER project and how it might be extended in the future to include more countries and different methodological approaches. Finally, the Dr. Deanna Sellnow closed the panel with the concluding remark that “good risk communication is important to empower people and can save lives”.

TU Ilmenau

Interview with Andreas Schwarz in several South Thuringian and North Bavarian daily newspapers about the role of conspiracy myths during the COVID-19 pandemic

On December 4, 2021, Andreas Schwarz, PI in the DECIPHER project, was interviewed for several daily newspapers in Thuringia and Bavaria. He talked about the nature and role of conspiracy myths during a public health crisis such as COVID-19. Schwarz stated that one can neither assume that the popularity of conspiracy myths is declining, nor that those who believe in conspiracy myths can be fully ignored. Even though hardliners are difficult to reach, he argues, it is important to keep talking to them in order to acknowledge fears and uncertainties, but also to contradict and clarify misinformation. The one-page interview was published in several editions of Freies Wort (all local sections), and the main cover section of Meininger Tageblatt, Südthüringer Zeitung, Frankenpost, Neue Presse Coburg, and Nordbayerischer Kurier.

Martin Löffelholz interviewed by the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper on governmental risk communication on COVID-19

On November 23, Martin Löffelholz, project speaker and PI in the DECIPHER project, spoke with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ, online edition) on the political response and risk communication in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. The FAZ is one of the top daily newspapers and online news portals in Germany. The article states that “communication is one of the biggest problems of the pandemic” explaining that right now there are too many sources and some of them provide contradicting information which is confusing for the citizens. Löffelholz states that a target group-specific communication was missing during the pandemic: "We need communication that is specifically geared towards those who refuse to be vaccinated". He further talked about the importance of making the communication more relevant and direct to every citizen “translating from legal language into everyday language". Analyzing government messages, risk communication consistency and the effect on citizens during COVID-19 is among the main goals of the DECIPHER project.

See the full article here: www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/kommunikation-zu-corona-rache-der-widerspruechlichen-informationen-17646569.html

Lecture about communication in health crises at the “Children's and Kid's University” at TU Ilmenau by Andreas Schwarz

On November 24, 2021, Dr. Andreas Schwarz, principal investigator in the DECIPHER project, gave a lecture at the “Children's and Kid's University”, which takes place annually at the TU Ilmenau. His presentation entitled “COVID, lockdown and conspiracies – does communicating make you (un)healthy?” addressed some of challenges when communicating health risks, how fake news or conspiracy myths spread and what effects this can have on the health of everybody. Attendees were kids from 7th to 9th grade in the region Thuringia and all over Germany (most of them online).