Communication is key

by May 12, 2020 0 comments

As we move to the critical stage where some activities have been allowed in Green and Orange Zones, there is a need for a strategy that helps us learn to live with the virus

The right communication strategy and leveraging technology is an important policy to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. As we move ahead to the critical stage wherein certain activities have been allowed in Green and Orange Zones, there is a need for a communication strategy that helps drive behavioural change and ushers in an era whereby we can learn to live with the virus. This requires effective two-way communication between the citizens and the Government, which has been the core strength of MyGov till now. It has been the endeavour of MyGov to act as a bridge between citizens and the Government and ensure citizen participation and information dissemination on platforms that most people use.

When the pandemic began, it was realised that words and phrases like “quarantine”, “social distancing” and “lockdown” needed to be communicated well as most people didn’t know what these terms meant. Social distancing was an alien concept. Hence, epidemiologists and health experts came up with Dos and Don’ts for preventing the spread of the Coronavirus. Fake news and myth busters posed another challenge that MyGov had to deal with. We had all kinds of conspiracy theories being bandied about, ranging from a Wuhan laboratory experiment gone wrong to use of hot water and garlic to kill the virus. There was a need to bust these myths and focus on making interventions like the use of masks and washing hands properly for 20 seconds the norm. This was done with explanatory infographics and videos that helped explain all these in simple language.

Towards this objective, MyGov India, the citizen engagement platform of the Government  launched several initiatives on its MyGov.in platform as also its dedicated COVID-19 page, corona.mygov.in to support the communication efforts of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. MyGov has a presence on almost all social media platforms that include not only the conventional ones like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn but for the COVID-19 campaign, MyGov is also using unconventional platforms like Telegram, TikTok, Helo, VMate and Likee, with an objective to reach out to all sections of people by leveraging all channels and platforms. 

Content was created in multiple languages and also sign language to ensure that everyone became part of the communication process. Videos from reputed doctors were made to ensure clear and correct messaging. MyGov also launched its MyGov Saathi Chatbot that is available on WhatsApp & FB Messenger and is also available on https://mygov.in and https://self4society.mygov.in. MyGov Saathi is a mobile-enabled platform and uses a menu-driven approach, allowing users to select available options such as “Latest update on Coronavirus in India”, “State-level status”, “Useful alerts” and “Where to get help” to access information. It provides ready access to Covid-19 related resources such as latest updates, helplines, advisories from various Central and State Government departments as well as access to Self4Society initiatives, including donation and volunteering opportunities.

Another key feature of the campaign is the ability to ensure adherence to lockdown regulations which are among the strictest in the world and have contributed greatly in limiting the spread of the pandemic till now. This was made possible by the Prime Minister’s call for the “Janata (people’s) curfew”, cheering and clapping for healthcare professionals, the 9PM-9Minute lamp-lighting initiative, showering of petals on hospitals and so on. Some may not find any merit or value in these initiatives but when we did the sentiment analysis of the social media posts, it was found that a vast majority of people supported these measures.

We also launched the pledges around these campaigns — Janata Curfew Pledge, Stay Home, Stay Safe Pledge and Fight Against Corona — which saw the participation of lakhs of people. The Citizens’ Ideas and Suggestions page saw more than 1,00,000 suggestions coming from citizens. The Innovation Challenge for technological solutions launched on MyGov led to brilliant ideas and solutions — including those on contact tracing, which has now evolved into the Aarogya Setu app. The quiz on COVID-19 has seen almost 1,00,000 entries.

These initiatives help the people get involved and once they are engaged, they feel part of the overall solution to the pandemic. It has been a very important part of our communications strategy.

The launch of the Aarogya Setu app is an important part of the Coronavirus campaign. Given the questions raised by some with regard to privacy issues, it was essential to communicate clearly what the app does, why it is required and how privacy is built into the app by design. This was done by innovative use of graphics and videos. Even celebrities like Ajay Devgn helped in creating the #SetuMeraBodyguard campaign which was also endorsed by similar videos by regional language superstars like Nirahua in Bhojpuri and Anuj Sharma in Chhattisgarhi.

Top cricketers helped in the #TeamMaskForce campaign that promoted use of masks. Campaigns around these hashtags were launched on social media platforms that helped in getting user-generated content even in regional languages that contributed to carrying the message far and wide.

The lockdown instructions were a major challenge for us. The feedback was that many people were finding it difficult to interpret the directions and there was a lot of confusion on what to do. Immediately, MyGov demystified the directions and instructions by coming up with simple, easy to read and understand infographics which became very popular. These were also translated in various languages with the help and support of a volunteer group who did it pro bono.

With the lockdown, came the challenge of catering to the migrant labourers and there were a lot of issues regarding shelter homes and feeding centres for the poor and urban homeless. MyGov collaborated with Google Maps and Map My India and put details of shelters and feeding homes of around 750 cities on Maps so that they were easy to find and locate. Google also launched a messaging service for MyGov on Google Maps which has been integrated with the Saathi Chatbot to answer queries instantly.

When the Myth Busters infographic was released, it became viral and millions of people shared it. A suggestion was received to make it available in audio format. Accordingly, these, as also COVID-19 updates, were converted into audio podcasts as part of MyGov Samvaad. These podcasts were also shared with more than 200 Community Radio Stations who translated the content and helped expand the outreach of COVID-19 messaging. Further, it was felt that we also need to address anxiety and stress specially for people during the lockdown. So, an initiative called “Positive Harmonies” was launched in which prominent musicians from across the country created special numbers for MyGov along with their messages to help manage the crisis. This has become very popular. One key feature of all these endeavours has been that all of this was managed by our teams while working from home. Team members collaborated across cities and came up with brilliant innovations. We greatly benefitted from collaborations with top technology companies, media, volunteers and various Government departments. Innovation and collaboration seem to be our strength that has not only helped us in our communications but will ultimately help us tide over this crisis.

As India completes almost six weeks of the lockdown, one realises that some of the learnings from this crisis will help us in future, too. It is possible to work remotely and not everyone needs to commute daily for work. There are collaboration tools available that can help get output, that in some cases can be better than what is possible now. If employees save three hours of commute time, it will make them happier.

Other benefits will be lesser traffic and congestion, a smaller carbon footprint and we may be addressing issues of climate change, too. In the days to come, one expects that more and more companies will adopt this and it will greatly transform lives.

(Writer: Abhishek Singh; Courtesy: The Pioneer)

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