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Pandemic Response: Part 1 Unimaginable times 1 An evolving resource

Just a few weeks ago, this moment was unimaginable. We would not have believed the headlines, or been able to picture how the high street looks today. COVID-19 has abruptly pressed pause on anything that resembles ‘normal’ day-to-day life.

This is a moment of anxiety. We are fearful for our health and the health of those around us. We are all trying to make sense of what is happening and calculate the true impact of this crisis. This virus will affect us all, but we know it will not be felt equally. It will leave some people more exposed and vulnerable than others, laying bare the reality of existing inequality.

But this is also a moment of connection. 

The shared experience and interconnectedness of being human has been brought sharply into focus. Our health is inextricably linked to the health of our neighbours. Our resilience is community resilience. In the face of this crisis to cooperate and collaborate is not a choice, it is the only way to respond. In our illness, anxiety, solidarity, concern for loved ones, boredom and need for light relief we share in this surreal and scary collective moment. Read more

Pandemic Response: Part 2 Messages of Hope 1 From across civil society

When we drop fear, we can draw nearer to people [in some ways at least], we can draw nearer to the earth, we can draw nearer to all the heavenly creatures that surround us. bell hooks

We have in the past week been grateful to receive several beautiful messages of hope from our colleagues and friends around the world—affirming both the need for immediate mutual aid and for challenging unhelpful narratives. 

We pass on their wise words below… Read more

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Pandemic Response: Part 3 Pandemic Beliefs 1 Understanding the narrative

Only a crisis – actual or perceived – produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. Milton Friedman

So what are the ideas that are lying around?

You may not share Milton Friedman’s opinion of the ideas we need lying around. But our response to COVID-19 will depend on what they are. At the moment, narratives about COVID-19 are competing for some of our most deeply held beliefs about the way the world works. If we are communicating about COVID-19 we need to be careful about which of these we are appealing to, and which we are avoiding.

Our piece The Narratives We Need goes more deeply into some of these core beliefs, and what they mean for our communications.

Here we outline some of the specific helpful and unhelpful beliefs about COVID-19. This is about framing: the core concepts to leave in, or out. It is not a list of messaging dos and don’ts. But you can use it to help develop a messaging strategy, or as a checklist to evaluate your ideas against. Read more

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Pandemic Response: Part 4 Pandemic Metaphors 21 Tracking the narrative

Analyses of language reveal the extraordinary fact that we use around one metaphor for every ten seconds of speech or written work. If that sounds like too much, it’s because you’re so used to thinking metaphorically – to speaking of ideas that are ‘conceived’ or rain that is ‘driving’ or rage that is ‘burning’ or people who are ‘dicks’. Our models are not only haunted by ourselves but by properties of other things.—Will Storr, The Science of Storytelling

This is an evolving resource and we are keen to hear from you, if you have spotted other metaphors, or can add to this analysis get in touch!

Metaphors help us make sense of complex or sensitive information. By offering us a structure for how to think, they point us towards what the problem is, and therefore what the solution should be. Often they slip in unseen. We can use them, repeat them and extend them without even realising it.

If you are communicating about the current pandemic and you are trying to build the case for a responsible, caring and proportional response, then your use of metaphor can either help or hinder.

In the past week, on either side of the UK Government announcing a ‘lockdown’, we’ve been paying close attention to the metaphors being used to talk about COVID-19. We read through a selection of the most read articles in the most read online news media outlets—the BBC, Sky News, the Guardian and the Daily Mail—and have come across the imagery of apocalypse, acceleration, burden, tsunami, invasion, fortification and bottlenecks.

There are many metaphors flying around, but two of the most widely used at the moment are war and crime. Below we examine the implication of these prominent metaphors—alongside some other metaphors to watch (some helpful, some not) over the next few weeks.

Read more

Pandemic Response: Part 5 Virus as beast or crime 2 Why episodic and thematic framing matters

There’s a 2011 study in which researchers tested the effects of framing crime using the metaphors of either crime-as-virus or crime-as-beast. Participants in the study read one version of the story below:

“Crime is a {wild beast preying on/virus infecting} the city of Addison. The crime rate in the once peaceful city has steadily increased over the past three years. In fact, these days it seems that crime is {lurking in/plaguing} every neighborhood. In 2004, 46,177 crimes were reported compared to more than 55,000 reported in 2007. The rise in violent crime is particularly alarming. In 2004, there were 330 murders in the city, in 2007, there were over 500.”

It reflects the distinction between episodic and thematic framing: encouraging us to either see crime as a single event (beast) or as a wider issue (virus)1.

It is now 2020, and the very model of a thematic frame—the virus—is itself an episodic frame. 

Why does it matter?

Read more

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Pandemic Response: Part 6 Resources Regularly updated

Action is the antidote to despair. Joan Baez

Resources for solidarity, support & mental health:

Resources for communicating about COVID-19:

For understanding the psychology of pandemics:

Wider opinion pieces: