Key info

16 April 2020

Zoom call with members of the public: intro slides, snap polls & breakout room discussions

Philippa Pristerà, Helen Ward

Breakout room hosts / facilitators (A-Z): 
Helen Ward, Katharine Collet, Maria Piggin, Philippa Pristerà / Meerat Kaur,  Rozlyn Redd, Vasiliki Papageorgiou

Insight report authors: 
Katharine Collet, Philippa Pristerà

Download the full 'Communicating the Outbreak' Insight Report [pdf]Download the PDF Extract Report 14 for Information + Communication Gaps Back to our COVID-19 Community Involvement activity


Research shows that where people get their information, the reliability of this information, and if it meets their needs have strong links to various risk and preventative behaviours, among other key indicators within emergency situations. During PERC’s earlier online involvement activity (6–15 March 2020; Report 14), a number of key concerns, information gaps and unmet needs were raised. Some of these have now been superseded by current lockdown measures, but we were interested to explore which, if any, remained ongoing issues. 

On Thursday 16 April 2020, PERC held our first community involvement zoom call. It ran from 4:30–6:00pm and was attended by 24 members of the public from across the UK.

The agenda for the call included:

  1. An introduction to PERC and our work;
  2. An overview of COVID-19 research at Imperial College London;
  3. Recap of PERC’s community involvement initiative;
  4. Pre-Discussion Polls;
  5. Breakout room discussions (4 rooms; 6-8 people per room) on two discussion topics: (i) Digital Contact Tracing (e.g. via mobile phone apps); and (ii) How the COVID-19 outbreak is being communicated to the public;
  6. Next Steps and Questions.

This page summarises the conversations captured around How the COVID-19 outbreak is being communicated to the public only. A summary of the second topic Digital Contact Tracing' is available here.

Key Insights

Throughout the discussions many of the same points were raised that had been raised in our online community involvement report in March (which captured views from 420 people) suggesting that much more still needs to be done to improve how information and guidance about the COVID-19 outbreak is shared with and communicated to the public and specific groups.

  • Information gaps:
    ➢ Detailed information for at risk groups (selected by 86%; n=19). At-risk groups were less talked about in group discussions, but some attendees noted that the letters for at-risk groups seemed to less organized, leaving some uncertain if they were at risk.
    ➢ More information on the latest research explaining what we know about the virus and the outbreak (68%; n=15).
    ➢ More insight into what the options are for the UK’s exit strategy and how they would be decided.
    ➢ More clarity around where the UK is in its phase of the outbreak, compared to other countries 

  • Ongoing mistrust in the government and their response to the outbreak.
    ➢ There was a feeling that the government can no longer be trusted due to recent actions and conflicting messages. Lack of transparency also breeds distrust. 

  • Ongoing need for clear, consistent and relatable information: 
    ➢ Ensuring information is trusted, transparent, up to date, balanced and evidence-based was selected as an ongoing issue by 68% of respondents in our poll (n=15) 

  • As a note, our respondents were primarily accessing information from official sources and the media but much information still missing. 
    ➢ Official UK websites were ranked the most useful, with 68% of respondents picking this as one of their top choices (n=22), followed by broadcast media (50%; n=11).

What would effective communication look like?

During our earlier online involvement activity (6–15 March 2020; Report 14), we invited members of the public to highlight whether they felt they were receiving enough information about the outbreak and how to respond, and if not, what information or resources they felt were missing. By bringing together the responses to this question with other views and suggestions shared during the activity, we have drawn up the following checklist of ideas for effective communication from the public perspective, i.e. "how to develop and deliver accurate, clear and concistent information that I can access, understand and follow":

  • Ensure everyone can access the information and guidance
    ➢ Available in multiple languages and/or use of visuals to improve universal access 
    ➢ Appropriate for visually impaired, the elderly and those with learning difficulties 
    ➢ Available to those who are not online (posters, pamphlets, direct post) 
    ➢ Increased community awareness (in GPs, in religious centres) 
    ➢ Use technology to link communities 
    ➢ Targeted messaging to specific groups (e.g. young adults)

  • Ensure the information is clear, consistent, concise and understandable
    ➢ One dedicated hotline for rapid response support and guidance and a dedicated site for information (e.g. UK version of, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention website
     Don’t use jargon and don’t assume people understand the terms used, e.g. self-isolation, social distancing, epidemic 
     Be more precise with the details 
    ➢ Provide clear visual timelines of what’s happening, planned and expected 
     Launch consistent public heath campaigns across all communication channels 
     Reduce the number of different voices speaking
  • Ensure information is trusted, transparent, up to date, balanced and evidence-based
     Provide reassurance and transparency and what is planned and why
     Deliver balanced information that is based on scientific facts 
     Give regular updates delivered by independent scientific experts, not politicians 
     Be clear about what we don’t know 
    ➢ Demonstrate international and national cooperation
  • Involve the public in shaping the narrative
    ➢ There needs to be greater dialogue between citizens and government 
     The public need somewhere where concerns can be voiced and addressed 
    ➢ There is demand for more public engagement (e.g. more surveys, ‘on the street’ when possible) 
    ➢ Calls for more positive news in the media (numbers recovered, research findings) 
    ➢ Some believe highlighting the risk to the elderly is the wrong message to share

 Download the Information and Communication Gaps - Extract Report (pdf) which came out of 'Report 14 - Online Community Involvement in COVID-19 Research & Outbreak Response Early Insights from a UK Perspective'.