By Priscilla Mawuena Adjeidu, Communications Associate @UNDP Ghana
I’m always hopeful and positive, to say the least. Like many young people around the world, I believe the future is bright and young people must be engaged more and more.
However, in as much as COVID-19 is a huge health and development crisis, the surge of the pandemic struck me quite differently. It was a learning curve for me.
Let me tell you why. Once upon a time, crisis communication was for me just a theory or an abstract until my ongoing experience at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) as a Communication Associate.
A lot changed within a week when the first positive cases of Coronavirus were declared in Ghana on 12 March 2020. Three days before the announcement, I was tasked to research on COVID-19 and to produce a comprehensive PowerPoint for a presentation to staff to set us in a preparedness mode. As part of my task, internal sensitization started with posters to be placed at vantage points in the office. I was privileged and happy to be selected as part of UNDP’s COVID Preparedness Committee.
Within 2 days, the committee covered entirely everything with regards to management, operations and communication of this new virus. Ready? I could confidently say YES!!! The nods the committee received from staff after the presentation was satisfactory. Theory they say, gives knowledge, and practice gives experience.
BELL RINGS! CRISIS ALERT: Within 24 hours, we had to apply everything we had put into writing. Ghana has recorded its first case. To be honest, I was caught off guard despite the research and the power point presentation. It was unbelievable. Fortunately, the communication team of UNDP Ghana office, led by the Communications Analyst, Ms. Praise Nutakor, has been on its feet since then to make sure we inform, educate and adopt various sensitization strategies to support us in minimizing the effects of the crisis.
In the midst of all, I have been learning, studying, applying and getting instant results and feedback — It has been an unexpected journey but grateful for the leadership and guidance so far. Here are snapshots of my lessons:
Lesson 1: Keeping your head cool
“You need to keep your head up when all around you are losing theirs” (Rudyard Kipling and Ella Minty). The first reaction during a crisis can either make or unmake you, it can worsen the issue or benefit you and your organization. As Ella stated, “you need to keep a cool head, to make informed and strategic decisions”. Practically, I just followed how my supervisor kept her cool, approaching every single tactic in our communication strategy during this time. From directing all media enquiries to Ms. Cynthia Prah, the National Information Officer of the UN Information Centre (UNIC)-Accra, to enable us speak with one voice, to issuing press releases, campaigns on social media, including production and release of digital videos to sensitize our audience on COVID-19 facts and preventive measures.
Lesson 2: Strategic timing and planning
Another striking element from all these is how tactical one must be when it comes to timing. Timing in the sense of where to respond, how to respond, the medium to use to respond, and the time to respond. In as much as one must be calm in the midst of the storm, one has to tactically respond accordingly at the right time to make a positive impact. You don’t just get up and speak, it is a calculated effort from activating the communication strategy to social media plan to crisis management advocacy and content development, in order to communicate comprehensively.
Lesson 3: Right choice of words
Language accuracy is more than necessary. You can’t afford to make a mistake. Hence, everything written must be triple checked before going out to the public. Your writing tone must be deliberate; it must be emotionally, psychologically and grammatically accurate. No room for assumption, or misinterpretation in crisis, I learnt.
In all these lessons, I have come to understand that communication is an interesting art. It can only get better with practice. Even as the issues evolved daily, as scientists are studying and trying to find the root cause of this virus, as doctors are working relentlessly to manage cases, as leaders of all nations are trying to contain and make defining decisions to stabilize the economy of their countries, as organizations are still adapting to the virtual space of working, I am also still learning and will never stop learning especially the art of communications during crisis.
COVID-19 will be over one day, but the lessons I have learnt so far in my early career days at UNDP will never be forgotten. Thank you United Nations for being the trusted global leader on COVID-19.