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More than text: With knowledge through the Covid-19 pandemic

46/2021, 22.11.2021

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment is coordinating a research project on the communication of public health institutions in times of crisis

How would citizens like to be put in the picture by authorities and the media in times of crisis? How well are they reached by messages from public health institutions? How can information be disseminated in such a way that it is understandable, effective and credible at the same time? The research project 'MIRKKOMM - Multimodality in Risk and Crisis Communication', that started on 1 October 2021 and is being coordinated by the German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), is addressing such questions. The project has received around 2 million euro in funding over three years from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research as part of the 'Research for Civil Security 2018 - 2023' programme. "A crisis such as the Covid-19 pandemic is an enormous challenge for health organisations and their communication with the public," says BfR President Professor Dr. Dr. Andreas Hensel. "New formats such as dashboards showing the course of the pandemic or video clips on protective measures go beyond conventional text-based communication, and are revolutionising the way we deal with knowledge."

One focus of the research project is to examine the effectiveness of 'multimodal' information offerings such as dashboards or novel video formats. Thereby, the project will take into account the perspective of both the ‘senders’ such as authorities and the media and the 'recipients' such as consumers.

Over the next three years, the project questions will be answered by a team from the fields of media and communication science, political science and law as well as psychology and information technology, complemented with ideas for practical implementation. Within its subproject, the BfR is responsible for the analysis of multimodal online content and examining how government institutions, as well as the media and new actors communicate about risks on the Internet, and which presentation formats could be meaningfully used for this purpose. It will examine how citizens use information from government institutions to create and publish their own social media content. "The BfR is thus making an important contribution to the implementation of the overall project, and provides evidence-based insights into the culture of debate, including the communication of scientific uncertainty in times of crisis," emphasises PD Dr. Gaby-Fleur Böl, head of the Risk Communication department. On the one hand, the knowledge gained by the BfR will be used in the reception analysis, in which selected communication content will be analysed in terms of its comprehensibility and trustworthiness, as well as its efficiency. On the other hand, the BfR will assist in the evaluation of the Modular Warning System (MoWaS), a federally owned warning system that is used to disseminate warning messages on crisis events. "With the findings from our subproject, we not only want to contribute to identifying relevant information materials, but also contribute to understanding the interplay between warnings and recommended actions," adds Dr. Annett Schulze, deputy head of the Crisis Prevention and Coordination unit.

In addition to the BfR, the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, the Ilmenau University of Technology, the SRH Berlin University of Applied Sciences and the European University Viadrina are involved in the project. The scientific expertise is complemented by a practical partner, mecom Medien-Communikations-Gesellschaft mbH, a subsidiary of the German news agency Deutsche Presseagentur (dpa). The project is further supported by renowned researchers from the U.S., the Netherlands, Australia, and Germany as well as institutions such as the Robert Koch Institute, the Federal Agency for Civic Education and the Deutsche Presse Agentur press agency.

About the BfR

The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR) is a scientifically independent institution within the portfolio of the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL) in Germany. The BfR advises the Federal Government and the States (‘Laender’) on questions of food, chemical and product safety. The BfR conducts its own research on topics that are closely linked to its assessment tasks.

This text version is a translation of the original German text which is the only legally binding version.

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