Communication and collaboration in a crisis

Lectures and events
Publication Date
17/08/2021
Featuring
Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE
Professor Jason Leitch
Dr Anne Templeton
Allan Farmer

This event was part of the RSE’s summer events programme, Curious.
Find out more on the Curious website.

The notion of a genuine partnership between government and people, where each listen to each other and feel listened to is very attractive.

At the start of the pandemic Nicola Sturgeon referred to an ‘adult conversation’ between the Scottish Government and the Scottish public about how to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic. In a similar vein, many advisors have pointed to the fact that policies are always more effective in engaging the public when they are produced with the public rather than just imposed upon the public. This notion of a genuine partnership between government and people, where all feel listened to is very attractive. But how is it achieved in practice? How can government communicate in a way that is engaging, compelling and comprehensible? How can the voices of all sections of the community – and not just those who are most privileged – be fed into the policy making process? Are there limits to the openness of government? This discussion will examine the response of the Scottish Government, and what it got right – and wrong – over the last 18 months.

Transcript

Please note transcripts are automatically generated, so may feature errors.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 0:00
So hello, everybody. And welcome to this session of the curious festival today, which is on communication and collaboration in a crisis.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 0:11
I should start by, by extending that welcome from the Royal Society of Edinburgh, which has been organising the curious festival. And for myself, my name is Stephen Reicher. I’m a social psychologist at the University of St. Andrews. And I’m also one of the vice presidents of the RSE. I’m the Vice President for arts, humanities and social sciences. As you know, as I’ve already said, today’s session is on communication, and collaboration in a crisis. And in many ways, it relates to something which I think has been quite central to the response to the pandemic, certainly in Scotland. And it was, I think, very well articulated by Nicola Sturgeon by the First Minister, when she referred to an ‘adult conversation’ around the pandemic an adult conversation about what the position was, what the issues were, and how we should respond. And in many ways, what we’re going to do today is we’re going to interrogate that notion of an adult conversation, first of all, is such a conversation possible? Is it possible to have a two way conversation between government and the public, a conversation in which the government speak openly, and transparently and honestly, to the public, but also, this is critical that the public can answer back that the voice of the public enters into the policy process is heard by politicians and policy makers and practitioners? Is a conversation, something that normally happens between two individuals possible between two very broad entities, like a government and like a public? The second question, in many ways, is, in what ways? Did we do things well, and did we do things badly? How good were the communications? Where did they succeed? Was Scotland a shining example? In some ways? Did we have failures in other ways? The third question is, what do we learn from the pandemic more broadly? What do we learn about the possibility of a society in which government and the people listen to each other, hear each other, respond to each other? Does the pandemic provide a model more generally, about how the relationship between government and people should be run. So very big themes are very broad themes. And hopefully, we can be as open and frank as possible. And not only speak to what we’ve done well, but be honest about our limitations, and honest about our failures. Because of course, in the end, we only get better by recognising what we did wrong, and making sure that we don’t repeat those mistakes. And in order to address those issues, we have, as in all the curious events, a superb lineup of people, starting with Jason Leitch, who I think will be known to all of you, I was going to refer to him as the voice of the pandemic, but that makes him sound rather sinister. We have something out of a David Cronenberg film, the voice of the virus, I don’t know if viruses speak but perhaps more accurately, I think Jason as National Clinical Director, has been the voice of the pandemic response. Certainly, he has been the messaging in many ways and and a voice we’ve heard regularly over the last 18 months and no doubt, we will hear for many months to come. And it’s always a pleasure to hear from Jason. The second person on the panel is Anne Templeton, Dr Anne Templeton, who is a psychologist at the University of Edinburgh, and Anne has been very much involved in doing research on messaging during COVID-19. She was heavily involved in the large events research programme, looking at how we could message people to behave safely in large events. At the moment, she’s involved in a very exciting research project looking at behaviour in hospital settings and in healthcare settings. And again, asking what forms of messaging are effective in getting people to behave safely, to keep themselves safe, to keep others safe, to distance when necessary, to wear mask when necessary and so on. And last but very far from this. We have Allan Farmer from the Corra Foundation, and the Corra Foundation is very much involved in these issues of giving voice to community, empowering communities. Making sure that communities are an active participant in the policy making process. That their concerns are heard and feed into the policymaking process. So I think I hope we have all angles covered. So let me just say a word or two about how the session will run, we will start off by having a conversation amongst ourselves, so to speak, for the first 20-25 minutes, the first half of the session. And then after that, we will open it to questions, and we will endeavour to do our very best to answer your questions. We’re not politicians. So we will answer your questions as much as we possibly can. And you can start submitting questions as soon as you like through the question and answer function. Okay, so let’s get going with the actual session. And I’m going to start, Jason, with you about the messaging. And I’m gonna start off nice and gently so I can get more vicious as the as the conversation unfolds. By asking you what you think has been done well, what are you proudest of in terms of the communication and turning this aspiration of a national conversation into a reality?

Professor Jason Leitch 6:13
Afternoon, Steven, and everybody else’s. It’s nice to be here. Thank you very much for asking me. It’s so fantastic subject and one, I feel entirely unqualified to answer other than experientially so I have been thrown into this a little in the last 18 months. I always knew I could speak out loud in a straight line. But I didn’t know this would be the subject on which I would be forced to do it. I think what’s gone well, is actually quite a lot of the stuff you don’t see. I’ve learned a great deal about communication that you and others have taught me. And I’ve learned that there are people who understand it. There are there is a science part of that scientists represented here today by Anne and you and Allan but it turns out just a small anecdote, if you want to speak to Orkney, there’s no point in being on the Today programme. That’s an irrelevance to Orkney, what you have to do to speak to Orkney is be on radio, Orkney at six o’clock every evening, if you want to speak to it. Because that’s what it does. If you want to speak to Oban, you should probably get in the Oban Times. Because the vast majority of Oban, take a weekly newspaper, I haven’t read a weekly newspaper for 20 years. So there are people who help help with that. And I think we’ve done that really well. We’ve got experts in the government, we’ve got experts out in the system, you have come in and helped us others have helped us to do that. And the other, the other invisible bit, is the stakeholder comms. So everybody just thinks I and my colleagues have spent all our time in the news studios that’s not true. We have spent a lot of time with the new students. But actually, I’ve spent more time in stakeholder groups, whatever you might call them, faith groups, hospitality groups, people who represent young people who represent the African diaspora at whatever section of society you want to talk about. And I’ve learned a great deal. And my principal learning in there has been about dialogue. It’s been about, of course, going with content, expertise, about vaccination, about testing about whatever the latest thing is that week, but also hearing back from that community and that community could be woman, it could be half the country, or it or it could be Aran, and the challenges with ferries, it can be massively varied. But hearing back from whatever those challenges are, and trying to adapt the communication give the best advice you can from your context, because you can’t walk in their shoes, and they can’t walk in you.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 8:51
So that’s the good news. With various politicians, of course, when they are asked about errors, we’ll start singing Édith Piaf
and tell you that je ne regrette rien. Is there anything you regret, anything you think, has been done badly? Any mistakes that have been made anything that you would change, If you were starting all over again?

Professor Jason Leitch 9:16
I think that are technical things, response things that we will look back on and wonder if the timing was right, wondering if the messaging was was right. I think one of the things I’ve learned that I wish I had done more of was and this may horrify some of the stakeholder groups is not just do it once. It is build relationship inside the communication does that make sense? So I I’ve spent, I’ve got multiple examples. But one of the groups I’ve spent a lot of time with there are Scotland faith leaders. They meet fortnightly and they represent all faiths and no faiths. So the interfaith group is the humanists are there, the other Baptist, the Jewish community is there. And because I have paid in, over a long period and had fairly robust conversations with them, you can imagine, polite but robust. It allows you to go back when you need something. And what we needed a couple of months ago was, please open your institutions to vaccination and message about vaccination on our behalf because you are the trusted voices. Now if I had just walked in off the street with no emotion paid me, then why on earth would they have taken my call that they had? And I think I could have done more of that. I think I could have got to know the stakeholder groups better rather than parachuting in and doing Alzheimer Scotland and leaving again, or Autism Scotland and leaving again, I think I have I have had a better effect when I’ve paid and over a longer period.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 10:51
I mean, I think that’s a critical issue. And I think we’ll probably explore that a bit more with Anne in a moment that in many ways, communication. And messaging isn’t only about the content of the messages, it’s about building the trust that you need for people to heed those messages. And it seems to me that leads to a number of tensions and a number of contradictions. Because one way of building trust is to acknowledge fallibility to acknowledge that you make mistakes. On the other hand, for any politician to admit to a mistake is a very dangerous thing, because you know, it will be exploited by your political opponents, and it will probably be used to try and silence you. So how easy do you think it is in the communication, to admit to fallibility to admit to uncertainty and to admit to mistakes.

Professor Jason Leitch 11:39
I think admitting to general fallibility is allowed. Admitting that you chose to get Christmas wrong is not allowed. I have faced some of that. I faced some of that in the media, I’ve faced some of it some of the real horror on social media, which we might come to, but actually, I think it’s perhaps artificial. I think perhaps the peak of the pyramid that makes the front page or makes the story for 24 hours because I stumble at the podium, but I say something that is misunderstood. Or if you take a middle of the sentence out, you can make it that Jason cancelled Christmas. So Jason cancelled Mother’s Day when he did no such thing. In fact, that sentence he said was nobody can cancel Christmas, but we’re asking you to have a different kind of Christmas. And that becomes a picture of me as the Grinch on the front page of the tabloids, which is funny. But there’s just just an example of how your message changes. So I have tried repeatedly, to go back to what my mother taught me when I was four years old, when I don’t know if this memory is real, or she’s told me since when she sat me down on a bed and said at times of crisis, son, revert to the truth. So I have tried every day to tell the truth as I know it that day, but if you replay my interviews from March 2020, they sound very different from August 2021. Because this is an odd sentence, Truth has changed. What we know now is not what we knew then. So if you want to play the game of gotcha, for the First Minister, or the leader of the opposition, or the clinical advisors, that’s an easy game. You can absolutely I’m quite sure we could even find some from Steve. If we looked back and replayed something from March, April 2020, and said, why did you say that about face coverings? Why did you say that about the way this virus affects older people or younger people? Of course, but the core of the message, I’ve got better at seeing the date before I give an interview. So I often say in August 2021, the sciences such and such, so that’s my only change. And I try and tell the truth in the moment. And I hope in the long run that serves me and the message well.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 13:57
And I think that’s a really interesting and important question about science communication more generally. Because I mean, a lot of the time, it seems to me there is a sense that science communication is about absolute authority, you get a whispering authority with David Attenborough, who we all love saying, you know, in avuncular terms, we know this. And we know that as if that knowledge is absolute, the problem being that when the law of knowledge changes, if you have absolute faith, you can then go to your absolute rejection. So how do you maintain that balance between saying look science isn’t random is better than nothing. But it’s the best knowledge we have in a point in time. And it could change a masks, of course, are the one of the great examples of that we didn’t have the evidence about masks early on. We got that evidence. So as you say, The truth changed. Or to take another example. Now we know how the virus is airborne. And we know how important ventilation is probably ventilation is problem more important than hands, face, space. So how do we deal with trying to give people confidence and authority, but at the same time being clear that this isn’t absolute knowledge, it’s contingent knowledge. And it’s only our best understanding, at this point of time? How do you try and square that circle?

Professor Jason Leitch 15:19
I don’t know how to square that circle entirely. I know some of the things I have done and some of the things we’ve done as a government. So to her great credit, the First Minister like her politics, or don’t like her politics early on, in the process, last February, sat down with then, Catherine Calderwood
and I, and said, having learned from swine flu, because she had been the Health Minister during swine flu with Sir Harry Burns
as the chief medical officer and said, I can’t do the comms politically. That’s not going to work. Of course, I’m the leader of the country. And of course, some of the comms has to be led politically, and I should be front and centre of that, but I need clinicians beside me. So I think the mixture of scientific truth, and judgement has been crucial. And sometimes I have dodged questions by saying, well, that’s not a matter for me. That’s a matter of judgement, the advice I am giving is that we should vaccinate X, Y, Z. Whether the government do X, Y, or Z, and in what order they do X Y, or Z, that’s a matter for the government. And sometimes that’s grey, sometimes it’s black and white, it’s very straightforward, whether school should open or not, it’s not a matter for me, the risk of schools opening as a matter for me and my colleagues, and we can feed that into the equation and the Cabinet and the First Minister can then take a view we’ve tried to do that and abroad four harms way so harm from the virus harm to healthcare, harm to society and harm to the economy. And we’ve got experts in each of those boxes to try and help us with that. The tricky bit is that usually we do that on the pages of scientific journals and not live on the telly. But we’ve had to play that out live on breakfast TV, and I think we find some fantastic communicators across the UK media, including you not to spare your blushes, Linda Bauld, Devi Sridhar, others who have stepped up into a high risk place for academics actually, and played out that science in real time. I think Linda is a really good example. She gentle. She’s authoritative. But she follows the science at the time. So you can play the gotcha game with Linda Bauld as well, because you can find it has changed over time. But she comes across along with others in that scientific communication community very, very well. And I think it’s an under, under appreciate, I would say that’s, of course, an underappreciated skill in clinical and life scientists to be able to do that. Let’s call it live on the telly, or live on the football phone, because it turns out the most listened to radio programme in Scotland as a football phone in. So if you want to get across to young men, what they should do during the pandemic, you got to get on the football phone. There’s no point in being on the Today programme, you’ve got to get on the football phone in. And you’ve got to have an ability to communicate on the football phone. So that that’s the trick to play out in real time.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 18:17
I mean, I do think you’re quite right, that the skill of communication is critical and critical to academics as well. I mean, we are very good at communicating through academic papers that our mom, our dog, and nobody else reads, but communicating to millions of people in a way that goes to the heart of it, I think is absolutely critical. And of course, since you’ve been praising others, nobody has done it better than you over the last 18 months. But I’ll stop being nice to you. Now. That’s as much as you’re going to get. And I’ll turn to Anne, who, as an academic studies, issues of influence, issues of leadership, issues of groups and issues of messaging. So having heard from the messenger, I’m now going to turn if you like to the analyst of messaging, and Anne what are the major lessons that you think are critical in terms of communicating well, and communicating effectively, around COVID? And more generally?

Dr Anne Templeton 19:25
It’s a great question. I was really heartened, Jason, when you were talking about the importance of building relationships and knowing how to kind of approach different groups because harnessing those group processes, is something I really wanted to talk about. If we’re trying to think about key points that governments can take into account when it comes to communicating Covid-19 guidance effectively and working with communities. I think there are there are three key points. The first is that the government’s need to be able to explain what the public needs to do and why they need to do it and that includes giving enough information so that people know what to do and why they’re having to do it. So for example, we have messaging from Boris Johnson saying stay alert. Well, that’s all very good. And well, we can stay alert to Covid, but we don’t know what to do about it. It’s not about how to combat it. So then something’s Scottish Government has done really well, is they’ve given key, they’re telling the public key practical steps to take to combat COVID. So they’ve said to self isolate, if you’ve been in contact with someone who’s tested positive for COVID-19, and included the descriptions of what self isolation actually requires, and then explained why people need to isolate event if they don’t have symptoms. So given that clear information about what people need to do, how to do it, and why they need to do it. And that’s so important when people are making individual risk assessments about how to how to behave in particular situations, because they’re given full information so they can make the best decisions. I mentioned group processes, I think this is one of the main points that I would like everyone to take away from today, if you can. Harness those group processes. Something I think that the Scottish Government has done really well, is they’ve harnessed this idea that following the Covid-19 guidance is in the interest of the group, that it’s good for Scotland. So we’re more likely to follow guidance if it’s in our self interest. But what’s in our self interest can include what’s good for our group, whether that is our local community, or the nation that we’re in. And it might be that someone isn’t worried about COVID, because they don’t see it as particularly risky to themselves. If they’re young, and they’re fit in, they’re able. But if we know that someone in our group in our community is vulnerable, then harnessing the idea that to follow the guidance is good for our community. It’s good for us as well, because what’s good for our community is good for us, enhances that care. And I think, focusing on those benefits to the group. And the benefits of following Covid-19 guidance for the group can be very persuasive. And something else that Scottish Government have done really well on this, particularly in their Scotland cares campaign. Groups have particular definitions or actions are associated with them that we see as normative. They’re expected behaviours as part of the group. And we can harness what it means to be part of that group when encouraging safe behaviour. So for, for example, in the Scotland cares campaign, they focused on how caring for others in our community is an inherently Scottish thing. So to be in Scotland means you care for others in your community, and they gave clear guidance on how to provide that care how to look out for the community, So it was very persuasive.

Dr Anne Templeton 22:48
And it was really interesting when you were talking about the leadership and knowing how to speak to people and who to who to speak to, Jason. Because when we talk about leadership, well, when we see others as members of our group, we’re more likely to trust them, to trust the information that they’re giving, we’re more likely to influence by them. And the best leaders are those that we see as members of our group, or embodying what it means to be part of our group. And so I think something that was done really well, by the likes of Jacinda Ardern and Nicola Sturgeon, is they talked a lot about how COVID was affecting everyone, and it was hard, but we’re all in this together. And when they were assessing your guidance, and what to do, they were following that guidance, as well it’s this idea of, you know, we’re all doing it, we’re all in this together. But that can be very easily undermined. So for example, if you have government officials, giving advice to self isolate, wherever the guidance is, and then they go against it, such as testing their eyes and going for a drive, that can completely undermine that relationship with the public, it makes an idea of there’s one role for the people giving the guidance and one role for the general public. It undermines the trust in the guidance, and undermines the importance of the guidance as well. Because if they’re not following it, then people think it may not be that important. So it’s really important that leaders are tapping into those kind of group process. They’re embodying what it means to be part of the group. And they’re following the guidance they give. Last point I want to make and this really taps into Allan’s work. So I don’t want to lean on it too heavily. But making sure the guidance is inclusive so that people are actually able to follow the guidance. It’s all very well, you’re giving guidance, people trusting the guidance you’re giving. But if they can’t actually follow it, then you’re going to get people not following the guidance. Governments can acknowledge that some guidance is going to disproportionately affect certain communities, and they can make plans to support them and give them resources to actually follow that guidance. Now on one hand, that might be in the events research programme. This isn’t underrepresented communities, but in terms of giving that sort of practical ability to follow if you have queueing systems, making sure they’re able to be two metres apart, people in queueing system great way to able to be two metres apart. If you’re looking at communities who are underrepresented, for example, if you’re looking at low socio economic status communities, research has shown that they are six times less likely to be able to work from home, they are three times less likely to be able to self isolate. So if you’re saying stay at home, isolate, and people need money for food, it’s very difficult for them to actually isolate. So giving resources to underrepresented communities to be able to actually follow the guidance is so critical. And it’s so critical in building that trust. And one of the ways governments can do that is by working with people in the communities, working with community leaders, people who know what that community needs, in going and building up those relationships. So they’re co-producing the guidance that their co-purchasing decisions to enable people to follow the guidance.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 25:55
Well, that was immensely rich, and we could spend an hour on that alone. And I think you’ve pointed to, I mean, three, absolutely key factors in any issues of behaviour and behaviour change. I mean, the first, as you say, is clarity of information. I remember the polling that was done, showed that when people were asked if they understood stay at home while 96% did because it means stay at home. I don’t know what the other 4% were thinking. But when it changed to stay alert, only 31% of people understood that because what the hell does stay alert to a virus mean, I can’t see the damn thing, I don’t quite know what it means. The second, as you say, is resources. I mean, it’s all very well people to be motivated, you need the opportunity. Now, if you ask people to self isolate, they’ve got to be able to self isolate. A lot of the time, right at the beginning, when there was all the publicity back COVIDiots, who were congregating in parks, well, where were they supposed to go if they went outside? And the answer wasn’t to call them COVIDiots. It was to make more public space available to golf courses so that people can walk on those as well, and giving people opportunities. But as you say, motivation. And I think one of the things that’s coming over more and more clearly, both, I think from Jason and from yourself, is that communication is about establishing a relationship, as well as about giving information, the two are interdependent. Because after all, if I give you information about things you don’t know about, you’ve got to trust me that this is accurate information. So I think the role of trust and building trust with people becomes an absolutely central psychological question. And I think while I would love for us to have a conversation about building trust, I’m going to turn in a sense to Allan to begin to address that issue, because I think it’s central to the work he does. But I going to start off with a slightly different question. I’m sure we’ll get on to trust in a moment. And that is, I mean, in many ways, what the pandemic has done is reveal many profound things about the nature of our society, showing us something about the inequalities in our society. It shows something about the importance of connectedness and the dangers of loneliness. But it’s also showing us something quite remarkable about the power of communities. I remember early on, and I’m sure the figures have changed. And this was UK data, some 3000 to 4000, mutual aid groups had set up, that was the tip of the iceberg because there were many, many more groups, there were neighbourhood groups, and so on. And something like 12 million people were involved in looking out for each other in a way that the state could never do. Looking after neighbours making sure they were okay, the state can only do so much. So it shows the power of community when it comes together, and the importance of community. But at the moment, a lot of those mutual aid groups are having problems keeping going. They’re getting burnt out, they don’t have resources. So I think one of the questions is, in many ways, what has this pandemic taught us about community, the importance of community and the relationship between the state between government and community groups? And does it provide a model going forward for perhaps a healthier and more productive form of society?

Allan Farmer 29:23
Thanks, Steve, I think as you said there was a significant upsurge in community activity at the start of the pandemic. And I suppose what we saw, building on the point about relationships was a lot of the red tape and falling away, the relationship between citizens and state communities and government, both local and national level changing rapidly. There was a shift in sort of long standing power imbalances and an increased focus on trust on relationships, and fundamentally on community knowledge and decision making. So that that really kind of on underpinning the immediate response, I think, as Anne mentioned, you know, it’s one thing to be communicating what people should be doing but actually channelling resources to where there was the greatest needs was a key part of that initial response and encouragingly many local authorities in particular, recognise that the energy, the knowledge, the enthusiasm around that sat with local groups, many of whom were long established, many of whom have, as you’ve identified, had established in the immediate response to the pandemic. And I think there are, there are definitely opportunities to look at how that relationship shifted, and how that kind of adult conversation, that honest communication about what is possible, what’s, you know, the challenges that government facing, the challenges societies face, but also the challenges that communities are facing, and can be brought much more into the round. When we’re speaking with local authorities, for example, there is definitely a desire to embed those different ways of working to make that a more permanent shift. But we are also aware that there are perhaps an understandable, move back towards pre pandemic ways of working so around community engagement around community planning, around how services are delivered within communities, and the extent of which or indeed to the extent to which not community members are actually involved in in shaping those decisions, and have an equal say in how decisions are being made in their place.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 31:46
So let me ask you a very concrete question. And I’m asking you that for quite selfish reasons. One of the challenges for the Scottish Government and the Scottish Government set up some working groups, and I was involved in some of them, asking precisely this question of how do you get community voices to feed in to the policy making process. And there are two big issues there. The one is, you’ve got to make policy for, you know, for tomorrow, probably for last night, at the longest for next Tuesday. And therefore, it’s got to be something really rapid, you don’t have time to have long consultations, because that by that point, you know, it’s too late. So number one, having something which is speedy, which has to mean you’re not everybody getting together, but some sort of process whereby particular individuals feed into that process. But on the other hand, that leads to the problem that with a lot of community consultation, the word communities use, but what it means is that those who are already loudest, and most privileged and most articulate, speak, in other words, middle classes, men, older men, people like me, and you’ve heard quite enough from me. So how do you make sure when you have community consultation, it is inclusive, and that those groups who are normally silence, those individuals who normally silenced feed in what what sort of processes or mechanisms, can we ensure both efficiency and inclusiveness in feeding into the policy process? So that voice really has an impact?

Allan Farmer 33:22
Certainly the the approach that Corra has taken through our getting alongside communities work is, as Jason mentioned, specific to the local context. So it’s really understanding what’s happening for people in that place, and how best to start to engage them in a process or a series of conversations to begin to kind of articulate their their aspirations and identify actions to achieve them. It is about walking in those shoes, it is about taking time. So whilst I hear the need to move quickly on policy, the answer is that actually the trust and the relationships need to be built up over time. And whilst we’re talking, perhaps more specifically around policy in relation to the pandemic, broadly within Scotland, there is a very enabling policy environment. So there is the community empowerment act, place principal, Christie gives us a framework in which to actually start to implement some of those changes. But I suppose given that we’re 10 years down the line from Christie, it also gives us some examples of how that could be tricky to actually implement some of that change and to make policymaking decision making genuinely participative process.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 34:43
So, I mean in a sense, what you’re saying is that, for communication for relations with the community, like everything else, whether it’s the state of the NHS, the acquisition of PPE, testing facilities, you can’t just suddenly do it in a pandemic happens, this is something that’s got to be done long term, so that we are prepared so that when we’re crises, we have the trust. And we have the mechanisms for that feed in. And the very real danger is that, you know, when the pandemic finishes, we all forget, and everybody talks going back to normal. But in many ways, we mustn’t go back to normal, we’ve got to go back to something better. And part of that better is more engaged communities, more empowered communities, more resources to community groups.

Allan Farmer 35:33
Indeed, yeah, and I think whilst the pandemic has, in many ways, been a shared experience in terms of the hope, the fears, the anxieties, Listening to Jason, there are also examples of communities who were already marginalised pre pandemic, and really are at risk of being left further behind, as we start to move towards, or through the next phase of the pandemic and towards something that more fully resembles recovery. So I think it is contingent to use the time that we have now to start to think quite differently about how decisions are made, how the resources that are available, can actually be more fully in the hands of communities and actually allow for localised responses to shape up.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 36:21
So I’m going to finish now with a final question, before we go to the audience and pick up on their questions, you have the ear of the National Clinical Director, who has the ear of the First Minister. So if you have a shopping list of the three things, I might give you a fourth, I’ll allow you just two. The things that we should do better, the things that we should change, and build back better as a matter of urgency, what would they be as concretely as possible?

Allan Farmer 36:52
Wow, the wish list. So I think we definitely need to, to work in a more coordinated way to provide a programme of support for communities. So what we’ve seen in a number of places, you know, community anchored organisations who’ve been really instrumental in supporting the response to the pandemic. But we’re also aware that that’s not the case at all communities, and a different type of support might be required. So I think there’s something fundamental there, I also think there’s something fundamental about access to space. And that might sound a bit strange, I know the public spaces mentioned in terms of meeting outdoors. But for the communities that we’re working alongside, there is a fundamental lack of space to actually be able to come together to start to reconnect, to have those conversations, to think about how they individually and collectively start to move forward from the pandemic. And that builds into a whole lot more, we’re also seeing a lack of access to services at a local level. And again, as people start to emerge from pandemic restrictions, new needs are emerging, new services are required. And an opportunity to have a more holistic conversation around that involving communities, and government to actually come up with a different way of working would be would be great to see. And just to add in as well, I think if there has to be a more adult conversation between communities and government, there also needs to be perhaps a more adult conversation between Scottish, local and UK Government as well, because some of the challenges that are experienced at community level, obviously flow back up into policy and financial decisions that are being made.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 38:49
So we have now 20 minutes left, which is my fault for allowing the speakers to go on for too long and going on too long myself, mainly because they were so interesting, because when we talk about messaging, and when we talk about information, of course, the government and scientists aren’t the only people doing it. There is a lot of misinformation out there. There’s a lot of misinformation about the pandemic in general. There are those who will tell you that vaccines are there to control you and have all sorts of terrible effects upon you. There are those who will tell you that the whole pandemic is a scam. So how do we deal with misinformation? What’s the most effective way of dealing with a huge amount of misleading and downright false information that is circulating. Jason, you must have had to deal with that. What are your top tips?

Professor Jason Leitch 39:48
A great deal and you and you’ve been one of our principal advisors on that very thing. I’ve also spent some time with a group called the vaccine confidence project run by an American but a global footprint to help us with vaccine confidence, which is a good way of thinking about it. And their advice in summary is the same as your advice, surround, people with trusted information. Now, the trusted information thing needs to expanded, of course, into what Anne described as the message and the messenger. And so my best example of that, in recent weeks has been Young Scot, Scotland’s young people’s, not for profit, third sector, organisation, and astonishing organisation pre pandemic, but has had a wonderful pandemic, they have a health panel, they have a dozen young people who are their health specialists, they’re not, they’re not doctors, or nurses or physios. They’re just people with an interest. So I have spent time with them. With the health panel, the health panel have then gone out with the trusted message to the young people, not me. I’ve answered questions to the health panel. And then the health panel have gone on Tik Tok and YouTube and run Q&As on Twitter and all kinds of places. Trusted voices, with the correct information and science out in the communities surrounding those who are perhaps a little bit sceptical with the correct information. The other piece of advice I’ve had from those in this battle who have been in this battle for longer than I people who are really in the vaccine battle is that you shouldn’t fight the extremists, you should ignore the extremists. And don’t tackle the 5G chip people or the Bill Gates conspiracy theorists. Social media organisations should tackle them. So there is regulation that should help us with that. But actually giving it air time, or giving it any kind of oxygen is the wrong thing to do. And the right thing to do is consistently and optimistically share the best science honestly and openly. And we had this a couple of times right at the beginning of the vaccine rollout, you’ll remember two people had very severe allergic reactions unexpectable right at the beginning. So that looked as though proportionately we were going to get more allergy from this vaccine than we’ve had from previous vaccines, so we had to go on the telly and say, Whoa, hold on, here’s what we’re gonna do. We’re gonna now not give this vaccine to people with allergic reactions to drugs. It turns out nearly eight months later, that the vaccine allergy thing is the same as it’s always been, we just got a couple of bad ones at the beginning. When you take the whole average, the science is the same as it’s always been for any vaccine. But we had to openly and honestly go on TV and radio and say, well, here’s what we’re going to do. The blood clot, one needs a longer answer. And it’s been about trying to describe and this is one of the things I’ve found very difficult to explain to the public is risk. Risk is an enormously difficult concept to get across at a population level when you’re dealing with individuals. And I find that translation really quite difficult. And the blood clot risk is just one example of where we’ve struggled with that a little.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 43:11
Anne or Allan is there anything you’d like to add?

Dr Anne Templeton 43:16
Just very briefly, and Jason, you were saying about trusted information and trusted messenger? I think that the idea of the trusted messenger is so important, especially when we’re looking at vaccine hesitancy. So I mentioned earlier that we are more likely to trust people who we see as being part of our group, we look to our group members for information when in uncertain times, generally, especially in uncertain times. And if those in group members are telling us that vaccines are unsafe, but then the government who we feel represented by who don’t feel like they’re part of our group are telling us they’re safe, we’re more likely to listen to those people who we think have our best interests at heart which is our group members. And so I think building links with those communities where there’s vaccine hesitancy making sure it’s good representation for their needs, that government are seem to be working on their behalf is so important for mitigating that vaccine hesitancy and building up trust so that information is then trusted.

Professor Jason Leitch 44:14
It’s been a hard lesson for me Anne, that sometimes I make it worse. That’s a tough, that’s a tough lesson for me to learn. But I think it is, I think it is, I’m flippant but I think it’s genuinely true. I think sometimes I am not the correct voice in whatever community or setting it might happen to be.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 44:33
I think I mean, a couple of points you’ve made. Jason and Anne, I think are absolutely critical. I mean, the first is the there is a real danger of conflating different things. So people who aren’t vaccinated or haven’t gotten vaccinated aren’t necessarily vaccine hesitant. It’s all for all sorts of other reasons, including practical reasons, which is why making it easier to get vaccinated is really important making sure that vaccination centres are close to people making sure that people have paid time off work to get vaccinated. Secondly, the vaccine hesitant who are only 4% of the population, according to the Office of National Statistics, figures are not anti vaxxers. They’re people with genuine questions and perfectly reasonable questions. People will have questions about the effect of the vaccine on fertility, if you’ve got sickle cell disease, there are people who want questions answered, the anti vaxxers are those who don’t want questions answered, because they’ve decided on what the response is in the first place. And one of the key messages of psychology just to the add to Anne’s message about, you know, we trust people, if we see them as part of us, as in group. Is that if you treat people as other as out group, they become out group and to treat people who have questions with disrespect. To call them selfish, as Michael Gove did, to insult them to call them stupid is to drive them into the hands of the anti vaxxers. So to me, I mean, one of the most important things is if you want people to trust you trust them, if they want, you want them to respect you respect them. And I think one of the most important things is to recognise that many, many people have very real questions and take those seriously, and answer them and don’t have a go at people because they have those questions, I think is absolutely critical. It’s all about building that relationship. And that takes me then to the next question. If you look, again, if you look at the figures on vaccination, and there are some really interesting figures that again, came out about a week ago, from the Office of National Statistics, they tell a good story about adherence, and they tell a very good story about vaccination, but they show it’s different in particular communities. So I mentioned that 96% of people are pro vaccine, only 4% of questions, have concerns, that’s much greater in a series of communities, it’s 14% amongst the unemployed, it’s 14% amongst Muslim communities, it’s 21% amongst Black communities suggesting there are very real issues of trust with particular communities. Now, that comes back to something Jason, you were saying, at the beginning about the importance of understanding different communities and relating to different communities. But the key question then is how do we build trust? And how in particular, do we build trust in communities where there is a history of a troubled relationship with authority, a troubled relationship with the state and with government? So this time, I’m going to start with Allan, and then I going to bring in Anne, and then I may come to Jason. But, Allan, any thoughts about, you know, how do we build trust, particularly with those marginalised and vulnerable communities where there is a history of mistrust?

Allan Farmer 47:59
I think some of it goes back to what you said, Steve, as well about actually treating people with trust and respect. So opening up conversations with a parity of esteem so that, you know, what one party shares is no more or less important than the others. In our experience of working alongside communities, as well, it’s really about spending a lot of time listening, and acknowledging the potential power imbalance in terms of that relationship. And also fundamentally being able to support ideas to move quite quickly into action as well. So if there’s a suggestion within a community for something that they would like to see happen, then Corra as a funder does have some power to support that. But more fundamentally, it’s just about being on hand to actually encourage and enhance that idea of being able to move from an initial idea into some demonstrable action is a really quick and effective way of starting to build that trust in that relationship.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 49:06
Anne, have you got any thoughts?

Dr Anne Templeton 49:09
This is a really tricky issue. And whatever I say is going to be somewhat reductionist, because it requires a whole session on its own, but I’m thinking of work that’s conducted on survivors of the Grenfell disaster. And we see this again and again in closure psychology, but after disasters during disasters, communities are fantastic at coming together and supporting themselves and self organising, they collectively self organised to support one another. And often this happens before their state intervention, before emergency services even get there. And particularly looking at Grenfell, we’ve got really marginalised communities. There is a real kind of tension with the state there. And what’s been happening in the aftermath of Grenfell is the government had been trying to build up links with Grenfell community in the way they’ve been doing that, and I’m not going to comment on how effective its been, but what they’ve been trying to do, I think is work with the community and community leaders who know what those communities need. They’ve been in the community, they are representatives of the community, we have those direct trust from the community, that is a really tricky position for community leaders to be in because they’ve really got to be seen as representing what the community needs. So it’s a thorny one, but I think really is listening to the community really listening to what they need, because they’ll have a much better idea than someone coming in from the outside.

Professor Jason Leitch 50:39
So my only addition is a couple of practical examples, Jambo! Radio, Glasgow’s African and Afro Caribbean radio station, funded by a tiny bit of money from the government and seed funding started by an inspiring African immigrant in Glasgow and I did the Q&A on their news programme earlier, I did it last week at broadcast this week, and I learned stuff about the African moms WhatsApp group, which is actually where they get that information from. So actually, what you got to do is get on the African mums WhatsApp group to share information inside that bubble, because most of them won’t listen to the 52 year old white guy who’s come from the government to help them. So it was a fantastic, it opened conversation with a host who does a news programme, who’s from Glasgow, who understands the African diaspora, and can translate into a language that people can understand both literally translate, but also metaphorically translate into a language that gets across and I did exactly the same to Scotland’s Polish community, the Poles are very vaccine sceptic, in terms of whole countries. So a lot of that information comes from Poland, they’re not listening to the UK Government, or the Scottish Government’s info, they’re listening to the Polish info that they’re getting from Poland. So you have to counter that in some form, you have to give it in a language that’s understandable. As you said earlier, Steve, you have to take the vaccine to the community. So for our Muslim friends, opening the mosque vaccination clinic was a crucial step that the leaders of the mosque, and the leaders of Scotland’s political parties who all went on the day we opened it, one of whom is Muslim, and the Health Secretary is Muslim, that was a massive step to get across that communication to that community and tell them vaccination was safe. And not only that, we brought it to you to make it easy for you.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 52:37
So one issue we haven’t raised yet, which obviously is absolutely critical, is our messaging is insignificant, next to the media messaging. And what’s more, our messaging is in many ways filtered through the media, we’re only heard to the extent, it’s reported by the media. And one of the concerns I had throughout the pandemic, was that it’s not a conspiracy, it’s very much media values, which means that your bad news and violations are better than good news. So a lot of the time, for instance, again, from early on, but still more recently, we would have stories about people breaking the rules about having house parties about having raves. And not only did that misrepresent the reality, the danger was, and this is one of the paradoxes of communication. It’s set up a norm. That was counterproductive. If you say to people, look, all these people are doing this terrible thing. Stop it. What actually people hear is all these people are doing this terrible thing, which makes them more likely to do it, paradoxically. And so at one point, I did suggest slightly tongue in cheek that the media will just spend a lot more time talking about the heroic dullness of people who stayed at home and what, watched the telly or who, you know, who, who read a book rather than going going out. But I suppose my question is, to what extent can we influence the media not by censoring them, not by telling them what they can do and can’t do, but by getting them to understand the consequences of different types of communication, and how much work has gone on within the pandemic to consult with and talk to the media about their impact and their responsibilities? Because as I say without that, everything we do in the end is a drop in the ocean? Again, I’ll start with you on that one, Jason.

Professor Jason Leitch 54:43
I think they do understand I don’t think they need educated in it. I think some of it is deliberate. And in the mean, the big media companies who get to most people, I think have behaved very responsibly. I genuinely do. I think the STV Q&A’s in the evenings, the BBC phone ins. The most of the GMs interview is that kind of the drive time staff, the Reporting Scotland, I think in the main they have behaved responsibly, I think UK wide Fergus Walsh probably did more to save lives in the opening weeks of this pandemic than any of us who were trying to do the communication because he was in intensive care. He was showing people what it was like what this disease was doing to people. And doing it a really a really, I thought very balanced way we did some of that in Scotland, James Cook, Martin Geisler went into intensive care units in NHS Lanarkshire. And we tried to push quite a lot of that out into health boards to really illustrate what the disease was doing in its early days when we were beginning to understand it’s horrible, horrible cost on individuals and families. And I think that worked. Now it’s harder because as we remove restrictions, the economic voices are appropriately loud, of course, and the public health voices are still there, mine and others trying to be appropriately load, but they clash. Because those two worlds are not the same. I don’t run Crieff Hydro, I don’t run the nightclubs of Glasgow, if I did, I would be shouting what they’re shouting. But if they would have my job, they’d be shouting what I’m shouting and that where I think it’s got a little bit tricky. There’s then the premise of your question, and that’s the mischief making. Usually in the printed media, not the broadcast media, printed media not quite as powerful as perhaps the printed media want to think they are, not as well read on as broadly read. But if the story of breaking the rules or something makes its way into the broadcast, then that’s when you begin to get trouble. And you can end up with days of counteracting a story not spent on making the public safer. And that has happened a couple of times across the UK a few times. And we have, we have found that really difficult, I find that quite difficult and challenging on an individual level. It has meant I’ve had to follow the rules, if that’s any, if that’s any a consequence, and had to be quite careful about following the rules. But that’s no bad thing.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 57:23
Well, I look forward to running the nightclubs of Glasgow after this is all over. I will visit Leitch’s. An interesting time. I’m aware of time, and I want to give each of you 30 seconds or so just what’s the one take home message that you want to give? Is there anything you haven’t had the opportunity to say? Or I haven’t given you the opportunity to say thus far that you think is really important? Or is there something that you really think that summarises what you’ve been saying? That’s absolutely critical. So about 30 seconds each starting with Allan.

Allan Farmer 58:00
As far as the key thing that I’ve heard through through this conversation that has been something of a mantra of mine over years is that it’s all about relationships, and the relationships and the trust and honesty that need to be built up through those are going to be fundamental, to support a process of not just communities and society moving through the current phase of the pandemic, but if we are actually going to genuinely build forward better or differently, which I feel as essential. So yeah, that would be my like, key take would be the importance of relationships and the need to build those effectively.

Dr Anne Templeton 58:42
If we’re going to have an adult conversation, then that requires trusting the public. And that means giving them key information, telling them what behaviour needs done, why it needs done. So it can inform those independent risk assessments and supporting them to be able to follow the guidance. And really harnessing those group processes. Focusing on that idea that following the guidance is an act of care is good for the group is looking out for your local community, and harnessing that as well with leadership so that the messaging isn’t coming from someone seen as an outsider is seen as someone who is working for the good of the group if not part of the group.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 59:21
Thank you and Jason?

Professor Jason Leitch 59:25
Well, first of all, Steve, thanks so much for having me and us. It’s been absolutely terrific. It’s a very, I would love to spend my afternoons doing this more often. It’s a terrifically rich conversation. Pre pandemic, we had a global movement, actually, it genuinely sweeping the world called what matters to you. And it’s about encouraging health and social care workers to have a moment in these really difficult dialogues we have with patients and families about what matters to them. And I think that has served us well in the pandemic both nationally and more locally when we’re talking to patients in intensive care often families who are struggling in care homes. And I think that summarises for me the nature of the communication both at our country and population level, but also at a very, very granular level, when a lot of the pandemic communication has been with grieving families or with those in trouble economically, or politically, whatever. And it’s a it’s a global movement begun in Scotland and Norway and now sweeping the world. It’s called what matters to you. And it seems to me to be quite good advice that we should start our conversations with that.

Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE 1:00:30
Yes, conversation start with listening. I think that’s really important. And I think what we’ve heard from everybody, is, in many ways that communication is not just about information. It’s about relationships, and it’s about trust. I mean, the good news is that when you look at the trust figures, they started off a year and a half ago, about equivalent for the Scottish and the UK government’s post Cummings, in England trust plummeted from about 70%, down to about 20-25%, that never happened in Scotland. And if you look at the polling, and you ask people what they think they should do, most people about two thirds still say, we should do what the government asks us to do. So in Scotland, at least, if not in England, trust has been maintained, which tells us that something’s been done, right. Whether it’s the adult conversation, I don’t know, but things could always be done better. And I think it’s important, as I say, to be open about our deficits, what we’ve done wrong, as well as we’ve done what we’ve done, right, but we shouldn’t be gloomy. I think a lot has been done right. I would like to thank, first of all, the panellists who have been fantastic, it’s always a good sign that we could continue talking for hours on end, but sadly, our time has come to an end. And I’d like to thank the Royal Society of Edinburgh and Hannah for organising this this event, which has been for me to a lovely and very enjoyable way of spending an afternoon. And lastly, and certainly not least, I’d like to thank the audience. Thank you to all of you who’ve attended who participated, and I hope you participate in many more Curious events. And perhaps we meet again at some Curious event in the future. When I say Curious event, I don’t mean [Jason] Leitch’s nightclub I mean, a Royal Society of Edinburgh. Okay, we’ll all meet in Leitch’s nightclub after the pandemic. So thank you very much. And goodbye.

Lectures and events
Publication Date
17/08/2021
Featuring
Professor Stephen Reicher FRSE
Professor Jason Leitch
Dr Anne Templeton
Allan Farmer
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