A certain level of trust is a prerequisite for society. During a crisis like COVID-19, trust is put to the test. The PAR-TS project approaches this to study four interrelated areas: First of all, we study how the Norwegian health authorities attempt to build trust in their handling of the crisis and the advice they provide. Secondly, we focus on the role played by social media in this regard, as sites were where the handling of the crisis is discussed. Thirdly, we research reactions in the public in terms of trust, fear and behavioral change. Do people trust and follow the advice of the authorities? Do they trust each other to behave accordingly? Do they trust the media?s coverage of the crisis and the authorities? handling? On this background, we then formulate ideas for risk and crisis communication strategies that can be used in future pandemic outbreaks. The basic goal is to assist society in coping with such situations.
PAR-TS will study 1) the current communication strategies of public health authorities, 2) the role of social media in the crisis; 3) reactions in the public in terms of trust (institutional, social, media), fear and behavioral change, and, finally, 4) potential risk/crisis communication strategies for future pandemic outbreaks. A cross-disciplinary team drawing on political science, media and communication studies, data science, health and civil society studies is put together. The project is based in three academic institutions – Dep. of Media and Communication (IMK), the Institute for Social Research (ISF), and SINTEF – in close collaboration with three key institutions in informing the public – the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), the Norwegian Broadcasting Corporation (NRK), and the Association of Norwegian Editors (NR). In addition, two market research companies – Opinion and Kantar – are partners. Focusing on Norway as an empirical case, PAR-TS lays the ground for future comparative studies through the close interaction with a strong network of international scholars participating in an advisory board.
PAR-TS pulls together strong methodological expertise that is necessary to address the negotiations of trust between public authorities and citizens. Communication strategies are studied through interviews with communication personnel in the public health institutions and textual analysis of public communication. For the study of interactions in social media, a large scale quantitative and qualitative analysis will be conducted of discussions about corona and the health authorities’ handling of the crisis. Finally, population-based representative surveys before, during and after the crisis will enable the study of how citizens receive and act on information, centered on the roles of different types trust. The produced knowledge in PAR-TS will strengthen preparedness and handling of future risks and crisis.