Sarah P Bergquist
Social Behavioral and Economic Sciences (SBE)
Decision makers play a crucial role in interpreting and communicating information to the public to signal (or compel) collective action in a crisis. However, they face a critical knowledge gap on the most effective strategies for communicating scientific recommendations within the most vulnerable communities. This project examines 1) how decision makers responded to COVID-19 in the three poorest states in the United States (U.S.) Southeast (i.e. Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi) and 2) how marginalized, low income communities consumed, interpreted, and acted on science-based messaging from decision makers. Specifically, the effectiveness of science-based messages will be analyzed, focusing on how influential various sources of messages were and the perceived trustworthiness of the institutions delivering COVID-19 information in low income communities compared to their wealthier counterparts. The project is participatory in its design, ensuring end users are involved in shaping, implementing, and learning from research through the duration of the project. The project will advance knowledge on how leaders can become more effective at engaging the public and will provide insights on how to compel individuals in some of the nation’s most vulnerable communities to undertake collective action to improve community well-being in the face of crises. This project includes five objectives. The first objective is to scope questions for surveys and interviews through a remote focus group workshop with at least 12 decision makers from federal, state, and local agencies. This workshop will allow stakeholders to include their informational needs directly into our project. Second, the researchers will implement a mail out survey to a large, representative sample of individuals from the Southeast (n=9,000). Experimental methods will be used to predict differences in the effectiveness of science-based messages, trust in institutions, and message sources as a function of demographics, different levels of socio-economic vulnerability, and other variables. Third, they will interview decision makers in these states to determine the challenges they faced responding to COVID-19, and the scientific messages that convinced them to take particular policy making actions (such as giving a “stay at home order”). Fourth, a remote webinar with decision makers from federal, state, local, and tribal jurisdictions will be hosted to share the findings. Fifth, the project will create a web application for decision makers across the U.S. to apply our data to their community. It will allow them to select demographic and socio-economic factors that represent their communities and provide suggested messaging and media characteristics that will increase the effectiveness of their policy decisions. Findings can help decision-makers better engage marginalized communities as the pandemic continues to unfold. This knowledge may be applied to other crises where voluntary collective action leads to increases in aggregate human well-being despite private costs.This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.