The Changing Nature of Crisis Communication: Reflections & Podcast

This week marks my one-year anniversary at Kristiania University College in Oslo, Norway. I can say the move to Norway and to Kristiania has been utterly positive. I have the support of a forward-thinking and ambitious institution and fantastic colleagues. What I have been able to do in the last year is to spend the time to think about not only the changing nature of crisis communication but to increasingly think about the importance of applied research, translating the work that we have done for practitioners, and contributing to solving societal-level problems.

One of the first things that I was asked to do when I started at Kristiania was to sit down with our Rector – Arne Krumsvick – and reflect on my career and the changing nature of crisis communication. If you’re interested, the podcast can be accessed here through your favorite podcast platform or directly played.

One of the projects that I am involved with is the DECIPHER project – sponsored by the German Federal Institute of Risk Assessment and lead by colleagues from Ilmenau Technical University in Germany. The project brings together colleagues from seven different countries to better understand the construction of the pandemic in the public sphere. One of the parts of the work on the project is the opportunity to spend a month in Germany with colleagues each summer collaborating on the project.

Of course, bringing us together means we have the opportunity to talk about research, its impact, and its application. Risk and crisis communication is an applied field, yet there is often too little engagement between practitioners and scholars to translate and disseminate best practices in both directions. However, in the wake of the pandemic it is becoming clear that it is more imperative that this engagement improves and becomes more international.

Corporate contexts are difficult points of collaboration for a host of reasons — not least of which is that their primary focus is profit, which shapes decision-making, engagement, and attitudes about the ‘value’ of research-based decision-making. However, because the public sector and nongovernmental sectors serve public interests, engagement with governments, public health, NGOs, and IGOs is not only more possible but in many ways more rewarding for me because I have the opportunity to contribute to interventions that help people. Through my work and engagement with the risk and crisis communication community over the years, I have developed relationships with practitioners in different public and nongovernmental organizations and one of my own objectives in 2022 and now in 2023 is to continue to learn from their experiences and share research to build better research-informed best practices in our applied field. For me, this is the heart of strategic communication; ensuring that the campaigns developed not only serve a useful social purpose but also are simply better at achieving the objectives.

What I love about the field of risk and crisis communication is that we are already doing this kind of work and have been for years. For example, scholars like Tim and Deanna Sellnow from the University of Central Florida have been working with institutions like the Department of Homeland Security or Center for Disease Control for years. In our community, there are a lot of examples of applied research in action making a difference in people’s lives. As crises become more global in their impact, more complex in their nature, and seem to be growing in frequency, the field of risk and crisis communication is positioned to genuinely make a difference.