Understanding Social Perceptions of Risk, Information Sources, Trust, and Public Engagement Related to the COVID‑19 Outbreak

Kennedy, Eric B | $428,816

Ontario York University 2020 CIHR Operating Grant

The aim of this project is to conduct rigorous research that (a) documents, preserves, and shares perishable data about the social dimensions of an emergent outbreak, and (b) that translates and mobilizes this knowledge into tangible countermeasures that can aid in minimizing the negative impacts of the disease on individuals and communities. With the emergence of a new disease like COVID-19, there is the potential for significant fear, stigmatization, and misinformation. It is essential to understand how these phenomenon operate; to trace how they affect public attitudes, fears, and beliefs; and to support evidence-based communication by government and expert public health sources that can help to minimize panic or stigmatization, support the adoption of appropriate precautions, and promote effective and pro-social responses. We combine four data sources (a nationally-representative survey sampling 300,000 Canadian households three times over the next two years; follow-up interviews with 135-165 participants; social media data; and mainstream media discourse analyses) to investigate a series of research questions surrounding public perceptions, fears, and reactions. The survey and interviews will provide core data on public perceptions of the risk of COVID-19, who Canadians are turning to as experts on the topic, and what information they are seeking. We correlate this data with analyses of the content being shared through social and traditional media platforms. This project supports the response to COVID-19. By better understanding Canadian risk perceptions, fears, and information sources, we can support the development and testing of more effective strategies for sharing reliable information and garnering trust. Longitudinal, cross-Canada surveying allows for regional analysis of interventions, rapid identification of what information Canadians are seeking, and the creation of pathways for sharing public knowledge and opportunities for engagement.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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