COVID-19 has affected the world in dramatic ways, making it challenging for societies to keep up with the latest information and to know what to do in this unprecedented situation.
As part of a larger international project, Brock University researchers are shedding light on how the pandemic’s impacts and subsequent measures were communicated in Niagara.
The five-member team, led by the Brock University Library, aims to determine the effectiveness of Niagara’s crisis communications by collecting and analyzing web archives of how organizations in the Niagara region responded to government COVID-19 mandates and the messaging they used to inform their networks.
The project, “Crisis Communication in the Niagara region during the COVID-19 Pandemic,” is focusing on three types of organizations: local government, non-profit groups and major private entities.
The idea is to examine a broad range of large data sets from websites and social media posts from these organizations to discern systematic communications patterns in information regarding the nature of the pandemic and how best to respond.
“Findings from this research aim to inform future crisis communication organizational planning, specifically at the local and municipal level,” says Tim Ribaric, Acting Head of Brock’s Digital Scholarship Lab.
“The project will also create several open computational notebooks to support teaching, learning, and research,” he says.
An Oct. 5 blog written by team member Duncan Koerber, Instructor in the Department of Communications, Popular Culture and Film, outlines themes in crisis communications theory and lists a number of questions the researchers will be asking when they examine the data sets.
Some of these questions include:
- Did private and public Niagara region organizations communicate similar messages and advice to the public during the pandemic? Was there ‘one voice’ across the region or diverging voices?
- Did organizational messaging change over time in terms of content and emotional sentiment?
- Were messages to the public simple or complicated?
- How much of the message content was about organizational status versus community building?
- Did organizations tell stories about the pandemic or just stick to the facts about COVID-19?
- Did the emotions of the messages change over time, reflecting developments in the pandemic?
“What we’re seeing so far is that, at the early start of the pandemic, there was literally no information and then a sudden influx of information on all these pages that people tried to make sense of, and then a gentle decline after that,” says Ribaric.
He says the team’s early results are indicating that “this web archive of Niagara COVID information has proved to be a valuable resource in parsing out the area’s reaction to the pandemic.”
In addition to Ribaric and Koerber, the team includes David Sharron, Head of Archives and Special Collections at the Brock University Library; Cal Murgu, Instructional Design Librarian at the Brock University Library; and Karen Louise Smith, Associate Professor of Communication, Popular Culture and Film. There are also two research assistants associated with the project: Victoria Danh and Fletcher Johnson.
Brock University’s year-long project is part of a larger initiative called the Archives Unleashed project, an international initiative funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation that aims to make historical internet content accessible to scholars and others interested in researching the recent past.
Ribaric and his team are one of five groups worldwide that received funding under the Archives Unleashed Cohorts fund.