Communicating for health

Principle: Accessible

WHO’s audiences rely on their ability to access the information they need to protect and improve their health. Communicators should identify all channels that are available, and map their comparative capacities to reach priority audiences. Using the right mix of channels helps empower audiences with the information they need to make informed decisions.

Planning questions to ensure communications are accessible

Communicators can start the planning process by considering how key audiences receive health information and with whom they discuss health advice and guidance. The following questions need to be addressed.

  • What channels do audiences have access to?
  • What channels do audiences prefer for receiving health information? For seeking information?
  • Are there WHO partner channels that may provide support for hard-to-reach audiences?
  • What channels encourage two-way engagement with audiences, enabling interaction between decision-makers and WHO?
  • Which set of channels best supports the communication objectives identified for the project? For example:
    • if building awareness is the objective, what channels offer the greatest opportunities for exposure and for ensuring sufficient message frequency (repetition); or
    • if behaviour change is the objective, what channels provide opportunities for the audience to see others who have adopted the recommended behaviour and can serve as role models?
  • What resources are required to develop the products needed for specific channels? For example, television public service announcements (PSAs) may provide the greatest reach, but the costs to develop them must be considered.

Background

Effective mapping of communications channels will ensure WHO’s messages are disseminated through multiple channels so that audiences receive WHO information, advice and guidance several times from a range of sources.

Communicators understand that channels tend to fall into three main categories.

Mass media

These channels have broad reach and include television, radio, newspapers, magazines, outdoor and transit advertising, direct mail and websites. Placement through these channels may be free through PSAs or may incur a cost if placement on certain platforms or at specific times is important.

Organization and community

These channels reach specific groups of individuals based on geography (for example, a specific village) or a common interest, such as occupational status. Channels may include community-based media, such as local radio talk shows, organization newsletters; community-based activities, such as health fairs; and meetings at schools, workplaces and houses of worship.

Interpersonal

People seeking advice or sharing information about health risks often turn to family, friends, health care practitioners, co-workers, teachers, counsellors, and faith leaders. These one-on-one discussions are often the most trusted channels for health information.

Factors to consider when prioritizing channels include their reach (number of people that will hear, see, or read a message), and how the channel supports audiences’ ability to recall the message and impact (whether the message results in action). Exposure to the message and repetition are key to audience recall, increasing the likelihood that audiences will act on the information provided. For example, government policy-makers may be influenced by multiple news media reports about the need for immunization campaigns, but posters on community boards can be more effective at encouraging residents to get vaccinated and directing them to local health facilities.

The component sections of this principle discuss how communicators can make WHO information, advice and guidance accessible by:

  • identifying the best channels for message dissemination to achieve the communication objective (for example moving decision-makers from awareness to action);
  • ensuring there are appropriate platforms to support those who are seeking information about the health issue; and
  • considering the communication needs of those with disabilities.

What we do

The principles highlighted in this Framework apply across the whole of WHO’s communications work. Core WHO communications functions are presented below with links to relevant resources.