Communicating for health

Principle: Actionable

WHO’s work is designed to support the adoption of healthy behaviours and the implementation of policies to protect health. Communications is a necessary component of WHO’s comprehensive organizational efforts to achieve these goals. To be successful, communicators must understand target audience knowledge, attitudes and behaviours in order to create messages that address barriers and encourage decision-makers to take the recommended steps.

Planning questions to ensure communications are actionable

Communicators should consider the questions below to help identify if audiences are ready to take action. This insight can then be used to craft compelling communications products and activities that move decision-makers towards accepting and acting on WHO advice, guidance, and recommendations.

  • What is the behaviour or action we want audiences to take to protect themselves or those they care about? Is there a behaviour or action that needs to be discouraged?
  • Do the target audiences understand the situation, the health risks and recommended behaviours and policies?
  • Do target audiences perceive the health issue as relevant to them; do they feel personally engaged with the issue?
  • Do audiences understand the benefits of adopting the recommended behaviours or policies? Do they understand the consequences of not adopting them?
  • What are the barriers preventing the adoption of health protection actions or policies?
  • What social norms exist that could positively or negatively influence adopting the recommended action?
  • How confident are decision-makers in their ability to endorse the safe and healthy behaviours, or to pass policies that promote health?
  • Is the target audience able to act independently? If they need help in order to act, does the message describe what support might be available for them (either from the community or other stakeholders) or where to find additional information?


Communication is a necessary component of any effort to achieve positive health outcomes. WHO must provide accurate health information in a way that encourages audiences to take action and follow advice and guidance to protect safety and health.

There are many research-based social science models and theories that describe effective communications approaches leading to health protection action. Some communication practices and approaches focus on behaviour change at the individual level, while others have a broader social view, addressing behaviours and decision-making made by organizations and communities. WHO’s mission is to influence health protection actions at a personal level as well as policies at the community or national level and therefore this Strategic Communications Framework addresses both aspects.

This principle comprises several components helping communicators develop messages and campaigns focused on behaviour change by understanding the audiences':

  • level of awareness of the health risks and protection;
  • feelings of personal relevance to the health risk;
  • knowledge of appropriate health behaviours or policies to mitigate risks and promote health;
  • confidence that they can take the recommended actions;
  • sense that the recommended actions are endorsed by their community; and
  • belief that the benefits of implementing actions outweigh the costs.

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.