Communicating for health

Principle: Relevant

To be relevant, communications must help decision-makers understand that there is a health risk for themselves or for those they care about, that the risk could be severe and that they reduce that risk by undertaking recommended actions.

Planning questions to ensure communications are relevant

To help ensure WHO communications on public health issues are seen as relevant to the audience, communicators should consider these questions in the planning phase.

  • What socio-demographic characteristics of the audience (such as age, education, geographic location, etc.) can inform message design and dissemination plans?
  • If WHO is sharing information about a health threat, do individuals perceive they are at risk? Does that perception correspond to the actual degree of the risk? Some individuals experience greater concern than is appropriate. For example, this can occur when common health threats that pose a higher actual risk are more familiar and more accepted by the population than the new threat about which WHO communicates in that instant.
  • Does the audience have previous experiences with this, or similar health risks or topics, that can be referenced to develop messages and materials about the current issue that are more relevant?
  • Does the audience feel there are steps they can take to reduce the risks to their health?
  • What is the audience hearing about the health issue from other sources that may affect their understanding of how WHO’s information, advice, and guidance applies to them? Who are these messages from?
  • What personal, community or national values related to the health topic could be associated with the need to act on WHO’s messages and materials?


Communicators can increase the sense of relevance to a health issue by referring to the personal experiences of the audience or explaining how the issue can affect family, friends or others they may know in their community. For policy-makers, health issues are perceived as relevant if they are represented as a high priority for constituents, or are linked to other national and community values, such as security and economic prosperity.

Communicators can start the planning process and consider how to create relevant messages by following these points.

  • Understand the characteristics of the target audience to design effective messages and strategies.
  • Create messages and materials that include examples from or references to the target audience’s community, organizations, or other points of identification. Alternatively, examples and references could relate to entities similar to the target audiences.
  • Listen to the audience and to stakeholders that work with that audience, in order to identify how to address the audience’s concerns.
  • Tailor content and messages to meet the needs of the audience.
  • Design messages based on the audience’s readiness to take the appropriate actions.

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.