Public Awareness and Public Education

Public Awareness and Public Education

The global context for disaster risk reduction is shaped by the Hyogo Framework of Action, which was adopted by 168 nation states in 2005. Priority 3 of this five-point framework is to “use knowledge, innovation and education to build a culture of safety and resilience at all levels.”

Public awareness and public education for disaster reduction seek to turn available human knowledge into specific local action to reduce disaster risks. It mobilizes people through clear messages, supported with detailed information.

Hazard awareness alone does not lead directly to people adopting risk-reduction measures. Researchers have found that people take action only when:

  • they know what specific actions can be taken to reduce their risks
  • they are convinced that these actions will be effective
  • they believe in their own ability to carry out the tasks.

Key research findings can inform the design of successful public education. For example, the following facts are well established:

  • People need to be stimulated to seek information.
  • People seek consensus, and want validation from many sources (for example, friends, experts, public authorities, respected community leaders, radio, television and web sites) before they act.
  • People go along with what they think others are doing   (This means that it is important to focus on all of the positive and local examples: negative threats do not work.)
  • Three types of people start ‘pro-social epidemics’: connectors who bring people together, information specialists (in other words, experts), and salespeople who have the ability to persuade.
  • The most memorable lessons are learned from stories that are simple, unexpected, concrete, credible and emotional.
  • The gradual process of behaviour change moves from contemplation to planning, then to action, and finally to maintenance.

Community Organization

The target audiences for public awareness and public education extend like ripples in a pond. At the core are those people that are already acting consistently to make themselves and those around them safer and more resilient. But this core (especially enthusiastic staff and volunteers) can always benefit from expanding itself.

Immediately outside that core are people who are receptive, and are thinking about acting, but need supportive information and more confidence in order to act. Next are those people who have heard about your efforts, and are beginning to think and talk about the issues. Then comes a larger group that seems resistant to acting, or that lacks wherewithal. People in this category are vaguely aware of the issues but have no intention to act yet. They are often mislabelled “fatalistic”.

Finally, there are many more who have never heard about their risks, or thought much about what they might do about them. Public education and awareness efforts need to reach each of these layers and draw them towards the centre.

There really is no one, single ‘general public’. Instead, there are many different publics, each affected on by a wide variety of social and cultural dynamics and vulnerabilities. Very early in the planning process, it is important to decide which of the various public market segments the initiative will target. Even those approaches that are intended to have broad appeal should be considered in relation to each of the targeted market segments.

Public awareness and education programmes can be started modestly, and tailored to meet the needs of specific populations, risks, and target groups. These approaches can be integrated into almost all existing initiatives, whenever and wherever they take place. They can build on and support existing volunteer mobilization and peer-to-peer communications. To support this, you will need strong and unified disaster reduction messages, and clear and targeted information, education and communication materials.

Below you can find some key elements to have in consideration when thinking on Public awareness and education programmes:

  • Planning: questions to ask

Answers questions such as “Why?”, “Who for?”, “What?”, “Who with?”, “When and where?”, “How?”, “With what tools?”, and “What else?”. It identifies public awareness and public education both as a specific planned intervention, and for integration into pre-existing activities.

  • Four key approaches

How to carry out each of the four major approaches – campaigns, participatory learning, informal education and formal school based efforts. It outlines a wide range of applications and methods, to provide ideas and guidance for the strategic planning process.

  • Principles for effective implementation

The underlying principles on which the strategic framework and the approaches rest: legitimacy and credibility, consistency, scalability and sustainability. Strategies and ideas under consideration can be measured against these principles during the planning process.

  • Tools

The wide range of tools in use to implement these approaches, including publications, games and competitions, and social media, and explains the advantages and disadvantages of each.

  • Ensuring quality

key issues to consider in order to ensure that initiatives are high quality, focusing on well-crafted messages, powerful images, an engaging and compelling tone, and adapted, localized content.

  • Knowledge management

Addresses some of the challenges raised by the growing area of knowledge management. It provides some initial direction for designing future interventions in order to improve existing processes, monitoring and evaluation,  knowledge sharing and capacity building.

The importance of consistent messaging

Research indicates that effective public education for DRR requires sustained repetition of the same messages. If messages are contradictory, inconsistent or unclear, the result is confusion, apathy, mistrust and inaction. We also know that people look for messages to be confirmed by a wide variety of authorities.

So, we need to outline and articulate a broad base of key messages, and to harmonize these messages universally, while expecting and allowing for variations for different contexts, languages, cultures and means. Safety and resilience requires dramatic behaviour changes – these only become possible when the public can see that ‘everyone is doing it.’ For behavioural change messages to catch hold, people need to understand the reasons for carrying out specific measures and feel not only convinced of their effectiveness but capable of implementing them.

Donors and governments are increasingly expecting harmonized messages from non-governmental organization (NGO) and government partners engaged in disaster reduction projects. However, it can be a challenge to convert the key points from a lengthy list into a hierarchy of messages, with a limited number of memorable key steps. Guidance needs to be clear, concise and scientifically sound (evidence based), with an emphasis on positive action and effectiveness.

The approval of key messages by government authorities makes it easy to gain the cooperation of broadcast media for dissemination of appropriate messages before, during and after emergencies and disasters, National Societies and their partners are strongly encouraged to work with stakeholders to adapt harmonized national and local versions of these messages.

The adaptations themselves will be needed to illustrate, fill out and explain the core concepts. We may find that it is not possible – or even desirable – to seek a single universal set of standardized messages. However, harmonizing the key messages will establish a foundation that national stakeholders can build on to standardize messages for their own contexts.  In 2013 IFRC launched a Public Awareness and Public Education: Key Messages – January 2013 which can be used as a reference to developed context specific versions.

Disaster – A serious disruption of the functioning of a community or a society involving widespread human, material, economic or environmental losses and impacts that exceed the ability of the affected community or society to cope
using its own resources.

Disaster risk reduction – The concept and practice of reducing disaster risks through systematic efforts to analyse and manage the causal factors of disasters, including through reduced exposure to hazards, reduced vulnerability of people and property, wise management of land and the environment, and improved preparedness for adverse events.

Hazard – A dangerous phenomenon, substance, human activity or condition that may cause loss of life, injury or other health impacts, property damage, loss of livelihoods and services, social and economic disruption, or environmental

Mitigation – The lessening or limitation of the adverse impacts of hazards and related disasters.

Preparedness – The knowledge and capacities developed by governments, professional response and recovery organizations, communities and individuals to effectively anticipate, respond to, and recover from the impacts of likely, imminent or current hazard events or conditions.

Prevention – The outright avoidance of adverse impacts of hazards and related disasters.

Public awareness – The extent of common knowledge about disaster risks, the factors that lead to disasters and the actions that can be taken, individually and collectively, to reduce exposure and vulnerability to hazards.

Resilience – The ability of a system, community or society exposed to hazards to resist, absorb, adapt to and recover from the effects of a hazard in a timely and efficient manner, including through the preservation and restoration of its essential basic structures and functions.

Risk – The probability of an event and its negative consequences.

Vulnerability – The characteristics and circumstances of a community, system or asset that make it susceptible to the damaging effects of a hazard.