In mid-March, The Rockefeller Foundation hosted a reception for alums of our Bellagio Center in Italy, which since 1959 has been home to countless ground-breaking convenings and residencies for writers, artists, and innovators across disciplines. The reception brought together a dynamic and inspiring group, and featured updates from a few fellows about the work that was the focus of their time in residence. One such update came from former New York City Commissioner of Health Dr. Thomas Farley, whose upcoming book, “Saving Gotham,” was written in part at Bellagio.
A lively discussion followed, and another attendee—Dr. Beverly Winikoff (both a Bellagio alum and former Rockefeller staffer in the ’80s)—posed a characteristically trenchant yet simple question:
“How can public health departments and their officials better communicate?”
How do you stop a disease surveillance blip from becoming an epidemic? Through a number of measured and planned responses—including careful, thoughtful communication. But what makes for effective communication under such circumstances? And, as importantly, what doesn’t help?
We are midway through the second decade of the 21st century, with more communications tools than ever at our service, yet we are experiencing: the worst Ebola outbreak on record, which has yet to fully abate; a recent unnecessary and unprecedented measles outbreak in the U.S.; the looming threat of MERS and pandemic influenza; and a contemporary reality in which, due to climate change, new diseases are emerging while those long considered defeated are resurgent. The public health community needs to take stock of how best to communicate, what to say, and who should deliver the message—both in moments of crisis and the time in between, applying principles of resilience to its practices.
“Good communication can make or break even the best ideas.”
As a communications professional, my natural bias is that good communication can make or break even the best ideas. As one who is also trained in public health, Beverly’s question resonated.
I am therefore pleased to announce that in October, The Rockefeller Foundation will host a convening at our Bellagio Center to bring together a group of experts from a range of disciplines and critically examine current practices in public health communication. The ultimate goal will be to identify what works best for local and regional public health departments and/or municipal governments to help them get out ahead of disruptions, manage them well when they arise, and prevent the spread of misinformation and fear (along with the spread of disease).
To make this happen, we are seeking a grantee to lead this Bellagio convening through an open application process, that starts today and runs through May 11, 2015.
NOTE: The deadline to apply has passed. Thank you to everyone who submitted a proposal.
Are you up to the task? Do you know of an outstanding institution that is? Read more about this opportunity, and please do spread the word.