As an SOS for communicating on the current state of events in Cameroon, DC Communications has come up with some useful guidelines for effective communication during this period. Firstly, communicators need to know at what stage of the crisis we are in at the moment. From observation, we are at the Crisis Recognition stage. This means three things should take precedence to any communicator at this time: Perceived Importance, Immediacy, and Uncertainty.
For Perceived Importance, it is very necessary to access the current crisis situation, its dimensions and likelihoods. This entails providing information on; state of victims, what is being done to address the situation and prevent a re-occurrence, any teams available to help on the ground, and also contacts provided for information and assistance. Immediacy deals with the pace at which stake holders are taking action. What is the government doing and at what pace? What are the victims/ locals doing and with what restrains?
Lastly, Uncertainty has to do with the amount of ambiguity still surrounding the crisis. This will help propel action. Low or high ambiguity will depict the amount of pressure and commitment stake holders should apply to the crisis situation.
That said, the points below are some of the points DC Communications uses as ‘Fist Aid’ measures in a Crisis Situation. The list comprises of some key ‘Don’ts and Dos’ when gathering or disseminating information during a crisis situation like what is happening in Cameroon at the moment.
- Avoid serial reproduction problems. Be closest to the source as possible. Am sure you can imagine the amount of emotional damage caused by misinformation.
- Don’t try to sound like a Mum. This means, you do not try to withhold or modify negative information with the aim of keeping short term peace or protecting someone. The truth shall surely out one day. You definitely don’t want to be the bad guy at the end of the movie. The point of concern will now be how you release the facts. Facts released will propel action towards them.
- Avoid message overload. If you are Head of any team where you are privileged with so much information, systematically release information. Message overload usually results to distortion of facts.
- Do not use wrong crisis templates for current crisis. In essence, do not use old crisis situations to influence present crisis situation reporting. Treat the crisis as fresh. You can only use old crisis at the Post Crisis stage. At this point of the current crisis, you don’t need old crisis inspirations. It may limit your receptiveness to newness.
- Develop useful networks for consistent information flow from different angles.
- Develop a contact list for various types of information.
- Clarity, Timeliness and Depth are of essence.
- Make sure you are persuasive when you communicate. These involves elements like emotion, reason etc.
- Make use of experts from different fields when talking on areas you are not an expert in e.g the Military, Governance, Islam etc.
- Most especially, tell stake holders who to contact, when and how. Provide this information repeatedly using the most accessible medium at the moment. Note that, diverse stake holders may need different treatment . Do not neglect that.
Communicators should know that, handling and communicating about a crisis situation varies from stage to stage. By so doing, the most important question to always start with is; where are we with the Crisis? This will definitely influence what steps to take and with what gravity. With the way the system functions in Cameroon, I understand implementing all of these maybe challenging. However, if we care about our community we will strive to do what we have to do. For the recent Boko Haram attacks to be prevented from being replicated, communication channels should be clear. Flow of information from top to bottom and vice-versa is indispensable. With the help of Timothy Coombs, DC Communications could only help in making these tips available. It’s now our responsibility to act. Timothy Coombs is a veteran in the field with many publications on Managing Crisis Communication.