How Governments Can Stay Connected to Citizens During a Public Health Crisis

Greg Reeder |  March 2020

During times of uncertainty, citizens look to their government for leadership. The evolving situation surrounding COVID-19 is causing governments and departments to shift their focus and (sometimes limited) resources toward combating the spread of this global virus.

Now more than ever, officials need to empathize with their communities, provide timely information, communicate strategically, and stay connected and engaged with their citizens and employees. As we’ve worked closely with local, state, and federal officials, we are seeing different ways that this support is being administered across the board.

Empathize with Your Community

Most citizens have never faced a public health crisis like the one we are facing right now. Taking time to understand how this is affecting your community can lead to insights that will help to better prioritize communication and education efforts while keeping a pulse on your community. Local governments can track requests for information and reports of symptoms in their communities.

Asking promotes empathy. The Department of Human Services in Alleghany County, Pennsylvania, sent a proactive survey to the community asking what information citizens need and how they could work together to provide essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Understanding potential complications and added stress that come with school closures, services being suspended, or finding the right health providers, can help local officials make citizens feel cared for and safe during uncertainty and disruption.

Provide Timely Information

Sharing timely information can calm communities and help citizens understand how to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. As citizens look to their government for answers, it’s easy for resources like call centers—typically used by a smaller subset of the population—to become overwhelmed with incoming requests.

We’ve seen organizations create ad hoc call centers and establish cross-functional task forces to help keep information and recommendations up-to-date for the public. For example, government officials can direct people with symptoms to appropriate resources. Having that information readily available can reduce call volume and gives citizens the immediate answers and resources they need.

Communicate Strategically

Providing consistent and accurate information is critical for any government, but most especially during a situation that is changing daily. Local governments, like the Ottawa County Department of Public Health in Michigan, have put together strategic communication plans to share public information even as they themselves adjust to working from home and continue to support an even broader set of services.

While frequently updating information for the public, Ottawa County created a digital open door for citizens to connect with local health departments, sharing FAQs around COVID-19, and gathering sentiment pulse data from their newly remote employees.

Stay Engaged with Employees

While dealing with a wave of citizen feedback, it is critical for leaders and individual managers to stay engaged with their employees as they shift to working remotely. We see federal agencies contributing employee pulse questionnaires to understand how their employees are adjusting to remote work and what support they need to provide in order to ease the transition.

Shifting to a remote workforce poses its own set of challenges, even outside the scope of a public health crisis. Daily contact with employees and frequent team interaction and collaboration is essential to maintaining morale and productivity across locations.

In this new reality of shifting information and uncertainty, governments can do their part in calming public fears and helping everyone stay safe by being engaged and connected to the experiences of their citizens.

To access free resources to stay connected with employees and citizens in your community, click here:


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