TRUTH OR PANDEMIC
A PANDEMIC IN WHICH WE ARE THE HEROES
by Juliette François-Sévigny, Vincent Gosselin-Boucher, & Catherine Cimon-Paquet, Science & Policy Exchange (SPE)
Since its creation, the Truth or Pandemic team had one objective in mind: to create an interactive platform to tackle misinformation related to COVID-19 on the web, in addition to raising awareness among young people (aged 18 to 30) about the health behaviours they should adopt to fight this pandemic. A first experience for the team!
In June 2021, Truth or Pandemic launched its platform by inviting young adults, alone or in teams, to measure their knowledge on seven issues that directly affected them during the pandemic: (1) the history of pandemics, (2) health behaviours, (3) misinformation and conspiracy, (4) mental health, sex and social relations, (5) work and well-being, (6) vaccination, and (7) the post-pandemic.
Truth or Pandemic was selected in a call for projects from the Fonds de recherche du Québec (FRQ) with the objective of countering misinformation and encouraging health behaviours related to COVID-19 among young adults. A major challenge! This FRQ initiative was also intended to provide a concrete opportunity for university students to create a science communication project. A rare opportunity to experiment, create and innovate around science outreach.
During the implementation of this project, as university students, we faced several challenges, including finding an original angle that would allow us to reach our target audience and to establish collaborations with various guests, including university students and professors, but also content creators. Here we are already one year later. What have we learned from the experience? What would we do differently or not? Here are some important challenges for our team in response to these questions.
Engaging your audience
As part of our target audience ourselves, we first asked ourselves: what would be of interest to us in terms of content and medium to learn more on COVID-19 issues? Thus, the first step was to find an original angle to arouse the interest of the target audience. Our objective was to create a fun platform where participants would be active. What could be better than an online game? One of the co-instigators of the project was inspired by the “you are the hero” books. Perhaps they bring back good memories?
Next, we identified tools that would be of interest to our audience, which would help the project’s reach. Since many young people use social networks, especially to stay informed about the news, it was imperative to integrate them into the framework of Truth or Pandemic. We knew the importance of visuals and so we quickly contacted a graphic designer. In collaboration with her, we chose the project’s branding. In terms of content, we targeted topics that would be relevant to our target audience and prepared accessible texts. In addition, we invited well-known content creators to reach our target audience and make the content more accessible.
Knowing how to surround yourself
When faced with the unknown, it is necessary to explore in order to find partners who have the knowledge, and especially the necessary expertise. The second challenge related to the realization of our project was to create a network of collaborators to contribute to it. Throughout the development of the Truth or Pandemic project, we made sure we had the best team possible to meet the challenges ahead. As our needs evolved, our team welcomed new members or formed new partnerships. Whether it was our partnership with Novaconcept and their online platform Minka or the research team at the Centre de Médecine Comportementale de Montréal and their data on the concerns of young adults, it was together that we were able to complete this project. We had to realize that it was not possible for us to do everything by ourselves. We had to be humble and recognize the strengths of our partners.
What we realized quite quickly was the importance of being patient and persevering. It was a time when many experts on pandemic issues were interviewed repeatedly. The demand was enormous, but we were no longer in a law of supply and demand — fatigue and emotions had to be taken into account. Time and motivation were also scarce.
Knowing how to recognize our limits
This project required us to learn from our mistakes, to be open and to embrace uncertainty, while creating a team environment.