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Communications on COVID-19

Abhishek Singh
24 May 2020

Right communication strategy and leveraging technology is an important strategy to deal with the COVID19 pandemic. As we move ahead to the critical stage wherein certain activities have been allowed in Green and Orange Zones, there is a need for a communication strategy that helps drive behavioural change and ushers in an era wherein we may need to learn to live with the virus. This requires effective two way communications between the citizens and Government which has been the core strength of MyGov. It has been the endeavour of MyGov to act as a bridge between citizens and government and ensure citizen participation and information dissemination on platforms that most citizens use.

When the pandemic began, it was realised that words and phrases like Quarantine, Social Distancing, Lockdown need to be communicated well. Most people didn’t know what these terms meant. Social distancing was an alien concept. Epidemiologists and health experts came up with Do’s and Don’ts for preventing the spread of the Virus. Fake News and Myth Busters was another challenge that MyGov had to deal with. We had all kinds of conspiracy theories ranging from Wuhan Lab experiment gone wrong to use of hot water and garlic to kill the Virus. There was a need to bust these myths and focus on making interventions like use of Masks and washing hands for 20 seconds, the norm. This was done with explanatory infographics and videos that helped explain all these in simple language.

Towards this objective, MyGov India, the citizen engagement platform of Government of India launched several initiatives on its MyGov.in platform as also its dedicated COVID19 page – corona.mygov.in to support the communication efforts of Ministry of Health & Family Welfare. MyGov has a presence on almost all social media platforms that include not only the conventional ones like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn but for COVID19 campaign, MyGov is also using the unconventional platforms like Telegram, TikTok, Helo, VMate, Likee with an objective to reach out to all sections of people by leveraging all channels and platforms. Content was created in multiple languages as also the sign language to ensure that everyone becomes part of the communications. Videos from reputed doctors were made to ensure clear and correct messaging. MyGov also launched its MyGov Saathi Chatbot that is available on WhatsApp & FB Messenger and is also available on https://mygov.in and https://self4society.mygov.in . MyGov Saathi is a mobile enabled platform and uses a menu-driven approach, allowing users to select available options such as “Latest Update on Coronavirus in India”, “State level Status”, “Useful Alerts” and “Where to get help” to access information. It provides ready access to Covid-19 related resources such as latest updates, helplines, advisories from various central and state government departments as well as access to Self4Society initiatives including donation and volunteering opportunities.

Another key feature of the communications in COVID19 campaign is the ability to ensure adherence to lockdown regulations which are amongst the strictest in the world and has contributed greatly in limiting the spread of the pandemic and bringing down the rate of doubling of cases, which is essential for flattening the curve. This was made possible by the calls made by Prime Minister for the Janata Curfew, cheering doctors with clapping, 9PM9Minute lamp lighting, showering of petals etc. Some may not find any merit or value in these initiatives, but when we did the sentiment analysis of the social media posts, it was found that a vast majority of people supported these measures. We also launched the Pledges around these campaigns – Janata Curfew Pledge, Stay Home Stay Safe Pledge and Fight Against Corona – which saw participation of lakhs of people. The Citizens Ideas and Suggestions page on COVID19 saw more than 100,000 suggestions coming from citizens. The Innovation Challenge for tech solutions launched on MyGov led to brilliant ideas and solutions – including those on Contact Tracing which has now evolved into Aarogya Setu app. Quiz on COVID19 has seen almost 100,000 entries. These initiatives help people get involved and once they are engaged, they feel part of the overall solution to the COVID19. It has been very important part of our communications strategy.

The launch of the Aarogya Setu app is an important part of the COVID19 campaign. Given the questions raised by some with regard to privacy issues, it was essential to communicate clearly about what the App does, why it is required and how Privacy is built into the App by design. This was done by innovative use of graphics and videos. Even celebrities like Ajay Devgn helped in creating the #SetuMeraBodyguard campaign which was also endorsed by similar videos by regional language superstars like Nirahua in Bhojpuri and Anuj Sharma in Chhattisgarhi. Top cricketers helped in the #TeamMaskForce campaign that promoted use of Masks. Campaigns around these hashtags were launched on Social Media platforms that helped in getting user generated content even in regional languages that contributed to carrying the message far and wide.

The Lockdown instructions were a major challenge for us. Feedback was that many people were finding it difficult to interpret the directions and there was confusion on what to do and what not to. Immediately, MyGov demystified the directions and instructions by coming up with simple, easy to read and understand infographics which became very popular. These were also translated in various languages with help and support of a volunteer group who did it pro bono. With Lockdown, came the challenge of migrants and there was a lot of issue regarding Shelter homes and feeding centres for the poor and urban homeless. MyGov collaborated with Google Maps and Map My India and put details of Shelters and Feeding Homes of around 750 cities on Maps so that they become easy to find and locate. Google also launched a messaging service for MyGov on Google Maps which has been integrated with the Saathi Chatbot to answer queries instantly.

When the Myth Busters infographic was released, it became viral and millions of people shared it. A suggestion was received to make it available in audio format. Accordingly, these as also COVID19 updates were converted into Audio Podcasts as part of MyGov Samvaad. These podcasts were also shared with more than 200 Community Radio Stations who translated the content and helped expand the outreach of COVID19 messaging. Further, it was felt that we also need to address anxiety, stress specially for people during the Lockdown. So, an initiative called Positive Harmonies was launched in which prominent musicians from across the country created special numbers for MyGov along with their messages to help manage the crisis. This has become very popular.

One key feature of all these endeavours have been that all of this was managed by our teams – working from home. Team members collaborated across cities and came up with brilliant innovations. We were greatly benefitted with collaborations with top tech companies, media, volunteers and various Government departments. Innovation & Collaboration seems to be our strength that has not only helped us in our communications but will ultimately help us tide this crisis also.

Abhishek Singh is CEO MyGov and President & CEO, National e Governance Division. Views expressed are personal. Feedback can be given on abhish18@hotmail.com. Twitter : @abhish18

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