With the understanding that greater awareness could favor behavioral changes that help contain the spread of the pandemic, the Accelerator Lab of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Uruguay carried out two experiments to validate the following hypothesis: the use of media and specific messages aimed at different population groups contributes to raising awareness about individual and collective responsibility to control the spread of the Coronavirus.
On the one hand, in the first experiment (N = 171 people), two audiovisual campaigns that gained popularity globally were analyzed, sending different videos to different groups, one of German origin (emphasis on “stay at home” and “be a hero”), and another Spanish origin (emphasis "do not participate in parties," the negative impact of doing so). The main conclusions obtained were:
· Regardless of having seen any of the videos, the population is considerably aware of the virus's contagiousness since 95% of people believe that they could be infected with COVID-19.
· However, 79% consider that preventive health measures are easy to comply with, and 88% that their actions can influence other people's health.
· Among those who consider that prevention measures are difficult to comply with (21%), the perception of having been exposed to situations with a risk of contagion increases.
· The Spanish video caused greater changes in the perception of COVID than the German video. This could be due to the timelessness of "stay at home."
Figure 1. Changes in the declared perception of COVID -19 after having seen the video. (Germany Group N = 121, Spain Group N = 50)
On the other hand, in the second experiment (N = 200), a letter was sent through the Uruguayan National Mail service, between December 30th and 31st, along with a face mask. The homes' addresses in Montevideo were taken randomly.
The letter called “Your future self” sought to appeal to a positive message regarding how people can act, particularly in celebrating the end of the year and the new year. Then, calls were made between January 5 and 6, 2021, to the households to ask a series of questions, both to the people to whom the letters were sent and the control group.
The main findings identified in this experiment were:
· The letter was well-valued by the population, particularly by adults over 65 years old. 44% of those who received it indicated that the letter contributed a lot to them. This assessment increases in those over 65 years old.
· Adults over 65 who received the letter responded more moderately to how difficult it has been to comply with the recommended measures at the end of the New Year’s Eve. On the contrary, in the control and untreated group, the vast majority answered: “very easy.”
Figure 2. Results of the survey, grouped by question and Group for participants over 65 years of age.
· Older adults who receive the letter declare to a greater extent having reduced the number of people with whom they celebrated the New Year’s Eve compared to the previous year (67% treated group, 53% control group)
· 90% of the treated group and 85% of the control group do not consider that situations of possible contagions were generated in their year-end celebration. The letter does not seem to affect the response. Still, it is highlighted that the perception of the risk of contagion could be more present in the population outside their homes and not so much in their intra-family activities.
· The delivery of face masks can be valued positively and contribute to the prevention of infections, at least in the population approached by this experiment, where the majority (62%) used it less than a week after receiving it.
It is important to note that various comments on the letter's impact have also been received in the process, and they are not included in this quantitative analysis. For example, people stated that they kept the letter, shared it with their family, or even left it next to the Christmas tree. These emotional factors are not negligible in a context where people must maintain certain behaviors that require effort.
In this proof of concept that comprised both experiments, the relevance of contacting people when they are most likely to be receptive is concluded, with messages tailored to the circumstances, acting quickly. The temporality of the messages is key: it is not enough for the message to be clear. It must also be transmitted at the right time.
In both experiments, it is possible to identify that the population tends to declare that it is relatively easy or very easy to comply with the recommended health prevention measures.
This process was carried out in its entirety in one month. It would not have been possible without the availability of the people who participated voluntarily and without the generous collaboration of experts who provided their contributions for the different experiments in the proof of concept. This process creates an opportunity to continue working in partnership with academics, organizations, and civil society to overcome the health emergency to achieve sustainable development goals.
For more information, you can access the full report of the proof of concept: behavior and perception of the population in the face of COVID-19.
Link to report