Lessons from Covid-19: Improving Policy Communication

Covid-19 has demonstrated the importance of effective policy communication and the significant role it plays in times of crisis. This brief looks at what makes good policy communication and provides a series of recommendations for both the Scottish and British Governments. If implemented, these will lead to more efficient and clear communication in future crises.





Jacob Smith

Stefan Hageman

Lydia Jennings

Adrian Cheung

Executive Summary

Since March 2020, almost 19 million people across the UK reported testing positive for Covid-19 (UK Gov, 2022), whilst the whole of the UK bears the impacts of continually changing lockdown restrictions. These impacts include increased uncertainty surrounding restrictions, alongside continued health, economic and social effects.

The pandemic has rendered the public increasingly dependent on the UK government for information and guidance on how to live and act during the Covid-19 health crisis, arguably to an unprecedented degree. Uncertainty surrounding the science and how best to combat the spread of the virus and its wider impacts have made effective policy communication particularly difficult. This increase in government communication has exhibited itself through televised press conferences, at times occurring on a daily basis, government website updates, government TV adverts, and government posters and billboards. This policy communication from the government was also conveyed through secondary outlets such as televised news channels, online and print newspapers, radio news broadcasts and social media.

However, approximately 48% of the UK public perceive that the UK government communication throughout the Covid-19 pandemic did not meet the needs of their community, highlighting a lack of clarity, credibility and empathy as sources for this insufficiency (Abrams et al., 2021). This paper confirms these findings through a mixture of both quantitative and qualitative research. To help address these issues, both the national government in Westminster and the devolved UK governments should reform their policy communication methods, focusing especially on improving the efficiency and clarity of policy communications. This can be achieved through implementing specific recommendations surrounding the content and delivery of government policy communication, with a particular focus on changing the language and timing of policy communications.