Building Trust Takes More Than Words

May 22, 2024

Insights from the Minnesota Department of Health’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinators Workshop.

At the beginning of May, ARTT traveled to upper(ish) Minnesota to attend the Minnesota Department of Health’s Emergency Preparedness Coordinators Workshop. Fellow ARTT-ist Ross Weistroffer beamed in over Zoom with a really nice presentation on how the ARTT project thinks about improving trust-building conversation. I followed up by talking a bit about “coming attractions'' for the ARTT Guide software tool, which we plan to launch later this year.

My main goal at the workshop in Minnesota was to learn from a core audience of public health communicators about how they do their jobs, the challenges they face, and the tools they use (or wish they had).

Some highlights from Minnesota:

  • As a whole, this group is deeply experienced in the field; of the 100-ish attendees, the average time in their current role was around 15 years. They experiment with new technology, but because of the sensitive nature of their work are not super early adopters.
  • Because healthcare communicators sometimes deal with personally identifiable information (PII) from community members, they are cautious about using tools that might expose that information to a third party. This insight has particular relevance to our team as we build the ARTT tool, because it signals that anything we build that uses external AI models like ones from OpenAI or Anthropic, etc., will have to offer both heightened protection around information sharing, and also provide a clear option to turn these third-party AI tools off.
  • As communicators, this group as a whole is more familiar with engaging with services like the ARTT Guide as a curriculum that they can learn from to guide their writing, rather than as a software tool that is a more active participant in the message-crafting process. Still, these public health communicators expressed interest in the potential uses of a tool to help them build messages for their community.
  • The conference provided perhaps the best thing I have ever experienced at any conference: therapy dogs for people to hang out with throughout the day. A ten out of ten, would do again.

Rebuilding trust: It takes a community

One of the key things that resonated with me was a presentation from Dr. Chris Voegeli, Health Information Integrity Team Lead in the Office of Director’s Internal Office of Communication at the Centers for Disease Control. In talking about rebuilding trust with institutions, Voegeli made special note of the need for a community-based approach that looks for validators and trusted messengers within a community instead of a simple top-down messaging approach.

Voegeli’s insights are echoed in an interesting paper that’s been making the internal rounds at ARTT: ‘We’re Not in That Circle of Misinformation’: Understanding Community-Based Trusted Messengers Through Cultural Code-Switching, from researchers at Georgia Tech and Morehouse.

From the researchers:

While social computing technologies are increasingly being used to counter misinformation, more work is needed to understand how they can support the crucial work of community-based trusted messengers, especially in marginalized communities where distrust in health authorities is rooted in historical inequities. We describe an early exploration of these opportunities in our collaboration with Black and Latinx young adult “Peer Champions” addressing COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy… With the concept of cultural code switching as a framing, we found that the Peer Champions leveraged their particular combination of cultural, health, and digital literacy skills to understand their communities’ concerns surrounding misinformation and to communicate health information in a culturally appropriate manner.

It’s a reminder that all of our work at ARTT shouldn’t be designed for people to use in a vacuum. Our software and guides are elements designed to help organizations, communities, and individuals have better, more trust-building conversations — but they are only part of the story.

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