During recent years, several events have occurred that cast doubt on the image of Sweden as a country that enjoys high public trust in authorities. The Swedish rescue service and police have been attacked when responding to alarms and distrust in and suspicion of authorities have been spread in social media, particularly during outbreaks of social unrest and crisis, such as the 2012 Instagram disturbances in Gothenburg, the 2013 riots in Husby and other urban periphery areas, the 2014 Ebola outbreak and the influx of refugees in 2015.
During these kinds of events, communication from both authorities and the media is met with suspicion and doubt, giving rise to questions concerning crisis communication and social trust, such as: Whom can one trust in the event of a crisis? What differentiates the communication channels used by those who are trustful from those who are distrustful? Do mistakes in crisis communication affect people’s trust in public authorities? Is it possible that different experiences of crises and crisis communication have long-term consequences for people’s trust in authorities and the news media as well as for their trust in other people?
In light of the above, the project’s overall aim is to study how social trust among different societal groups affects crisis communication, and how crisis communication affects public trust in the short and long term.
The research project studies the relation between crisis communication and social trust from the perspective of a multi-public society, that is, a society in which individuals and citizen groups are affected to different degrees by crises, have varying levels of social trust as well as different media usage habits and ways of searching crisis information. Given that trust is easy to undermine, but takes a long time to build up, the project includes both studies in direct connection with the emergency phase of crises as well as follow-up studies after some time interval.
The project also considers crisis communication from a citizen perspective, which entails:
- placing the public’s communication needs in connection with crises in focus,
- paying attention to the democratic and power aspects of crisis communication, particularly with regard to trust, scrutiny and accountability,
- stressing the importance of communication for society’s long-term resilience, that is, society’s ability to recover and to face disturbances during societal crises.
The project is based on an essentially unique research design, in which analyses of the public’s re-actions to crises are conducted in direct connection to societal crises through the use of surveys and focus-group interviews. The design has been developed by a research group from previous projects, in collaboration with the Laboratory of Opinion Research (LORE) at the University of Gothenburg, a central part of which is a citizen panel consisting of 60,000 participants. To provide a more comprehensive picture of the multi-public Swedish society, an “urban periphery panel” will be developed within the project with participants from immigrant-dense areas surrounding major cities – areas that are always under-represented in traditional surveys. Moreover, various kinds of experiments will be conducted with participants in the panels, where the messages, media platforms and sources of crisis communication are varied.
The duration of the project is 4 years, from fall 2017 until December 2021.
Mia Dahlström, Dahlmia AB, consultant in crisis communication and contingency issues.
Klas Forsberg, Head of department, Human Rights, Gothenburg City Executive
Peter Linné, reporter at Göteborgs-Posten