Improving communication with migrants for crisis preparedness: lessons learned from COVID-19
Improving communication with migrants for crisis preparedness: lessons learned from COVID-19

Report “Communication with linguistic minorities in Estonia during the COVID-19 pandemic: Lessons learned”

Tanya Escudero, Jekaterina Maadla, Mari-Liis Jakobson and Ivan Polynin

In a multicultural and multilingual society, such as Estonia, effective intercultural communication is key to the inclusion and social participation of communities with low command of the official language. The COVID-19 health crisis proved that failure to reach all groups in society impacts whole countries negatively. However, little research attention has been paid to intercultural crisis communication to open up new paths and solutions.

The present study was developed in response to this need and is an output of the project “Improving Communication with Migrants for Crisis Preparedness: Lessons Learned From COVID-19”, which was carried out by researchers in three countries, namely Estonia, Finland and Latvia. Its aim is to suggest rapid-response crisis communication strategies for delivering information to linguistic minorities during emergencies. Furthermore, due to this study’s transnational nature, it seeks to strengthen cooperation between the states of the Baltic Sea Region in dealing with cross-border emergencies and find ways to use the knowledge generated by this cooperation to address problems at the local/state level.

To achieve the main goal, we sought to map obstacles in communicating with non-Estonian- speaking communities within Estonia and identify good practices that could be implemented in the future. To this end, we interviewed representatives from organisations that have played key roles in the communication effort during the pandemic crisis. These stakeholders came from five Estonian sectors, namely government institutions, companies, higher education institutions, NGOs and the media.

The results show that, in addition to the underlying distrust of state institutions among the population, there have been several obstacles that have further aggravated the situation and perhaps put society at risk, including insufficient information available in non-official languages or the slow provision of this information; conflicting or confusing messages from official sources; the viral spread of misinformation in different spheres, such as social media; a lack of cooperation between governments and other stakeholders; and monolithic strategies that are not adapted to the needs and concerns of specific communities, such as the approach adopted during the vaccination campaign.

The identification of these obstacles and the ways in which various stakeholders have addressed them has provided the basis for making some recommendations for future crises. The report is available for open access here.