Crisis communications: Role of centres of government and ministries of health

Public communication is a critical government function that enables coherent messaging both within the administration and externally, and serves as a key tool for effective policy design and implementation. Public communication also allows governments to listen to and understand their citizens. It is key to supporting the open government principles of transparency, integrity, accountability and stakeholder participation, ultimately serving to enhance good governance and build citizen trust.

Effective communication during a crisis is essential to the timely and beneficial dissemination of critical information to the public. Governments undertake crisis communication in response to unexpected events that could negatively affect their reputation or endanger citizens. It takes diverse forms, including media briefings, press releases and conferences as well as information campaigns about the facts and measures taken, and explaining the government’s crisis response to citizens. In the COVID-19 pandemic, for example, communication from centres of government (CoGs) and ministries of health (MHs) played a key role in fostering knowledge of and compliance with measures adopted to ensure people’s health and safety.

In 2019, 18 out of 27 CoGs in OECD countries (67%) had defined crisis communication procedures, as did 13 out of 17 MHs (76%) (Figure 4.5). CoGs’ specific manuals or procedures include crisis communication frameworks (e.g. the United Kingdom’s emergency planning framework), dedicated factsheets (the Netherlands), or sections on communication in wider crisis response plans (France) and frameworks (Australia and Belgium), acts (Switzerland and Luxembourg) and policies (Canada). In countries with no specific written criteria, some rely on adapting existing procedures to the nature of the incident, as in the Czech Republic, Estonia and Mexico. In Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada and Germany, it is a shared responsibility between national and sub-national governments and is often – though not always – guided by CoG protocols or procedures.

Public communicators consider crisis communication one of their three most challenging competences in 15 out 27 CoGs (56%) and 9 out of 18 MHs (50%) in OECD countries (Figure 4.6). Co-ordination and human resources are the key challenges to implementing crisis communications: 12 CoGs and 6 MHs cited co-ordination as a reason why communicating during a crisis is demanding, 11 CoGs and 4 MHs cited human resources, and 10 CoGs and 3 MHs a combination of both (Figure 4.7).

Further reading

OECD (2020), “Transparency, communication and trust: The role of public communication in responding to the wave of disinformation about the new Coronavirus”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2020), “Building resilience to the Covid-19 pandemic: The role of centres of government”, OECD Policy Responses to Coronavirus (COVID-19), OECD Publishing, Paris,

OECD (2016), Trends in Risk Communication Policies and Practices, OECD Reviews of Risk Management Policies, OECD Publishing, Paris,

Figure notes

Finland, Greece, Iceland, Japan, Luxembourg, Portugal and Spain provided data for MHs but not CoGs. Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Korea, Latvia, Mexico, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia and the United Kingdom provided data for CoGs but not MHs.

4.5. Data for Lithuania’s Ministry of Health are not available. The outer ring shows the data for CoGs, and the inner ring the data for MHs.

4.6. The three alternatives presented are the top recurring challenges selected by respondents from 27 CoGs and 18 MHs out of all the options provided.

4.7. Data refer to the 15 CoGs and 8 MHs that indicated crisis communication is a challenge in 4.6. and chose human resources and/or co-ordination as the reason. Greece’s MH did not answer.

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