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Reconstructing Crisis Narratives for Trustworthy Communication and Cooperative Agency

Proposed Collaborative Research Project: Aalto University and Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL)

The emergence of a crisis is often accompanied by unexpected events, uncertain signals, malicious misinformation, and conflicting reports that must be collectively interpreted and analyzed to understand the complex nature and scope of the situation, and its potential implications for society. This research jointly conducted between Aalto University and THL proposes to analyze and reconstruct crisis narratives using mixed-methods, combining qualitative research for narrative inquiry with computational data analytics of crisis discourses in news and social media among diverse publics. 

The research will develop a narrative analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic from February 2020 onwards in Finland (in relation to the global discourse); this will serve as the primary case study for this project. In particular, the research will highlight the key narratives, public anxieties, perceptions of risk, misconceptions, values and trust in official guidelines, news/media coverage, and the societal deliberations. It will primarily be focused around mobility restrictions and social distancing measures imposed over distinct timeframes across the unfolding trajectory of the crisis. This would offer a conceptual framework for risk perception and trust in pandemic crisis situations for use by THL, though it could be expanded to other crisis contexts.

Reconstructing Crisis Narratives, a sketch of the timeline tool by Suvi Hyökki

We will design a platform representing and visualizing such information to engage decision-makers, front-line responders, stakeholders, and the general public in making sense of crises and perceptions of risk and trust. This will be based on the narrative analysis and participatory design research conducted with stakeholders and public participants. The novel timeline-based prototype tool will allow browsing, searching, and unraveling information for selected crisis themes and narratives. Temporal interactive visualization of crisis narrative threads will be used to support participatory narrative building and multiple hypotheses, facilitate discovery of unusual patterns, and collaborative sense-making. An evaluation of the platform with participants in a pilot study with the THL will offer insights on how such temporal crisis narratives can be used for making sense of perceptions of formal crisis communications, news/media coverage, and informal social media engagement, while improving risk communication and cooperative models for crisis preparedness and response.

Crisis Narratives project: proposed research process, an illustration by Suvi Hyökki

Recruitment for Doctoral Researcher:

Prof. Nitin Sawhney is seeking to recruit a Ph.D. student in the Department of Computer Science at Aalto University for the Crisis Narratives research project. They must have interests and proficiency in social media analysis/machine learning, qualitative research and information visualization, working as part of a broader team. Diverse candidates (including women and minorities) are encouraged to apply with a resume and letter of interest. Please contact: nitin.sawhney AT aalto.fi