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The Canterbury tales : an insider's lessons and reflections from the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence to inform better public communication models : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English and Media Studies at Massey University, Wellington, New Zealand
This research evaluates the public earthquake preparedness communication before the Canterbury Earthquake Sequence (2010-present) and examines communication learnings to create recommendations for improvements in implementation for these campaigns in future. The research comes from an “insider” perspective from someone who worked on these campaigns in Canterbury before the earthquakes. In this research I use this insider lens to analyse the Q-Files booklets, developed by the Public Education Public Information group (PEPI) and coordinated by the Canterbury Civil Defence Emergency Management (CDEM) Group, both groups in which I worked professionally before the earthquakes. These booklets aimed to communicate the geological hazards and risks in Canterbury to persuade publics to prepare. For my analysis, I developed a “best practice matrix”, derived from the most relevant literature, to determine how closely these booklets aligned to best-practice academic research. I also used readability tests and word counts to triangulate the data. I interpreted that the Q-Files were overly long, jargon-laden text filled with little positive outcome expectancy messages, and would have failed to persuade most people that earthquakes were a real threat in Canterbury.
Paradoxically, it is likely these booklets created fatalism in publics who read them. While the overall intention was positive, to scientifically explain geological risks to encourage the public to prepare for these events, my analysis identified that the implementation could have been greatly improved. After summarising my findings, I shared these insights with my community of practice and found that many of my former colleagues shared with me their frustrations, concerns and disappointments with not only the Q-Files but the overall management of public preparedness communication within Canterbury. Finally, I reflect on what it means to have been part of the development of a failed risk communication campaign. I interpret that scientism was the fundamental belief system inspiring the PEPI group in Canterbury to create the Q-Files. I argue that the PEPI group created echo-chamber-like effects, supporting and reflecting their own belief systems in their public communication. The group’s self-containment led to the creation of documents filled with jargon, gobbledygook and scientificism. Based on my findings, I highlight areas for improvement in strategic approaches for more successful campaigns in future as well as potential research pathways.