case study

Telling the Stories of the Public Health School and Program Community During the COVID-19 Pandemic


The Challenge

The COVID-19 pandemic greatly tested all of us, leading to millions of deaths and hundreds of millions of infections across the world, sometimes with devastating long-term effects. For years, public health officials had predicted such a pandemic, yet the world remained disturbingly unprepared. Nevertheless, thanks in great part to the work of the public health community, urgent actions were taken to protect populations and to learn about this new virus, including gathering data, studying the virus, learning, teaching, collaborating, communicating, being with the communities and saving lives. Countless stories demonstrate the dedication of health professionals around the world. 

Burness was approached by the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) to help tell the stories of their members’ responses, to give a broad sense of the magnitude and diversity of the actions, while also highlighting the work of individual schools and programs, whose work is critical to ensuring the future of public health is strong, supported by decision-makers and policymakers across the country, and regarded by students as an enticing area of study.

Our Approach

Working closely with ASPPH, Burness developed a strategy to tell member stories through a print and digital report, a microsite and more than 60 individual program case studies. Through a series of one-on-one interviews with program deans we asked members to recount their schools’ and programs’ pandemic responses in six main areas: research, data analytics and forecasting, advocacy, education and training, community support, and partnerships. Then, through a survey distributed to all of ASPPH’s member organizations, we compiled more than 60 individual stories of academic public health institutions — of what each of them did, in their universities, communities, regions and states to keep the public safe. 

We wove these stories into a 22-page, full-color report, including member photos and quotations that told the story of the public health school response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the incredible impact it had. Alongside the print report, we developed a microsite for the storytelling project featured on ASPPH’s website. The microsite not only repurposes the content of the report to create an interactive experience, but it also allows readers to explore the full case studies for each of the academic public health institutions interviewed. This purpose-built site helps to create a more engaging and accessible way for ASPPH’s online audience to learn about its member’s achievements. 

Results and Impact

Since its launch in December 2022, ASPPH’s COVID storytelling project report and website has received tremendous feedback from members. And utilizing the strengths of print and the web allowed us to share the incredible depth of lessons learned by schools of public health during the COVID-19 pandemic online while keeping the print report easily digestible. This also provides the opportunity for each institution to share their own stories with each having a dedicated web page. 

Overall, as of Spring 2023, the report has received more than 6,700 views. It’s been used by members as part of their own presentations and in ASPPH-led talks to the World Health Organization and on Capitol Hill.  

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