Navigating a Public Health Crisis: Governance and Sensemaking during the COVID-19 Pandemic in Australia

Aleks Deejay, Kathryn Henne*, Kathleen H. Pine, Walter G. Johnson, Franz Carneiro Alphonso

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    3 Citations (Scopus)


    The COVID-19 pandemic required people to navigate complex information landscape situated in changing and uncertain environments. In places like Australia, where rigid restrictions were in place for over a year, most did so from their homes. Although expert advice cautions that inflexible government measures undermine compliance, research indicates that many Australians demonstrated both willingness and intention to follow these preventative measures. We examine the conditions underpinning this seeming anomaly by studying how Australian residents made sense of the COVID-19 health crisis and its governance. Semi-structured interviews with 40 participants evince how they sought out various forms of information and knowledge to produce meaning in actionable ways—in short, their sensemaking. Building on insights from information science and regulatory governance research, we trace individuals’ sensemaking practices, capturing how government-backed messaging became interconnected with diverse forms of information and knowledge drawn on by participants. Findings illustrate how sensemaking practices shifted over the first two years of the pandemic and how active information-seeking often reinforced trust in government responses during that time. This analysis demonstrates how sensemaking can inform the development of bottom-up pathways for encouraging compliance with public health interventions and promoting health literacy, especially in times of crisis.

    Original languageEnglish
    Article number100317
    JournalSSM - Qualitative Research in Health
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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