Objective: To use a deliberative forum to elicit community perspectives on communication about pandemic influenza planning, and to compare these findings with the current Australian national communication strategy.
Design: Deliberative forum of 12 persons randomly selected from urban South Australia. Forum members were briefed by experts in infection control, virology, ethics and public policy before deliberating on four key questions: what, how and when should the community be told about pandemic influenza and by whom?
Results: The forum recommended provision of detailed and comprehensive information by credible experts, rather than politicians, using a variety of media including television and internet. Recommendations included cumulative communication to build expertise in the community, and specific strategies to include groups such as young people, people with physical or mental disabilities, and rural and remote communities. Information provided should be practical, accurate, and timely, with no 'holding back' about the seriousness of a pandemic. The forum expressed confidence in the expert witnesses, despite the acknowledged uncertainty of many of the predictions.
Discussion and conclusion: The deliberative forum's recommendations were largely consistent with the Australian national pandemic influenza communication strategy and the relevant literature. However, the forum recommended: release of more detailed information than currently proposed in the national strategy; use of non-political spokespersons; and use of novel communication methods. Their acceptance of uncertainty suggests that policy makers should be open about the limits of knowledge in potentially threatening situations. Our findings show that deliberative forums can provide community perspectives on topics such as communication about pandemic influenza.