[Ryan Weber] Welcome to Ten Minute Tech Comm. This is Ryan Weber at the University of Alabama in Huntsville. As I record on May 13, 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic is still ravaging the world, with over 4.3 million confirmed cases and almost 300,000 deaths. With a pandemic of this size, it’s extremely important to get clear, helpful information out to the public, but that information can be hard to come by. Today’s guest is one of the many people who is trying to help solve that problem.
[Katie Trauth Taylor] I’m Katie Trauth Taylor, and I’m CEO of Untold Content. We are an innovation storytelling firm and we specialize in medical, technical, and scientific communications for innovative companies.
[Ryan Weber] I asked Dr. Taylor here today to talk about a recent collaboration between her company Untold Content, and the Action Learning Network, to produce COVID-19 related materials for children with heart and organ failure, and their parents. She’ll talk about the process of collaborating with a variety of stakeholders in order to create useful, informative infographics for these audiences. If you’re interested in seeing the infographics, I’ve also linked to them in the show notes, so you can check them out. I hope you enjoy the interview. Thank you for joining us, Katie. I appreciate you taking some time to talk with us about some of the COVID-19 content that you created recently. And I guess, just to get it started, could you tell us a little bit about those recent infographics that you created?
[Katie Trauth Taylor] Sure! Thanks so much for having me on the podcast. I love Ten Minute Tech Comm, so it’s an honor.
[Ryan Weber] So, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and the Action Learning Network—as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic and outbreaks began in the United States, those organizations started receiving a lot of questions from concerned families. You know, pediatric patients. And there was an immediate need to communicate, right? Because if you’re the one who holds medical expertise, and your community needs that guidance, you really need to reach them, especially in the age we’re living in today, as quickly and as accurately as possible. Because there’s a lot of media and a lot of circulation of ideas and a lot of talk and feedback happening all the time. So if you’re the expert, it’s critical that you reach your audiences fast, and that you still keep accurate information that engages them too, because you’re also competing against a lot of the content that’s available to people on Google, on social media, etc.
[Katie Trauth Taylor] And so Action Leaning Network in particular is a global learning consortium. And they are dedicated to supporting children with heart failure. And so their families and patients inside the Action Learning Network, were especially concerned about COVID-19, especially with uncertainty around… you know, a lot of the data was was pretty positive about how children might not have as many severe cases as adults, especially older adults. But there’s this note on pretty much you know, everything that the CDC is releasing, and any research that comes out, that this might not be true, if they have existing conditions or other medical problems. And so it’s really critical to create an engaging and accurate portrait of all of the medical advice that families inside the Action Learning Network and Cincinnati Children’s more broadly would be able to engage with in order to understand: What is COVID-19? What should we be doing differently? And also: How is our medical care for our existing conditions going to change in light of the outbreaks?
[Ryan Weber] And so it looks like—I’ve got it pulled up here, and also for listeners, I’m going to link this in the notes as well—but it looks like it’s kind of a series of infographics. Some are for parents, and some are for kids, to kind of talk to them about what COVID-19 is. One of them is called, “Why am I Staying Home?” Another one is, “How to Stay Healthy.” You know, how did you go about creating these?
[Katie Trauth Taylor] It was a wonderful process. So all of us, by the time this need emerged, everyone on our creative team at Untold Content, and everyone on the Action team were all working virtually. And so there was definitely no in person ideation here! We were having Google Hangouts, and Zoom calls, and ideating back and forth over email about what the most important information is. And really, the beautiful thing about an organization like Action is they’re extraordinarily collaborative between providers and researchers and families. And so as they heard needs and questions emerge from families, they were already able to—and a lot of that happened via email—they were able to take all of that, and collect it together. And our team at Untold guided them in developing a content strategy in answer to those parent questions. And so of course, we needed an accurate and thorough FAQ. That was a big part of this particular content campaign. That is: let’s make sure that we have research back longer, you know, actual paragraph style answers to the parents’ most concerning questions. We also wanted to reach parents when they didn’t have as much time. And so trying to give them a quick overview: How is your health care going to be different right now? Giving them access to some of the latest research findings around how children tend to have symptoms. What types of symptoms do children have? And how likely are they to get very sick from the virus? These were all concerns parents had. And so that’s where we didn’t just want to create, you know, sort of the longer form FAQ “frequently asked questions,” We also wanted to make downloadables and infographics that a parent could look at and easily take away the key information and feel comforted by that, too. What was really unique about this as well, that I loved in our ideation sessions: we wanted to figure out how to reach children. And we knew, you know, there’s a really broad age range of children that are served by the Action Learning Network, because, unfortunately, heart disease and heart failure can happen to a child pretty much right after birth all the way up until they’re technically an adult patient. That can happen at any time. And so we needed to try to create infographics with as much bang for, you know, for the resources and the time that we had. And so, we couldn’t create a variation for a three-year-old and an 18-year-old. We really had to try to come up with content, imagery, and language that would hit right in the middle. And so we aimed for, you know, a sixth to eighth grade reading level—which is recommended anyway, even for adult patient education materials—the CDC recommends not going above an eighth grade reading level. And that’s because of, you know, a lot of health literacy challenges in our nation and around the world. So anyway, what I loved about this is we didn’t just speak to parents, right? We also created infographics for children that showed them how to be “Health Heroes.” And we came up with that concept of a “Health Hero,” we kind of pulled that through all of the different infographics and deliverables, and used that imagery to help a child understand: when you stand as far apart from your friend as a sofa, or when you choose to have a good attitude about not getting to go to school, or to your sports and your activities, right now—that means you’re being a hero. And so really trying to find that sweet spot, and reach as many of the children patients as we can with the restraints in terms of time and resources to get this out there as soon as we could.
[Ryan Weber] So there’s a lot of constraints going on, as you said. You know, time and reaching sort of a wide group of readers. But I want to jump back to something you said earlier. So the material, the questions of what to address came kind of directly from emails that this network had received from its patients? Is that right?
[Katie Trauth Taylor] Yes.
Ryan Weber] That’s cool. So it was kind of like, a response to audience concerns from the beginning. Is that correct?
[Katie Trauth Taylor] Absolutely. Yes, absolutely. And that is a gift. (Laughs.) When an organization like Action is already set up in a collaborative way like that—that is such a gift for content creators and technical communicators. Because, that’s exactly—if you’re working with the pain, and the questions, and the concerns of your audience, and you’re directly meeting those things, right where they are—that’s the best outcome you could possibly have. And when you have to guess at that, that’s where it’s less certain that a content campaign will be successful. Have you gotten any feedback from your content campaign from users? It’s been really wonderful. So we’ve circulated all of these. So we made these infographics and you can view them on actionlearningnetwork.com/covid19. And so you can see all of the resources there. But then we really, at Untold, we try to help our clients get the most that they possibly can out of the content investments they’re making. And so you know, you see all of those infographics—well, then we also broke them down into smaller social media messages. And so that’s really where we were able to see a lot of interaction and engagement from parents and families and providers who are part of the Action Network as well. And so we were having great conversations. Parents were saying, “We were able to download these infographics and print them off for our kids. Thank you so much!” Or it also lead to more questions. So as we shared, for instance, the frequently asked questions list, that sort of document really needs to be a living and breathing, technical document that gets updated, right? Because every hour or every day, things are changing with this pandemic. And so the beautiful thing is that when you put a first version out there, it triggers parents to say, “Oh, yeah, I have another question.” And so you’re able to collect more questions, continue updating it. And so that’s been a continuous process.
[Ryan Weber] That’s great! So the audience can continue to kind of give feedback, or direct to the content in the direction that they need it to go.
[Katie Trauth Taylor] Yeah! Another example of that: we had patients, a specific sort of sub-population of patients within the Action Learning Network who are on particular assist devices, which are sort of waiting period devices. As a child is waiting for a heart transplant, it keeps them alive in that interim. And so parents of children with VADs [ventricular assist devices] wanted to have their specific questions answered. Similarly, parents of children with liver organ transplants. So Action partners with other organizations that are committed to not just heart transplants, but liver transplants and other kinds of solid organs. And so we were able to continue to see those needs and create more content pieces that were specific around those subpopulations as well. We saw that the general infographics were helpful, right? So we got validation of the concept, then varied it for each of those sub populations, and answered their specific questions. Right. And so when they’re asking these questions, are you going to the network of experts to get the answers? Is that right? Oh, yes. So Action is comprised of 45 pediatric medical centers from all around the United States, and even, I believe, there are some sites in Canada and other countries as well. And so it’s a highly collaborative group of highly specialized doctors who deal with pediatric heart failure. And the reason why they formed that collaborative is because there are, thank goodness, there aren’t that many cases of pediatric heart failure that an individual hospital might see in a given year. Maybe just a handful, or you know, 20, or 15, something rather small. And so there’s only so much that each individual center can do in terms of research, and learning, and training all of their staff to know what to do when those cases arrive. So they partnered, right? So it’s a rapidly growing learning consortium full of just the absolute best people and experts around around heart failure. And what I love about what they do is, they’re committed to publishing their findings. But they’re really creative about how they get information out there, because the issues around pediatric heart failure and how you treat it are very, very fast moving. And so if they only were to wait and publish their findings in the academic peer-reviewed journal space, it would take years. And they, instead—it’s absolutely critical, in order to reduce stroke rates and improve mortality rates to get this information out fast. And they do that and very creative and visual ways. And they do that through their collaboration together.
[Ryan Weber] Great. Well, and so it’s kind of the classic technical communicator question. You’ve got this audience who needs particular information. You’ve got these experts who have a wealth of information. How do you bridge that gap as the content creator, who has these experts with, you know, reams and reams of information in very particular needs for this audience? What was your strategy for kind of making that expert information accessible to these audiences?
[Katie Trauth Taylor] That’s the golden question, yes?
[Ryan Weber] It is! That’s the whole thing, right? (Laughs.)
[Katie Trauth Taylor] Yes. It’s why I founded Untold Content. It’s why I am passionate about this work and why I believe that technical communicators, innovation storytellers—whatever you want to call us—why I believe we’re such a critical part of the world. And so you know, one of my favorite memories of working on this project was inside those frequently asked questions. You know, providers were all meeting together on virtual calls, and someone was deemed the “note taker.” And the note taker was jotting down all of the points that were made. And so, you know, some of the parents, one of the questions parents wanted answered was, “What’s the latest research? You know, what are the outcomes for children when they get COVID-19?” And so what I received, you know, what our team received as the technical communicators on the team, was this sort of long list of questions with jotted down notes from a meeting full of all of these references. And, you know, when a provider goes to type up their takeaways on a piece of research… it’s pretty complicated. And so I love that, you know, one of the unique parts of our team is that almost all of us have MA or PhD degrees of technical communication. And so you know, we’ve been trained to go back to the actual source, and read it carefully, or at least skim it carefully. You know, truly, because you have to be able to grab those key takeaways very efficiently, because you’re trying to encapsulate the voice that can be the conversation of all of the literature as fast as you can. There’s not a lot yet about COVID-19 of course. So anyway, that was one of my favorite parts, is to see this very medical, jargon-filled, difficult-to- understand, few bullet points, and watch our team be able to go back to the source, glean it quickly, and come back and write those answers in a way that a parent could say, “Oh, that makes sense. I understand the key points of that research paper.” And that’s to me, the idea of making research accessible to people. Because the everyday person doesn’t know how to search a medical journal database and read that literature. It’s very dense.
[Ryan Weber] Right? And you don’t have time, and you don’t have access, either. I mean, a lot of those are, you know, $40 for an article, so.
[Katie Trauth Taylor] Oh yeah, we could go into all of, you know, opinions about open access and how critical it is. (Laughs.) But all of that to be said, yeah, I think that the most important thing that we can do as technical communicators is bring the ideas of experts to life in a way that any person can understand. Whether that’s a five year old or, you know, an adult who reads medical information at the eighth grade level, we have to reach them. And so pulling in visuals, making sure that research is understandable, making it accurate, but writing it at the eighth grade level. That’s also important.
[Ryan Weber] Awesome. Well, hey, that’s a good place to end it. So thank you so much for coming on the podcast today, Katie, I really appreciate it.
[Katie Trauth Taylor] Thank you so much for having me.