The 2021 WHO Competency Framework for Infodemic Management was developed in five main steps that link together conceptual work (steps one and two) and participatory research with the relevant stakeholders (steps three, four, and five).
First, the overall structure of the framework was built following the guidelines for competency frameworks by the WHO Academy, a WHO training institution that focuses on lifelong training within the health sector . Specifically, adopting the conceptualization of WHO Academy, the competencies were organized into the following categories: domains, activities, tasks, knowledge, and skills. The term “domains” is used for the headings that highlight a group of related competencies (e.g., the domain “detect and intervene”, which groups together the competencies needed to identify mis- and disinformation and build interventions to promote resilience in individuals and communities). “Activities” refers to the core functions of IM work with the characteristics of being trainable and, through the performance of tasks, measurable (e.g., to counter mis- and disinformation—that is, to offer corrections in a timely manner). The term “tasks” refers to the observable units of work within an activity (e.g., the task of “working in partnership with other institutions to identify mis- and disinformation rapidly”). “Knowledge” and “skills” refer to the informational basis needed to perform a certain task as well as the specific abilities that are required for such (e.g., knowledge of approaches and methods for fact-checking and the related skills).
Second, the domains and activities were identified by framing infodemic management within an infodemiologic perspective. Infodemiology conceptualizes five workstreams in the epi curve of an infodemic response analogous to the epidemic response . These workstreams are at the core of the domains and define the related activities.
Third, the specific tasks, knowledge, and skills required for the performance of each activity were identified through a qualitative study with key participants identified purposively. Specifically, the participants (n = 26) were interviewed based on their academic background in the field of IM (n = 10) or their professional experience in IM activities at the institutional level, governmental public health agencies, or public health organization and institutions (n = 16). They were active in the following countries or regions: Africa (n = 3), Belgium (n = 1), Canada (n = 2), China (n = 1), Finland (n = 1), Italy (n = 2), Malta (n = 1), Pakistan (n = 1), Sweden (n = 1), Switzerland (n = 1), Thailand (n = 1), UK (n = 3) and US (n = 8). The participants had interdisciplinary expertise in the following fields: informatics, health behavior change, health communication, health economics, health education, health literacy, health policy, public health, scientific journalism, and social media.
The interview grids focused on the following topics:
current IM processes within institutions (strengths and limitations, gaps, and needs);
specific theories, models, strategies, and tools for IM used within institutions; and
key disciplines for competence development in IM.
The full interview grids are available in Annex 1.
The interviews were conducted via videoconference between December 2020 and January 2021; they were video-recorded and transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were then analyzed using inductive thematic analysis .
Fourth, the participants in the qualitative study highlighted different tasks, fields, theories, models, strategies, practices, and processes that are important for IM. All these findings were clustered under standardized categories and then inserted in the draft framework under the specific domains and activities.
Fifth, the draft framework was presented for discussion and revision during two stakeholder panels held on January 26, 2021 and February 2, 2021 via videoconference. The panels took place with a majority of the participants in the qualitative study (n = 14), academics (n = 5) and practitioners (n = 11), some additional academics (n = 2), and members of the WHO core team for IM (n = 6). Overall, 21 people took part in the first panel, and 17 in the second panel. The panelists were mainly asked to express their views on whether the framework covers all the main IM competencies and to identify aspects that were unclear, were missing, or would require different wording. The framework was revised according to the results of the two panels.