The purpose of this paper is to understand how the contextual factors of health crisis information needs are different from a general health context and how these factors work together to shape human information needs.
This study collected the COVID-19-related questions posted on a Chinese social Q&A website for a period of 90 days since the pandemic outbreak in China. A qualitative thematic approach was applied to analyze the 1,681 valid questions using an open coding process.
A taxonomy of information need topics for a health crisis context that identifies 8 main categories and 33 subcategories was developed, from which four overarching themes were extracted. These include understanding, clarification and preparation; affection expression of worries and confidence; coping with a challenging situation and resuming normal life; and social roles in the pandemic. The authors discussed the differences between a health crisis and a normal health context shaping information needs. Finally, a conceptual framework was developed to illustrate the typology, nature and triggers of health crisis information needs.
First, only the Baidu Zhidao platform was investigated, and caution is advised before assuming the generalizability of the results, as the questioners of Baidu Zhidao are not representative of the whole population. Furthermore, since at the time of writing the COVID-19 is still in an emerging and evolving situation (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2020), the collected data included only a relatively small sample size compared to the post-pandemic period, and this might have impact on the interpretation of the study’s findings.
The study’s taxonomy of information needs provides a reference for indexing and organizing related information during a disaster.
The study helps authoritative organizations track and send information in social media and to inform about policies related to the pandemic (e.g., quarantine and traffic control policies in our study) to the right people in the right regions and settings when the next disaster emerges.
The taxonomy of information need topics for a health crisis context can be used to index and organize related information during a disaster and support many information agents to enhance their information service practices. It also deepens the understanding of the formation mechanism of information needs during a global health crisis.
This research was supported by the China Scholarship Council (No.201906195007). We’d like to thank Feiyan Wang, Anqi Xiao, and Yunqiu Cao for collecting the data.
Ke, Q., Du, J.T. and Ji, L. (2021), "Toward a conceptual framework of health crisis information needs: an analysis of COVID-19 questions in a Chinese social Q&A website", Journal of Documentation, Vol. 77 No. 4, pp. 851-870. https://doi.org/10.1108/JD-10-2020-0173
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