DevRel for Vaccines?
The CDC surprised people when they announced in May those who were vaccinated did not need to wear masks. Then more recently they changed their tone, now saying the Delta variant was so contagious that everyone should be wearing a mask.
I’ve seen a number of criticisms of the CDC and their seemingly haphazard efforts at communicating. Guidance does and should change in response to new evidence, but the guidance may seem to jump from one extreme to another at sudden notice. When talking about a software product this is a problem, but in the subject of public health the stakes are a bit higher.
Developer Relations is a field that is all about maintaining a relationship between a company’s product and the users, who are software engineers. In particular there is a role of the Developer Advocate, whose job is all about communication. This may come in the form of pre-recorded videos, live presentations, and one-on-one conversations. It’s not about marketing, but trying to manage that relationship and see if there is a way to help the other person.
In some ways, this seems to be exactly what the CDC needs. They may need a dedicated position focused on making sense of the data in a way that is consistent and easy to communicate to the public.
But another key aspect of DevRel is not just outward communication but listening and taking their discussions back into the organization. More than just answering questions at a press conference, folks in DevRel try to listen to community issues and escalate issues so they can be resolved sooner in a way that is acceptable by all parties.
In this way, it’s not necessarily DevRel, as the audience is not software engineers. But it’s some sort of community management role that appears to be missing from the organization. CDC Director Walensky is likely good at her job of directing employees internally, but perhaps a trusted person focused on communicating with the public could benefit from the greater focus.