Social responsibility perspective in public response to the COVID-19 pandemic: a grounded theory approach

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Background: Combating viral outbreaks extends beyond biomedical and clinical approaches; thus, public health prevention measures are equally important. Public engagement in preventive efforts can be viewed as the social responsibility of individuals in controlling an infectious disease and are subjected to change due to human behaviour. Understanding individuals’ perception of social responsibility is crucial and is not yet explored extensively in the academic literature. We adopted the grounded theory method to develop an explanatory substantive theory to illustrate the process of how individual responded to the outbreak from a social responsibility perspective. Methods: In-depth interviews were conducted among 23 Malaysians either through telephone or face-to-face depending on the participant’s preference. Both purposive and theoretical sampling were used. Participants were invited to share their understanding, perceptions and activities during the COVID-19 pandemic. They were further probed about their perceptions on complying with the public health interventions imposed by the authorities. The interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Data was analysed via open coding, focus coding and theoretical coding, facilitated by memoing, sketching and modelling. Results: Study findings showed that, social responsibility is perceived within its role, the perceived societal role responsibility. In a particular context, an individual assumed only one of the many expected social roles with their perceived circle of responsibility. Individuals negotiated their actions from this perspective, after considering the perceived risk during the outbreak. The four types of behaviour depicted in the matrix diagram facilitate the understanding of the abstract concept of negotiation in the human decision-making process, and provide the spectrum of different behaviour in relation to public response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Conclusions: Our study adopted the grounded theory approach to develop a theoretical model that illustrates how individual response to COVID-19 preventive measures is determined by the negotiation between perceived societal role responsibility and perceived infection risk. This substantive theoretical model is abstract, thus has relevance for adoption within similar context of an outbreak.




Low, L. L., Tong, S. F., Ang, J. Y., Abdullah, Z., Hamid, M. A., Risman, M. S., … Hss, A. S. (2022). Social responsibility perspective in public response to the COVID-19 pandemic: a grounded theory approach. BMC Public Health, 22(1).

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