By Ricardo Ramirez, DECI-3.
The DECI Team’s experience working with research partners is that most often they already have a communication strategy in place. It is a de facto way of networking and connecting with a community of interest, combined with the use of media channels to disseminate findings to interested audiences. Some teams are well versed in a number of social media and have an established following. However, what is often missing is an explicit description of the strategy itself, such as: its goals or purposes; the different stakeholders and audiences; the rationale for the choice of different media combinations; and a strategic sense of the situations or moments when research findings are most welcome and needed – the so-called windows of opportunity in policy making. Our first step is to help the partner project team identify its existing communication strategy. We often find that it is built on their experience, and the intuition that comes from working in a context for a long time. We also often find that there are unexpressed assumptions about how communication objectives can be met, if they have even been explicitly expressed. One step that is very useful (and often overlooked) is to carry out a limited audience analysis, to verify that each audience group actually favours the media delivery combination that the project is using. It is surprising how often there are discrepancies such as in the case of a project that assumed senior researchers were using Facebook, only to find that they were not, but their assistants were. This finding allowed for a quick tweak of the strategy to insure that the intended audience was reached.
Oxfam Blogs profiled an ODI-RAPID posting entitled 9 bad things you do (but you shouldn’t) in research communications (by Caroline Cassidy & Louise Ball, Feb.9, 2018) that sounded familiar to us. They were as follows:
- Describe your research audience as ‘policy-makers, practitioners and the public’.
- Publish a long list of recommendations that are highly general, unrealistic, or both.
- Sign up to produce 20 publications for a 12-month project.
- Every other word is an acronym.
- Send your research to 100s of people, and never follow up.
- Hail download numbers and other vanity metrics when reporting on your research ‘successes’.
- Produce a video, podcast or infographic because ‘we have left over budget or/and it would be cool’.
- Death by PowerPoint.
- Whack in a photo, you haven’t got time to look properly, this one will do.
These so-called ‘bad things’ are fixable, and this is where strategic planning helps turn an existing communication way of doing things into a Communication Strategy.