Knowing your audience

GDN/PEM Asia Research Communications Workshop

By 17 October 2011

Being influential requires you to be clear who you are trying to influence! As basic as this sounds, it is often the reason why researchers fail to make a bigger impact with their work.

GDNet’s ongoing research communications capacity building workshops explored some of the tools to help researchers analyse and target stakeholders recently. The two-day workshop, organized by GDNet and delivered in partnership with CommsConsult,  took place on October 10-11, 2011 in Delhi.

The workshop was specifically designed for a group of Asian researchers involved in the GDN PEM Project (Strengthening Institutions to Improve Public Expenditure Accountability to influence policy decisions with their research results in their respective countries. The workshop gathered 12 participants from the following countries: Armenia; Nepal; Philippines; India; Indonesia and Bangladesh.

A special session was dedicated to present and practice the Alignment, Interest and Influence Matrix (AIIM) tool. While the RAPID Outcome Mapping Approach (ROMA) had used a standard stakeholder Analysis tool to identify the audiences of research-based and policy influencing interventions, the AIIM was designed to be used in a workshop setting not only to help identifying the main stakeholders, but also suggest a possible course of action towards them.

Participants were divided into groups and were given instructions on how to apply the AIIM, on a case of their choice, in order to clarify where some of the interventions’ main policy audiences and targets stand in relation to the objectives of their research, as well as possible influencing approaches and tactics.

The following research theme was chosen by one of the groups: increasing the enrolment in primary schools through providing free meals to children. As shown in the picture below, researchers identified the actors that are likely to influence the policy and mapped them onto the matrix according to their level of alignment and interest.

The mapping exercise is very effective because it makes people think about all of the different institutions and organisaitons that could have a role to play in bringing about change. So, our group started with the obvious stakeholders – government departments, school officers etc. – and only then realized that parents, tax payers and donors all have influence over these decisions. As soon as an actor has been placed on the matrix, someone questions why they are placed in that quadrant: then comes the analysis about how powerful and how interested each one is, in support or against the research policy goals. Once the mapping is completed, only then can we prioritize and identify the most influential actors on the policy process. For many researchers, this is the first time that they have thought through a stakeholder analysis – and they found it invaluable. A cursory review of the evaluations from the workshop shows this to be the most useful part of the two days.

The workshop aimed primarily at increasing the understanding of how research influences and informs policy. A special Policy Panel was established to provide researchers with an understanding of the evidence needs of different kinds of policymaker. Participants were given the opportunity to look at the media landscape in Asia, how research can make news and what would make PEM research newsworthy through a Media Panel that assembled journalists from different agencies and backgrounds. One of the objectives of the workshop was to create confidence about when and how to communicate in order to maximize the research’s impact, and presenting research in public forums. Special synergies were organized to build the researchers’ skills on writing policy briefs and producing materials for the media, particularly press releases.

To sum up, the workshop gave the participants the opportunity to learn how to identify their audiences and how to tailor their key messages accordingly, to develop strategies for engaging policy audiences as well as to agree on principles for effective communication.

During the workshop, we recorded interviews with some participants to learn more about their research and to understand how they benefited from this GDNet capacity building event. Interviews are to follow soon on our blog.

This post originally appeared on the GDNet blog.