Engaging policy audiences

The dynamics of development communications

By 6 October 2016

Visibility in the digital era

In the current digital era, even development organisations need visibility. Development organisations in their ‘must-have’ lists also now have cameras along with other essentials. The project teams, along with the researchers, engineers, medics and logistics personnel, also now have people carrying camera, pen and paper. In other words, communications have become an integral component in the world of development.

This is due to the growing necessity for ‘visibility’. It is hard to rest on the principle that if you produce good work, it will get noticed. Nowadays development organisations deliberately focus on ‘packaging’ and communicating work so that it gets noticed and acknowledged by a large section of the audience. It is almost identical to the notion of ‘marketing’ by any business brand to attract its customers.

Creativity in communications

Creativity is essential in development communications. Like brand marketing, where businesses need to come up with creative ideas to attract customers, development organisations need to come up with unique ways of engaging audiences. A critical element of development communication is reaching the right audience- finding the engagement community (and communities) who will find your information ‘useful’.

Acknowledging the limitations of diverse and sometimes hard-to-reach audiences, development organisations often engage communications and give them creative and artistic freedom, allowing them to come up with content that generates interest across a range of audiences – beyond the circle of those working in the field of development. Gone are the days when you would just see a photograph of a four wheeler with the organisation’s logo in a remote village and some helping hands providing first aid or clean drinking water. Increasingly organisations aim to engage wider audiences with strong messages – linking local voices to the entire globe. Communications experts nowadays apply the age old art of story-telling, making their messages more visually interesting and exciting to hear about.

Social media and self-discipline

Social media and online communications tools such as infographics and Graphics Interchange Format (GIF) videos have provided a great platform in terms of reaching out and engaging with a wide variety of audiences. They provide an excellent space for learning by doing as you can easily gauge the level of audience interest and acceptability. This is useful for development communications practitioners to understand the extent of audience engagement with their content – be it a blog, a report, a video or an infographic- and mold their content and style of presentation accordingly.

The dilemma that development communications professionals face is understanding how much time to invest – to what extent the work can be marketed and where to stop. There are several instances of development organisations being heavily criticized for ‘excessive marketing’ around fundraising activities, rather than being sensible to disasters such as earthquakes- this highlights the need for a level of caution and self-discipline.

Evidence Uptake and Knowledge Management

Development communications requires a strategic approach- delivery of the right kind of message to the intended audience in the right manner. Development organisations are now focusing on the science of evidence uptake and knowledge management to synthesize project findings into user friendly formats so that they are widely read with interest by various stakeholders. These user friendly evidence summaries and briefs are of particular importance for policy makers to give them a ‘trailer’ (to use a movie-based analogy) of what the research/project is about. Although summarizing a lengthy project report into a more readable two – four pager is often a required  output for a follow up dissemination workshop or a similar event, it is now accepted by all academicians and researchers that the scalability and acceptance of any project very much depends upon how findings or lessons from a project are presented to the key stakeholders.

Building a business case

‘Impact’ is a buzz word in the field of development and messages communicated need to have an ‘impact element’ to ensure potential for scale up and sustainability of the work. Uptake forums such as conferences, seminars, symposiums and dissemination workshops all provide means for development organisations to build a business case to scale up their existing projects.

Continuous Evolution

With the changing dynamics of internet and communications, the world of development is developing therefore delivering key messages is also constantly evolving and adapting. In this continuous evolution, the core of any successful communication strategy is still the resonance and relevance of the message itself and, essentially, its ability to touch hearts and lives.

 

  • James Newell

    Very useful points, thanks. One thing I’d like to add … we need to make sure the findings we produce are relevant to key stakeholders, which means comms activities need to start from the start of the research project.

    • Sudeep Uprety

      Very well agree James on this. Yes, communications activities need to be embedded as one of the core components of research projects for continuous audience engagement and interest throughout the life of the project. Thanks for your feedback.