First a big thank you to R2A for inviting me to introduce our IIED Comms team. I have the pleasure of working with a very talented, multi-skilled, and high-performing Comms team of 16, and together we (1) Put audiences first, (2) Create content for impact, and (3) Enable best practice communications. We’ve been able to rise to interesting challenges over the years, and have striven to remain ahead of the various curves that have come our way.
IIED is 50 this year, so we’ve been doing a bit of looking back and looking forward. A lot has happened on the environment and development journey over that time and we have been thinking about the various ‘movements’ – and not just the moments that we have been a part of. This emphasis on movements is important because while those of us in Comms often focus on specific events, or points of external leverage, IIED as an institution has an MO of working collaboratively and collectively, and in partnership alongside each other towards a shared goal. Make Change Happen is IIED’s current strategy, and as a Comms team we work hard to turn our Theory of Change into action.
Not every organisation has the luxury of a strong central Comms team, but at the core of our work is our partnerships with our internal research teams – Climate Change, Natural Resources, Urban Settlements, and Sustainable Markets. We directly support project work throughout the research cycle, market both new publications and our archive of more than 7,000, make all our knowledge assets accessible to a global audience, work with the media, develop both our audience mapping and marketing skills and our research communication skills, generate creative content, maintain a family of websites (www.iied.org and 13 other subsites), and much more.
We have an operating budget of around 7% of IIED’s income for central comms. I believe this to be a good benchmark that provides value for money and a sensible approach to making sure you have enough resource, but not too much. It allows us to provide a robust ‘standing capacity’ for essential comms activities that keep the organisation competitive, visible in the right spaces, and able to produce high-impact material.
The pandemic prompted the development and launch of our ‘Digital Booster’ strategy, which saw our productivity increase as we focused on stretching our understanding of working digitally. Some of what we look forward to sharing with the R2A family are things we have developed recently in response to this more digital way of working.
We have just published ‘Keeping up the Pressure’, our second online offering of our Annual Review for 2021, and welcome any feedback. Taking all our events online bumped up our participation by 300%, a success that we’ll continue to build on. The lessons from the past two years have fed into our learning about communications best practices too. We have been working with a donor on a series of information events combining online pre-recordings with in-person discussion groups. The most recent one, ‘Flexible, agile, digital working: Towards a new normal’, featured our recent work on tackling the digital divide to ensure we reach marginalised communities. The beauty of more online webinars is the ability to engage with panellists far and wide in a more relaxed way – our online webinar on ‘Closing the digital gender gap’ was a case in point. Digital is not a panacea though: it’s important to tackle equity/inclusivity and acknowledge how the digital divide has a bigger impact in making international negotiations even more unfair.
Capitalising on digital opportunities led us to use channels in a more sustainable way, to make ‘forgotten’ research material from past projects and programmes more accessible and available. This step was part of our journey to do more with curated collections of our vast archive. With a stronger digital framing we have been pushing ourselves to link our content much more deliberately to our audience development strategy by refining our ‘User impact pathways approach’, which we’ll outline in a blog post coming up soon, so keep an eye on social!
Last, but by no means least, our nimble Digital Content Manager, Matt Wright, spotted an opportunity and created a Greener Worldle game a few weeks ago that has been hugely successful – perhaps you have played! We had 100,000 views in 3 weeks with players from 150 countries. We gained some media coverage, and we know our key audiences of both donors and climate scientists are playing along. This was a great example of monitoring the external digital environment and devoting time and resources to craft a creative and innovative way to get people thinking about the issues we are working on. If you would like to read more on this check out Charity Comms today.
Leading this team is full-on but exciting, challenging but rewarding. There’s always more to think about to keep our strategy contemporary, relevant, and working across a global community that has very different needs and constraints. We’ve come along way in the 16 years I’ve been with IIED and it has been a great ride. I leave in June and we will be advertising this role in the next few weeks – if you are interested please watch out for it and don’t hesitate to apply.
This is the first blog in a new R2A series, Eye on 2022. Would you like to showcase your communications work, or recommend another comms team? Step right up…