I was in a global strategy meeting at the organization where I work last week. We had people from various disciplines present from across the organization and the goal was to chart a path to 2015 and beyond.
For the first couple days it seemed like a lot of talk and a lot more talk. We had very bright, very capable people representing different aspects of our work in the room. This can make things quite messy and tiring, and it can feel like everyone is talking in circles because there are so many perspectives and angles and factors that need to be considered in finding shared ground. Sometimes we are so participatory and complicated that we get in our own way. But by the 3rd and final day the perspectives had come together into a much clearer view of where the organization is headed, and we had the beginnings of a shared plan for how to get there.
We worked in a few main groups, and I participated in the Communications group. Much of our discussion centered around integrating better communication in all aspects of our work rather than seeing the role of Communications (and the Comms Team) as designing one-way messages out to the public. One colleague described this as ensuring ‘built in’ rather than ‘bolted on’ communications.
For me the discussions and end decisions were great, because there was a shared push in the group to move the organization towards things that I think are very important.
Some of the aspects we talked about included:
Communicating within programs
- the critical role of Communications within programs – eg., Communications shouldn’t only happen at the end of a program (press releases, events or media work to share what was done); rather communication is a critical tool within programs to help reach program and development goals at various levels
- the role of information and communications tools (new and old ones, high and low tech) at the community level to improve impact, efficiency, reach, engagement, decision-making, transparency and accountability
- the need to strengthen our ability to better integrate information and communication tools into program efforts, measure the impact of different tools and efforts, and share experiences around this
- ensuring consistency in what we do and how we talk about what we do
- space for children and young people to tell their own stories both behind the camera and in front of the camera, as producers of media not as objects of or consumers of media
- reaching people through the ‘heart’ (which we are quite good at) as well as the ‘head’ (which we need to get better at)
- communicating evidence of impact as well as anecdotal and personal stories
- using different information and communication tools to communicate at varying levels of complexity and technicality to different ‘audiences’
- using various kinds of media to tell a deeper and more complex story than is currently told
- finding the sweet spot between a) talking to ourselves in boring technical language and b) over-simplifying or ‘dumbing down’ the complexity of people’s lives and the work that we’re involved in
- having a strong and unified global goal so that each team or office can move towards that shared goal, but allowing the flexibility to take the path that makes the most sense locally
- good communication at every level — community, district, national, global, ‘North’ and ‘South’, internal and external, networked — to involve people (including ‘beneficiaries’, ‘supporters’, ‘advocates’ and any other ‘stakeholder’) in community development work and in achieving child rights
- opening the channels and lessening hierarchical controls on communications so that staff can feel more confident about communicating and using social media both internally and externally
- using a combination of communication channels to reach our goals; eg., community radio enhanced by SMS; television programs enhanced by use of web and vice versa
- new communications technology to facilitate connections among the network of people we reach (the ‘participants’ and the ‘supporters’ and all those in between)
- the role of communications in knowledge sharing and knowledge management, internally and externally
- creating better feedback and accountability loops to enable communities and the children and youth that we work with to have more of a say about the work we are doing and how we talk about it
- using new technology to better organize, share and use the information that we already have, both internally and externally
- using info-graphics to visualize information so that we can make better decisions about programs and to be more accountable to the public and to program participants