Planning your communication and interventions
How can strategic communications best be used as a tool to help achieve your objectives? What message should be sent and why? And to who? And what do you want the recipient of the message to do once they get it? This is all about communication planning and the answers to these questions will help to achieve the goals in your work.
Setting goals for your communication
Communications is part of most things we do. When working as an extensionist or advisor communications are your main instrument. But different ways of communicating have different functions and are better or worse in achieving the goals you have. That is, as an extensionist you might have different goals which have consequences on how to design your strategic communications. You might want to:
- Inform about something
- Encouraging or motivate others to perform certain activities
- Raising awareness of issues and solutions
- Encouraging people to participate
- Persuading or convincing people to accept new ideas or solutions
- Educating or training people in how to apply new knowledge
In short, communicative goals are about changing people’s knowledge, attitudes or values. Often this is linked to behavioural goals, assuming that learning and motivation will effect what people do. The changes which are connected to effects in the environment are called system goals. What is important to keep in mind is that communicative interventions only can effect knowledge, attitudes and values directly, and only indirectly, or in combination with other incentives, change behaviours. And by changing behaviours you can achieve improvements in the environment or system in which your target group act.
For example, let’s say the overall goal of your intervention is to establish more resilient bee populations by being more resistant to Varroa (systems goal). In order to achieve this you need bee-keepers to change several behaviours, for instance, managing their hives in a new way, making protocols, rearing queens with certain qualities, that is, applying new breeding strategies. For this to happen they need not only new knowledge, but also a basic awareness, positive attitudes, a belief that such measures are important, as well as practical pre-conditions. To know what needs to be communicated and how, you need to know more about your target group. This is why target group analysis is central to all strategic communications. What this also implies is that all communications aiming to achieve change does not take place in a vacuum. When knowing your target group you can set up relevant communicative goals and choose the best method possible. Planning your communication is therefor also about knowing what is needed in order for specific tools and methods to have an effect. Every time you want to inform, convince or encourage, you will need to use the right message, delivered the right way, to the right audience. This is the art of strategic communications.
The basic question when planning your communication
In short one might summarise the questions you need to ask yourself when planning your communication as the following.
What are to be improved is related to the problem needed to be managed. This is connected to both the systems and behavioural goals mentioned earlier. Furthermore one need to know enough about the target groups, the relevant content, channels and tools to be applied. In total this builds up your strategy. But you also need to reflect upon your own role in the communicative intervention, that is, is communications enough or do you need to complement such efforts with economic incentives, technical support or any other infrastructure (for instance a network of apiaries). Finally it is also important to reflect upon how the improvements made can be measured, knowing that evaluating communicative interventions as such is not an easy task.
Planning from the start
The effectiveness of your communications will depend on how well it is planned from the start. It should be an integral part of your project, program or any other activity. Unfortunately this is not always the case.
Anytime your efforts is geared towards disseminating information, raising awareness, changing attitudes, or encouraging people to take action you would benefit from thinking about strategic communications in your planning process. It could form an entirely separate part of the plan, or be included as a key tool across the different components of your plan. The investment put into smart communications planning at the start will pay off many times over in stronger relationships and network, cost effectiveness, implementation and thus better results.
Universal steps in communication planning
Most approaches for strategic communications contain the same steps and components, although they may be in a different order or have different priorities. The important thing is to choose one that best fits your needs.
It is important to find out all you can about:
- The specific problem you want to address
- The situation or context in which the problem occurs
- The audiences you are targeting (target groups) and;
- The support and resources you will need to achieve your objectives.
In your Communications Strategy you need to clarify:
- Your long-term project goals (system and behavioural goals, etc.)
- The short-term, measurable objectives that can be achieved by your communications activities (often changes in knowledge, attitudes, capacity, etc.), and;
- Who will do what – and by when (allocation of responsibilities)
You will need to design different approaches, depending on whether your objectives are to raise awareness, encourage participation, change attitudes, or promote new behaviours. The following model clarify the distinctions between different aspects in the design phase.
It is always valuable to pre-test the messages and materials with the target audience to determine their effectiveness. Establish a group of bee-keepers which are representative, that you trust and has the ability to give constructive feed-back.
You need to make sure you have access to the people, resources, and partners which enable you to put everything into action. You also need to make sure that you are prepared to manage any unexpected situations. Now you have done what you can to be well-prepared. Nevertheless the implementation phase will always involve surprises.
You need to be able to measure the impact of your communications activities. Define the indicators and the method for this already in the planning phase.
Here you can read more about the importance of evaluation during the whole process. Evaluation is the foundation of strong decision making.
You can find further information on how to do these communicative planning activities here: Checklist 1 – Assessment