Monday, September 28, 2009

Research communication: Act now!

Euforic was in Vietnam last week working for the Danish Development Research Network (a member since last year). We were facilitating a workshop on research communications. Euforic was approached because of our work with communication between development actors and our involvement in the research for development project (R4D) for DFID in the UK.

Strengthening communication in N/S research partnerships for development

The workshop was designed to support DANIDA funded research projects and is a continuation of the series begun in Tanzania.

Over 45 participants drawn from all over Vietnam together with research colleagues from Denmark met for 3 days in Hoi An to develop their understanding of developing communication strategies and approaches for their projects. The two projects involved are both examining the impact of climate change, one focussing on physical changes, while the other has a multidisciplinary approach including geographers, natural scientists and socio economists.

The workshop aimed to develop communication skills, build strategies and make practical products.

Group work in project teams ran through the three days, resulting in a draft communications plan for each project and the development of example products such as press releases and leaflets. These working sessions were interspersed with demonstrations, papers and presentations and culminated with a presentation exercise to explain the final results of each project team to the rest of the workshop.

The sessions covered standard methodologies to developing communication strategies, identifying target groups, establishing the aim of the communication, developing messages for that group and chosing the appropriate channel to reach them.

One of the most popular sessions was looking at new opportunities on the web for research communication and ways the projects could work with these systems.


A common Wiki platform for the resources and learning from the workshop process has been developed by Euforic for DDRN and provides a resource base for those who have attended the Tanzanian and Vietnamese workshops. The commscorner and web2share sites also provide reference points on Web2 tools and communications advice for researchers respectively.

Learning by acting

The final presentations were a learning exercise in themselves with one project team demonstrating clearly how a theatre exercise could explain the communications plan through role play, a synopsis of
their presentation is given below.

ACT1: The local authority
Set in the office of the local authority, we saw project members explaining their project with the aid of a leaflet they planned to have distributed by various actors in the community and to win the support of the local authority in the process. As this scene was acted out we saw an image of the proposed leaflet they were discussing as a backdrop to the piece of theatre.

ACT2: The donor
The scene set at the Danish embassy showed how the project team planned to communicate with the funder of the project, using their communications strategy to demonstrate they had planned more communication activities than expected, and would seek additional funding for some specific activities. Meanwhile the screen behind them highlighted the relevant part of their communications strategy.

ACT3: The farming community

Here the scene quite clearly illustrated the local community concerns with changes in climate andthe ways the project team had considered explaining their study activity and considering how they could present eventual findings.

Setting the scene: Open meeting
The other project group staged a local open meeting attended by all stakeholders touched by the projects, i.e. local authorities, CSOs, local social organisations as a way to present their strategy.

The take home message
In discussing all the information products and actvities there were three elements the researcher needed to consider.

1)Start by putting yourself in the shoes of your audience, think of what their interests are and what will make them act on information.

2)The inverted pyramid - don't write all your communications like a research paper, most audiences want the conclusions first rather than last.

3)Answer the Who, What,Where,Why,When and How questions in everything you write.

Finally we summed this all up in an active mnemonic.

Make a pyramid with your hands above your head and then invert it 6 times by swinging your arms down to point at the ground and at the same time look at your shoes. Each time you bend down say to yourself each of the six questions...Who, What,Where,Why,When and How.

- Who.... will benefit from the research and who is doing it?
- What... is it all about?
- Where... is it happening?
- Why... does it need to be done?
- When... will the results be ready or events happening
- How... is it all being done?

We all learnt a lot from the workshop, in particular how to communicate across two languages and two cultures. For this we found two solutions. For the first we had a great translation team and for the second............

Good singing voices and a common sense of humour.