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Posts tagged ‘research communications’

Taking think tank communications to the next level: A preface to a new series

Over the next couple of months, On Think Tanks is pleased to be publishing a new weekly blog series focusing on key issues for think tanks, research institutions, and programmes of work as they work to strengthen their communication efforts.

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What social media and digital tools are think tanks using in their work? Views from a short clinic at the Think Tank Initiative Exchange 2012

What is the state of play for the use of digital tools in African, Asian and Latin American think tanks? A clinic I ran at the Think Tank Initiative Exchange 2012 in Cape Town found a good range of experiences with numerous tools and left me feeling positive that think tanks aren’t sticking their head in the sand in the face of the changes wrought by ‘digital disruption’ (at least for the self-selecting think tanks in the room).

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The decline of the corporate website (and rise of a social internet)

The online world is evolving in ways that will eventually see the demise of corporate websites as communications mediums. Specialised sites are already the best way to get certain types of content seen. And entire platforms, like the Apple or Android apps ecosystem, or Facebook, are rising. These work in a fundamentally different way, favouring social recommendation and interaction over the primacy of content.

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A pragmatic guide to monitoring and evaluating research communications using digital tools

M&E of research communications isn’t easy. Given the complexity of policy cycles, examples of one particular action making a difference are often disappointingly rare, and it is even harder to attribute each to the quality of the research, the management of it, or the delivery of communications around it. This blog outlines some of the lessons I’ve learnt in the process of creating the dashboard and investigating the data, a framework I’ve developed for assessing success, and list some of the key digital tools I’ve encountered that are useful for M&E of research communications.

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Making the most of social media: Liz Carlile

Liz Carlile, Director of Communications for the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), has published a briefing on making the most of social media for international development purposes.

She addresses some of the opportunities that the world of the web has to offer. I have discussed some of these in this blog in previous posts.

In it she also addresses some key challenges: I particularly like her discussion on the  challenge that organisations face in relation to letting (or not) their employees and associates use the web and their brand. This is a key issue not often formally addressed by think tanks but dealt with in practice. You only have to read the Twitter accounts descriptions of many think tank staffers -most have to say that their views are their own. Even organisations like ODI and other think tanks tend to add disclaimers to their official publications: the opinions of the authors (even if full time employees) are not those of the employer.

And the same goes for the increasing number of personal blogs that researchers keep, the online communities they join and engage in as individuals, etc.

But the briefing, I think, is flawed in its excessive optimism for the importance of social media -and the internet. The same unfounded optimism that is present in discussions about mobile phones in Africa.

The facts provided to argue for the importance of the web are not specific to a) the development industry or b) the developing world. A third of the world may be online, but only 5.7% of those online come from Africa (which is only 11% of the African population). And although the rate of growth in access has been dramatic (2000%) this does not imply that poor (or “most”) Africans are benefiting. Furthermore, we know that access often just means that someone has a computer near by. Being online cannot be equated to participating online.

So the billions of emails and the millions of twits do not come from the development industry nor from the developing world (certainly not from the poorest parts of the developing world). In fact, in 2009:

[N]early two-thirds of unique users (62.1%) were located in the U.S., while the U.K. and Canada were a distant second and third.

In the list of top 20 countries for Twitter use there are no African countries. The last country on the list is New Zealand with 0.47% of the world share. So even if an African country came up as 21st this would be negligible. Irrelevant.

What I mean to say is that there is a great potential, but we are not there yet. Investing on the web may be a relevant strategy for a northern based and northern focused organisation like IIED, but for a think tank in Africa (and many other parts of the developing world) the web is not yet the promised land it is made up to be.

My advice is to start planning and developing incremental strategies to use the web -and all it offers. But social (and non-social) tools need to be adopted slowly, carefully, and not at the expense of other more direct approaches to research and communication.

As a final note, I must say that it is commendable that Liz (as well as other directors of communications -but not all) does not just focus on running IIED’s communications but is also interested in promoting an open debate about these issues.

3ie, impact evaluations and policy influence

Caroline Cassidy, Communication Officer for the RAPID programme, has just published a post titles: what does influence mean for impact evaluations? on 3ie’s Mind the Gap conference blog. In it she mentions a very interesting presentation by Paul Gertler who provided a refreshing and very nuance view of what influence actually means:

Not just policy change (or programme change) but also the acceptance of new ideas, the incorporation of new evidence to the political debate, the development of new skills, etc. It was a shame that this came late in a research communications workshop we had been running. It would have made a great introduction to it.

For more information on the 3ie event you can visit the Mind the Gap conference website. There will be very interesting tools and presentations for think tanks -although I would hope that there is also some space to debate the real value and relevance of impact evaluations vis a vis other sources of evidence. I’ll get back to you on this.

 

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