[Editor’s note: you can read all the post in the series here: #dhakacomms workshop: Day 1; #dhakacomms workshop: Day 2; #dhakacomms workshop: Day 3; #dhakacomms workshop: Day 4; plus a learners’ perspective.]
The third day of the #dhakacomms workshop focused on testing the communications as orchestra approach and offering the think tanks the opportunity to think about the resources (particularly, the skills) they would need to deliver their plans.
Testing and learning
Early on, the participants were asked to use a past project of their think tank. They described the communications mix that they used in the project.
Then, with the benefit of hindsight, they considered how they could have conducted their communications. That is, they added the tools that, based on the rules that they developed during the 2nd day, they thought could have made their communications efforts more effective.
The consequence was a sort of improved or tested new rule. By working on a project they knew well they were able to introduce new tools to the mix -in a way, testing, in their minds, how these would fare. Nick Scott has often argued for experimentation when it comes to communications. I agree. But experimentation is much easier (and has better results) when one can compare before and after or quickly learn from each test.
In the cases of IGS and CDP, there is an emphasis in testing new digital tools. Compared with SDPI, they are ‘new’ to digital communications.
During the second part of the day, participants considered the capacity of their communications teams in relation to the challenges posed by the communications approaches they had developed.
Using SWOT analysis each think tank and then in the plenary, we discussed a number of issues relevant to any think tanks attempting this kind of approach:
- Good networks and contacts with different stakeholders –which allow them to work with others, reach out to new audiences, and possibly access new resources.
- Credibility of the organisations (due to their networks as well as their long tradition and reputation) –which makes it possible for them to test new tools as part of their strategies without generating concern or doubt.
- Have dedicated communications teams –which means that it is possible for at least one person to focus their attention on each channel.
- Good internal relationships (within the communications team as well as with other units and senior management) –important as the communications team needs the support from other units and to work as one.
- A strong backer. IGS in particular is hosted by BRAC University –this offers the think tanks additional resources.
- Not all the communication teams’ members are communications specialists –which makes it harder to undertake reforms or manage the workload of the team.
- In some cases, limited ICT resources –this hinders the adoption of new digital tools in particular.
- An organisational culture that does not reward the use of digital communication tools –which affects the rate of change in this respect.
- Already heavy workloads due to human resource capacity and skills –that seriously limit the time that the teams themselves have to dedicate to planning and implementing new ways of working.
- Limited support from senior officials in the organisations for the communication function –without it, it is difficult to expect the organisation to buy into new ways of working.
- Generational challenges. CPD in particular has not been sufficiently successful at attracting new (younger) generations of political, business, civil society or intellectual leaders to their dialogues –this challenges the sustainability of their approach. The participants took on this challenge and recommended the following:
- Talk to them directly, do not expect them to approach on their own
- Find a few young leaders who may be able to encourage others to join
- Take your researchers and ideas to the fora, events, and places that they go to –instead of expecting them to join your dialogues, join theirs, with their rules
- Test innovative approaches to encourage their engagement: e.g. policy cafes, policy fight club.
- In essence: change the space, the actors, and the terms of engagement
- IGS considered that the merger with another BRAC University think tank is an opportunity for the think tank –it will increase its research capacity.
- New TTI funding may provide new opportunities.
- New collaborations and networks
- New internal demand for the ideas and services of think tanks –that increase sources of funding, access to new spaces, and outreach.
- Possible crackdown or negative reactions from the government
- Possible reduction in funds from the TTI
- Law and order in Pakistan and Bangladesh are a serious issue –they make their events harder to organise, discourage participation in some cases, and may provide disincentives towards addressing difficult (and controversial) issues.
- Hard to find the people (with the right skills) that the organisations need to improve their communications capacities.
On that note, on skills, we moved on to the final session: a discussion on skills.
The participants regrouped based on channels. Each small team then considered the ‘top 5’ skills that they would include in a job description document for a channel coordinator or manager.
- Effective Communicator (should have listening skills; excellent negotiator, PR skills; written and oral language skills)
- Ability to work at all levels, eye for details
- Time management, coordination and organization skills.
- Strategic thinker; awareness of context and stakeholder
- Flexible and adaptable to new technologies
- (Also) Logistics and database (contacts) management skills
- Knowledge and understanding of the entire publication process
- Editorial skills
- Understanding of the design and formatting process
- Good network of relevant suppliers –and capacity to develop and maintain those networks
- Printing specifications
- (Also) Knowledge of copyright legislation and quality control
- Writing and editing skills –particularly writing for the media
- Knowledge of the media business and trends
- Good network of journalists –and capacity to develop and maintain those networks
- Advanced literacy on social media
- Advocacy and lobbying skills and knowledge
- (Also) Data and information literacy
- Tech savvy- digital skills
- Advanced Social media literacy
- Writing for the web
- Audio-visual production skills
- Practical understanding of SEO
- (Also) Basic illustration and data visualisation skills
These lists do not immediately assume that the think tanks will adopt this model. However, they provide a guide for each team to consider whether they possess these skills within the organisations. A simple table like the one below could help.
In each cell below, list the skills that each staff member has against each of the skills identified for each channel (for instance):
|Staff 1||Staff 2||Staff 3||Staff 4||Staff 5|
|Events||Effective Communicator Ability to work at all levels, eye for details||Flexible and adaptable to new technologies||Time management, coordination and organization skills.|
|Publications||Understanding of the design and formatting process|
|Media||Advanced literacy on social media|
|Digital||Tech savvy- digital skillsWriting for the web Practical understanding of SEO||Advanced Social media literacy|
Summary of the workshop
Throughout the process then we have:
- Explored the different functions that think tanks can play and how communications can support them
- We explored a number of communication tools that think tanks have at their disposal to maximise the chance that their ideas and arguments may have an effect.
- The think tanks then considered which tolls were most relevant for their own organisations, identifying a number of them that they wanted to incorporate (many of which would be tested first).
- These portfolios provided an opportunity to develop certain guides or rules for using the channels and tools for maximum effect.
- These were tested with past and current projects –thus showing that it is through practice that they can be improved.
- Finally, the participants explored the support, resources, competencies, and skills that would enable them to deliver this approach.