#dhakacomms workshop: Day 4

29 May 2014
SERIES Communication as an orchestra 7 items

[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.]

I thought I’d start this 4th day report with a recap of all the tools that the think tanks identified during the #dhakacomms workshop. The list shows, I think, that there is already enough experience and capacity among the think tanks. More peer to peer learning and less consultants, I say:

PublicationsSDC anthologyTraining manual


Volumes (books)

Mega event proceedings

Brochures and other PR material

Policy Brief

Policy note

Briefing paper

Rapid response briefing




Research report


Event report

Baseline studies

Methods document

Strategy paper

Consultancy report

Project report

Evidence reports

Discussion papers

Annual report

Background note

Literature review

Annotated bibliography

Opinion Piece

Practice paper

Working papers


MediaPress briefingsCurtain raisers

Journalist forums/groups

Press releases

Media ethics seminars

Interviews in TV, radio, print media

Media training

Feature articles

Campaigns through radios

Expert comments with press reports

Live telecast (TV)

TV talk show

Research grants for journalists

Media competitions

Media advertisement

Informal media briefings (one on one)

Online versions of media: blogs, etc.

Web radio


Letters to the editor




EventsSeminar seriesDistinguished lecture series

Local dialogues, in-house dialogues, regional dialogues, international dialogues, national dialogues



SDC conference

Launching ceremony


Participation in other’s seminars/events

Lectures for students

Women of substance lectures

Living legend lectures

Roudtable meetings

Public lectures

Public events

Expert group meetings (for projects)

Events in parliament

Events in third party events/conferences

Special briefing session for diplomats

Parliamentarians capacity building

Capacity building efforts



Live streaming of events





Facebook page




Video case studies

Talking heads



Digital stories







Data visualisation



Survey monkey





Video documentary/interviews

Resource centre web portals

Monthly updates





MOOCs Webinars







Google Drive



Open Space

The fourth day of the workshop followed an Open Space approach (very similar to what we did for The Exchange). We allowed the participants to decide how they wanted to spend the last day. They decided that the following issues were of particular interest to them:

  • Social media tips and how increase one’s following on Twitter (for example): This session focused on a rather useful tool like Twitteronomy; but there are others that can be quite useful. Key advice on how to use Twitter for research can be also found in LSE’s Twitter Manual, or this blog that offers some ideas about the usefulness of Twitter for researchers. The main idea to keep in mind is that each social media tool has different rules of use. Think tanks must use them for what they are for –and not try to do all with all or assume that it is business as usual. Getting more followers (for blogs, Facebook, or Twitter) in any case is about ‘going to them’: following, tweeting and re-tweeting targeting those you want to reach out to. It is worth remembering, too, that unlike an international development project, think tanks’ and their researchers’ twitter accounts will be seen as sources of political ideas.
  • Using multiple platforms to share publications (including pros and cons of doing so) and how to segment audiences: This session focused on repositories of research (such as Eldis) that hosts research outputs and helps to make it available to international audiences. Other sources exist for more specific publics (e.g. VoxEU focuses on economic policy –other overlaps with many other policy issues and reaches hundreds of thousands of readers). According to Nick Scott’s digital communications strategy, think tanks must invest in reaching audiences in their own spaces thus using multiple hosting and sharing platforms can be advantageous.
  • SDTV: SDPI presented their SDTV project. This is the first think tank TV channel (online). SDTV does not only produce videos to share SDPI’s communications but actually develops new original content through documentaries, interviews, and other shows. Its objective is to develop into a 24-hour news channel. SDTV’s presentation provides a thorough account of the effort.
  • Eventbrite: The participants were interested in Eventbrite. This tools allows think tanks to organise events. It supports all aspects of the event’s organisation and follow-up. It is used by think tanks around the world (for example: NESTA)
  • Monitoring and evaluation for think tanks: This session revisited some of the issues addressed during the 2nd day of the workshop but in greater detail. As before the main message is that think tanks need to focus first on monitoring for management –that is, monitoring to asses how well they are doing and striving to get better at it. In relation to monitoring and evaluating impact, think tanks ought to attempt to construct compelling arguments about their worth. Paying too much attention on cases or stories of change (often narrowed even further to specific policy changes or decisions) undermines the many ways in which think tanks can make a difference to their societies. This calls, thus, for innovative indicators, both quantitative and qualitative. For more on these issues visit On Think Tanks’ Topic Page.
  • Networking and communities of practice for think tank communications: The final sessions explored different ways in which think tanks can network. Two examples, ILAIPP, a network of Latin American think tanks spearheaded by their directors, and WonkComms, a community of practice of think tank communicators in the UK (but with members from around the world). Both offer think tanks in South Asia excellent ‘templates’ (in the case of WonkComms they can even join) to follow. At the centre of their success is that they are think tank led; not a community of practice set up by a project or a contractor operating on behalf of the funders, but directly by the think tanks and their staff themselves. ON the issue there has been a follow up discussion on Twitter:





There were also a number of additional questions that I promised to address on the blog over the next few weeks and that focused, for the most part on the relationship between researchers and communicators –or the role of researchers in think tank communications.

After the workshop, I sat with CPD to work on their communications strategy. Without sharing it (that is not for me to do) I think it is worth highlighting that the strategy document produced by the communications team was rather good.

I have written before about the problem with over complicated and detailed strategies. Other agree: CGD’s head of communications, Lawrence MacDonald, has written that the think tank does not quite do strategies. I even suggested a simple approach to organisational strategic plans.

CPD’s strategy follows in the footsteps of CGD’s advice: have a clear idea of what you want to achieve and empower everyone to work for it.

The strategy then outlines the objectives of the communications team: to help inform policy and to strengthen the organisation’s communications capacity. And then goes on to offer more specific objectives (or ‘direction of travel’ for each communication channel. It rounds up nicely with a promise to monitor, reflect and learn from its efforts.

As a brief conclusion

The communications as an orchestra approach was a first. When I wrote the original post I did not think of how the table could be used besides as a guide or a list of tools. As I came to review communication strategies and observe the expected interventions of a growing number of consultants in the field I began to wonder if there was another way; a less ‘logframy’ way.

I was concerned, I still am, that the way that think tanks are being supported is ill-advised and does not take into account the reality of think tanks political life. They are still treated as ‘development tools’ but the international development community. Projects that can be perfectly planned and evaluated. I wanted to think of a way to give think tank communication teams two things:

  1. Options: in terms of the number of channels and tools for communication that they could possible use to support the objectives of their organisations and researchers; and
  2. Confidence: to make use of these as they see fit. (Confidence should have been built on the basis of the realisation that, even without the experience, skills, and resources, of larger and better known think tanks, they have achieved so much already.)

In developing the terms for this workshop (as well as pre and post workshop activities) the idea of an orchestra (or the divisions of an army) emerged. The image of an orchestra seemed more appropriate and so I got to work on it.

I liked the image of the head of communications as a conductor and of the communications officers as musicians. The image conveys a number of ideas but most importantly, that:

  • Effective communications is both an art and a science (but mostly an art);
  • Practice makes the master; and that
  • It is a team effort.

But it was only when CPD, SDPI, and IGS started to list the tools, develop their portfolios, and use them to put together ‘rules’ (or tactical plans) for specific efforts, did I realise that it could work. Only when they put it into practice did I think that we were on to something, and that was half way through the workshop.

So, in a way, this approach was co-developed.

Not only that but it was developed using the orchestra concept, too. We made use of all the tools at our disposal to write and play the best possible music we could. And I think that the output has been rather satisfactory. Now we have to play it to others and see what they think…. If they play along, I think we will have taken a big step.