It’s not me, it’s you (understanding the roles of wonk and comms in digital content creation)

19 August 2013

Jonathan Tanner of WonkComms has blogged about its event on research in the digital age. The event explored if there was greater convergence between the worlds of research and communication. There has always been tension between researchers and communicators.

The tension between researchers and communicators is no doubt centuries old. I like to imagine an indignant Isaac Newton chastising the poor soul who suggested his new theory was best explained by ‘a bloody apple’.  The central challenge of any communications is, and always has been, to get the message right.If you do that well then taking your pick of audiences and channels is a fair bit less taxing when you’ve got a framing that ensures the penny will drop. Some of the best and most effective communications are borne out of robust discussion that draws both parties out of their comfort zone and into a more risky space. Jamie Bartlett of Demos summed it up well when he said that his debates with media officers tended to end when ‘both of us were not entirely happy with where we had ended up’. What is new is that there are an increasing number of ways for this tension to manifest itself at the nexus of policy and communications.

This tension might be due to the different motivations behind the two groups. Researchers have a thirst for knowledge and a desire to fully understand a phenomenon without caring much about how long it takes, while communicators prefer more instant comprehension and like to neatly categorise information.

So how best to reduce this tension?

It seems like common sense that the best organisations harness the natural instincts of both and identify processes and cultures that can get the best from them.  The quality of an organisation’s research directly impacts the quality of its communications and the quality of its communications directly affects the quality of its research. So the ideal settlement is agreement on the mutual recognition of a symbiotic but necessarily fractious coalition of minds.

Jonathan argues that the numerous ways in which we now consume information in the digital age means that producing communications material is a more involved process than ever before. There are now so many mediums – infographics, videos, podcasts – that the ongoing engagement of researchers and communicators is necessary. Old models won’t cut it anymore, and organisations must move towards a model in which digital communications costs are included in funding bids from the very beginning of a project.

As my colleague Nick Scott has already elaborated the publication + media release model is dead.

There is a need, argues Jonathan, for staff that can work both as communicator and as researcher. This means that organisations must expect a longer period of joint working. It might cost more, but it can create a greater shared stake in the success of a project. Organisations must also think about how to smartly cover these costs, and leave behind the idea that the cost of communications is an add-on to a project and not that necessary to its success. This will require leadership, he argues.

An upcoming WonkComms event is Rent-a-Quote? Think tanks, media and strategy, which will take place on September 5th.

To read the full article (which is worth doing) go to:  It’s not me, it’s you (understanding the roles of wonk and comms in digital content creation)