The year in WonkComms: 13 tools think tank communicators should use in 2014

8 January 2014
SERIES Think tanks and video 12 items

Leonora Merry, Richard Darlington and Nick Scott have published a great post on 13 tools they (and other WonkCommers) used in 2013.

On Think Tanks followers have given us quite a few gems with their awesome data visualisations, too. The list below illustrates and contributes to the many resources that have been shared in this blog during 2013Think tank communications, I think you will all agree, must be taken serious but can also be fun. Thinktanking, after all, demands, I believe, that we do not take ourselves too seriously -all the time.

So the challenge from WonkComms: have you tried these in 2013? will you try these in 2014?

Here is the WonkComms post:

1. Infographics

Using infographics to make complex data more accessible is fast becoming an essential item in the WonkComms toolbox. Think tanks visualised in droves this year: NatCen did it in style with their fantastic microsite for the 30th British Social Attitudes Survey, and the North-South Institute used static graphics to form a nifty visual executive summary to their report on Canada’s Development Footprint. And for the sheer size of it, Policy Exchange’s mega-visualisation looking at their impact on policy over the last ten years deserves a special mention.  How about making a screen-friendly version of it next year, guys? A Prezi perhaps?

2. Prezi

WonkCommers showed us that this zooming presentation tool is much more than just a fancy version of PowerPoint. The King’s Fund led the way last year with their great timeline of the Health and Social Care Act. This year Nesta showed us how it’s done in this fantastic example to launch their ‘Rethinking Parks’ campaign. And the Social Market Foundation got creative with Prezi for their all-singing all-dancing look at the history of housing policy since 1918 Warning: contains cheesy music. Bob the Builder, anyone?

3.    Animation

Let’s face it folks, much of the material we have to communicate is lengthy, complex and – dare we say it – sometimes pretty dry. But often the subjects we’re dealing with are exactly the issues that get people animated down at the pub on a Friday night. So, as the ODI’s Katy Harrisexplained on our blog, animation is a natural tool for WonkCommers to use to spread the word. There were some brilliant examples of think tank animation in 2013 – from the Centre for Policy Studies’ stylish look at competition in rail, to JRF’s neat explanation of work incentives under the Universal Credit, to NIESR’s informative ten minutes on the Scottish currency conundrum.

 4.    Video

Getting views and opinion directly from the horse’s mouth helps validate think tank research, so video is a great WonkComms tool. This year think tanks showed us that video is about more than keeping a record of events, from the Nuffield Trust’s short interviews with experts and opinion formers for the 65th birthday of the NHS, to IPPR’s ‘Voices of Britain’ video blog. And, though they’re not strictly a think tank, Shelter’s fantastic ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ film showed the creative potential for video at its best.

 5.    Vine

Sometimes, when time is really short, and attention spans are even shorter, we might only have a few seconds to get our points across. 2013 saw micro-video app Vine really take off. And, as many of us discovered, Vine is perfect for wonkcomms – there’s even a name for our type of Vines: datavines. The Chartered Institute of Housing made great use of datavines earlier this year to launch their study on the impact of the benefit cap in Haringey, as Louise Fisher wrote in her blog for us. And the Kings Fund made us all wish we’d thought of it first when they put together 24 individually brilliant clips for their Vine advent calendar.

 6.    Blogs

Blogging has been around since the early days of the internet and placing blogs and opinion pieces has become a ubiquitous activity for think tank communicators. 2013 was no exception and think tanks utilised their own, and other blogs widely in ways too numerous to mention. Our own blog saw an incredible 41 posts and over 25,000 views this year, thanks to all our brilliant contributors. Let us know if you want to contribute in 2014!

 7.    Buzzfeed

If there’s one thing we learnt this year, it’s that we human beings like lists. Especially lists that involve animated GIFs. And if cats are involved too, well that’s just LOL. Buzzfeed took the web by storm in 2013, and think tank communicators lapped it up.

Inspired by Daniel Knowles’s excellent Buzzfeed on the housing market, the Social Market Foundation took the plunge first, with this great example on energy policy. This was closely followed by JRF on poverty and IPPR on youth jobs. The SMF’s Sean O’Brien then went all meta on us and wrote up his experience for us as a Buzzfeed about doing a Buzzfeed. Postmodern.

8.    Gamification

And if animated GIFs and Lolcatz weren’t fun enough for you, then think tanks harnessed our competitive streaks this year by using games to get attention to their work. Demos led the way at party conference season with the inspired Fantasy Politics game, which pitted politicos against each other to identify their political ‘dream team’. The ODI opted for a more crafty game when they launched their report on fossil fuel subsidies and climate change, bringing back the addictive origami folding game. And at the Autumn Statement, nef had everyone glued to their TVs with their George Osborne bingo. Game, set and match.

9.    Twitter

With Twitter continuing to make and break news in 2013, the microblogging site remained an essential tool for think tanks to communicate with their audiences. The Resolution Foundation’s James Plunkett kept the econogeeks satisfied with his trademark tweeting of choice graphs about the labour market. JRF made us all envious as they broke the 50,000-follower mark (read James Grant’s account of how they did it on our blog). And one-woman think tank Caroline Criado-Perezbecame the news story for days in the summer with her #takebacktwitter campaign against online abuse.

10. Storify

In a fast-moving online communications environment, it’s a constant challenge to keep a clear narrative flowing through think tank work. This year think tanks made great use of Storify to help them bring these together, telling the story of a report launch or event series. Policy Exchange made excellent use of the aggregation site back in August to tell the story of their ‘Smaller, Better, Faster, Stronger’ launch and NPC used it to bring their impact conference to a wider audience back in October. Sofie Jenkinson preserved our own launch event with this fantastic Storify back in April.

 11.  Email

With so many online tools at our disposal, it’s easy to overlook the importance of email communications in getting our findings into people’s consciousness. Think tanks made good use of email communications in 2013. Great examples include Reform’s daily media digest and weekly round-up, including ‘reformer’ and ‘reactionary’ of the week, and Centreforum’s regular email identifying the liberal ‘hero’ and ‘villain’ of the week.

12. Embargoed press release

The 00.01 embargo is dead. Long live the 00.01 embargo. Although 24 hour media has led many of us to question the point of the minute-past-midnight embargo, pretty much every think tank utilised it this year. And, as a result, think tank research continued to dominate newspaper reports and broadcast media once again. IPPR’s ‘Christmas Hamper’ of six embargoed stories over the Christmas period showed us that the WonkCommer never rests. And think tanks from the Resolution Foundation to Policy Exchange made front page news with their embargoed stories.

 13.  Good old fashioned research report

Do we risk the communications tool wagging the research dog? That was the question many of us were pondering in WonkComms events, team meetings and on Twitter this year. The answer, it seems, is a resounding no – provided communicators understand research, and researchers understand communications. So as a communications tool, the power of the good old-fashioned research report remained a vital one in 2013. The IFS Green Budget is perhaps the best example of this, with the lengthy document continuing to dominate discussion of the public finances.