The Think Tank Initiative (TTI) introduced the Policy Engagement and Communication Programme (PEC) to primarily support think tanks to produce, synthesise and communicate research to strengthen impact. The PEC programme emphasised that think tanks:
- Become more knowledgeable in the policy-making processes by understanding policy processes in specific contexts
- Bring credibility to their research work by engaging and networking with stakeholders
- Improve channels to communicate effectively with stakeholders and contribute to public debates
- Create outputs by unpacking key information for the right audience at the right time, and to include the media.
As a result of the above, policy engagement and communication were identified as key forerunners to change, helping think tanks strengthen their position within public policy debates.
This initiative was kick started at an inception meeting held in Bangkok in September 2013, where directors and heads of policy engagement and communication teams participated. This was an eye-opening to me, as I had just joined a think tank in Bengaluru, India as Head Communication and Policy Engagement (CPE). The two-day meeting included: keynotes by experts on different aspects of policy engagement and research communications, an introduction to the PEC program and IDS-PAC implementation model, and introduction to the technical teams, and discussions with facilitators to understand, identify and plan key areas where support was required. The meeting also allowed space for small group discussions and sharing information.
Another workshop was held in Nepal in February 2014, where primarily team members from the PEC team participated. The primary objectives of the workshop included:
- Understanding types of policy engagement and communication outcomes
- Planning processes and key components for a strategy
- Building individual and institutional capacity to deliver strategic policy engagement and communication activities
- Creating an action plan to address gaps in resources, institutional strategy and institutional structure
- Knowing your target audience and understanding how to engage with them using the most appropriate research uptake methods and communication pathways
The most interesting thing was learning concepts by applying them practically. By the end of this workshop my team and I were able to create the PEC goals for our organisation and also develop a PEC strategic plan.
As head of Policy Engagement and Communication, at the Public Affairs Centre (PAC) I continue to use my learnings and make an effort to share and implement the same. Some of these learning include:
- Build a brand to understand your unique selling point. What is it that you are unique at? Are you bringing something new to the table? What did you learn? How and why is it important to brand an organisation, especially in the space of communication and policy engagement?
- Build a team with diverse backgrounds and experiences. For us, visibility is an important element in all our outputs, so we use social media platforms effectively and we also engage with the media.
- Manage data for references. Using and referencing documents is important, so a data management system should be in place. I found the above very useful and engaged with these team members.
- Have a clear communications strategy to help focus on activities, both long and short-term. I always make it a point to discuss with my team ideas that are relevant and build a plan of action to achieve goals. We positioned PEC in all projects and ensured that key elements were identified, understood and disseminated appropriately.
- Build processes to ensure consistent, error-free content with no readability issue and a logical flow. A simple but effective editorial process is essential.
- Identify strengths and build on them. Know the areas you are strongest in – research areas, organisational level, individual achievement- and build on them. Share these through appropriate communication channels.
- Identify areas for improvement. For example, build the capacity of researchers and improve the quality of research by introducing standards and guidelines, templates to ease writing, and put a robust editorial process in place.
- Know your audience to be able to unpack information at the right place and time. For example, ensuring that a policy brief reaches a policy-maker, op-eds are shared with newspapers, and blog articles shared on specific platforms.
- Produce powerful and meaningful outputs, like annual reports, to use as communication tools. Your website, newsletter and other publications also play a key role in disseminating information.