Long course: Cutting-edge communications for research and policy

Organised by On Think Tanks
Event type Courses
Location Online
Start date 15 May 2018
End date 3 July 2018

Effective communication is central to being a successful think tank or advocacy group. It is a critical part of shaping policy and practice. To ensuring that research is relevant. That evidence and analysis gets to decision-makers when they need it, and how they need it.

Many organisations have stepped up their communications activities over the last decade. They have experimented with new channels and strategic approaches. But others have failed to keep up. Unfortunately, they can’t afford to. New actors are filling traditional think tank roles. ‘Fake news’ is now a reality. The way in which people consume information is changing almost daily. If researchers and analysts want to be heard, they’ll need to get better at speaking and become more attuned to how people listen.

With this in mind, building up the communication skills of staff is one of the soundest investments think tanks can make. Not only does it help them stay relevant, it also amplifies their message, which increases their chance of having an impact on policy and practice.

This long course covers everything from audience mapping to podcasting. From design to social media. It will provide practical examples of how to plan and execute communications strategies. Of what effective communication teams and processes look like. It will teach you what digital longform is, and why you should be thinking about it. It will show you how to take your events to the next level.

Six highly-experience trainers will guide you through eight modules, exposing you to cutting-edge knowledge and helping you to apply it. Participants will walk away with a comprehensive set of resources to help them put their learning into practice. For those who would like to pick and choose only a handful of modules, that option is available too.

Objectives of the course

The aim of this course is to strengthen the communication teams, skills and activities of think tanks, research institutes or advocacy organisations. By completing this course, participants will:

  • Gain a solid understanding of the range of activities that can be undertaken by a communications team.
  • Be able to assess their organisation’s current skillset and establish priority areas for improvement.
  • Understand how to apply a range of communications channels and activities in a strategic way to achieve cut-through and impact.
  • Have a grasp of the basic principles of design and how to apply them in brand implementation.
  • Be better positioned to respond to a changing research communications landscape.

Who is this for?

This course is for communication professionals or teams based in think tanks and other research-led organisations. The overall course will tackle some communication fundamentals, and could therefore be considered an introductory-level course. However, given the breadth of the course, it is also appropriate for intermediate-level communication practitioners looking to round out their experience.

Course dynamic

While participating in the entire course will provide a more strategic and comprehensive overview of the communications landscape, we recognise that an individual may prefer to focus in on just one or two specific areas. With this in mind, we are offering participation in either the full course or in individual units. In total, the course comprises of eight units.

Each unit consists of one two-hour long webinar, a forum discussion and a takeaway resource (such as key points or key tools). Most units also have the option of submitting an exercise for personal feedback.

With the forum discussion, the webinar and the time to submit the exercise, each unit lasts about two weeks (see key dates below).

Those who decide to complete the full course will also get a background note providing an overview of the concepts of the course and access to a special forum for discussion with the facilitators.

The main instructors for the course are Carolina Kern and Jeff Knezovich. However, different units will have guest lecturers who are experts in their respective fields. Certificates will be provided to participants of the entire course and each unit.

Content structure and key dates

Unit 1 | How to build your team and map your audiences

Webinar date: Tuesday 15 May 2018

This unit will:

  • Explain what a ‘communications health check’ is and why it is important for priority setting within your organisations.
  • Teach you the value of audience mapping and some approaches to doing it.
  • Demonstrate how to build a case for communications within your organisations and learn different ways to structure a communications team – even if you only have one or two staff working on communications!
  • Provide an overview of the internal processes and systems you should consider to ensure, legal, consistent and strategic communication.

Facilitators: Carolina Kern and Jeff Knezovich

Exercise: Please note, there is no exercise for this session.

Unit 2 | How to combine channels and tactics to achieve maximum impact

Webinar date: Tuesday 22 May 2018

This unit will:

  • Demonstrate why communications is not all about channels, and explain why when you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.
  • Provide an overview of the ‘pyramid of engagement’ approach using real examples from award winning UK think tank IPPR & think tanks in East Africa.
  • Explain how you can use the media to amplify your message.

Facilitator: Richard Darlington

Exercise: Included in this unit, focus on audience mapping.

Unit 3 | Upping your digital game

Webinar date: Tuesday 29 May

This unit will:

  • Explain what ‘digital’ is and why it important.
  • Provide a best practice overview of websites and e-newsletters and demonstrate how to use analytics to maximize your impact.
  • Explain how your website can improve your engagement with traditional media.
  • Teach you how use social media as a communications channel, including how to design and track a campaign.

Facilitators: Jeff Knezovich and Carolina Kern

Exercise: Please note, there is no exercise for this session.

Unit 4 | Creating podcasts that people actually listen to

Webinar date: Tuesday 5 June

This part of the course will:

  • Get you thinking about the different formats your podcast might take
  • Set out the essential ingredients of every podcast
  • Share top tips for interviews and editing
  • Explain some of the equipment you might need to start creating a podcast
  • Talk through do’s and don’ts when it comes to promoting your podcast

Facilitator: Jonathan Tanner

Exercise: Please note, there is no exercise for this session.

Unit 5 | Design-led communications

Webinar date: Tuesday 12 June

This unit will:

  • Explain why design-led communications is so important to your brand and message.
  • Outline some design basics including how to use system guidelines to keep things consistent.
  • Provide an overview of the best way to use photos, infographics and a range of other design elements to highlight your key messages.

Facilitators: Jeff Knezovich and Carolina Kern

Exercise: Included this unit, focus on creating a social media asset.

Unit 6 | Writing better copy and how ‘longform’ can survive the digital age

Webinar date: Tuesday 19 June

This unit will:

  • Teach you how to write more engaging copy in a range of formats, including for the web.
  • Provide an overview of some key policies to have in place for effective publication production (style guidelines, publication policies, etc.).
  • Give you an overview of options for publishing publications online, including microsites and interactive publications.

Facilitators: Carolina Kern

Exercise: Included, focusing on synthesising and writing recommendations.

Unit 7: Taking events to the next level

Webinar date: Tuesday 26 June

This unit will:

  • Outline the different types of events you can choose from (keynote, panel, series, alternative events, etc.).
  • Explain how to plan and run events successful events through the use of standard checklists, and guidelines for speakers and chairs.
  • Explain how to run a successful ‘media roundtable’ and why this event forma is so important for creating and maintain relationships with journalist.
  • Teach you how to reach more people through live streaming.

Facilitators: Jeff Knezovich and Carolina Kern

Exercise: Please note, an exercise is not included in this unit.

Unit 8: Communication strategy writing and how to use M&E

Webinar date: Tuesday 3 July

This unit will:

  • Explain the importance of communications strategies/action plans and teach you how to put a plan together.
  • Outline how to use M&E systematically to inform your campaigns
  • Teach you how to use After Action Review as an M&E tool to improve your dissemination approaches.
  • Provide an open Q&A session covering all topics from the course.

Facilitators: Jeff Knezovich and Carolina Kern with Richard Darlington

Exercise: Included, focusing on developing a communications action plan.

Recap of key dates

Webinar Unit 1: May 15

Webinar Unit 2: May 22

Webinar Unit 3: May 29

Webinar Unit 4: June 5

Webinar Unit 5: June 12

Webinar Unit 6: June 19

Webinar Unit 7:June 26

Webinar Unit 8: July 3

All webinars start at 1 pm UTC and last two hours and are recorded in case you are not able to attend.


ckCarolina Kern: Carolina has 10 years of experience working for development and humanitarian organisations, helping them to design, manage, coordinate and raise the profile of projects and programmes. She has excellent skills in programme management, monitoring, research and communications, and has worked for bilateral donors, the UN and think tanks across health, governance, humanitarian and food security portfolios. She is now based in Kenya after working for UNDP/Office of the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary General in South Sudan as a Communications Specialist and Senior Programme Manager for AusAID in Kenya, Sudan, and South Sudan.

OnThinkTank_Feb 17__CL_9845_Claudia LeisingerJeff Knezovich: Jeff is a digital communication specialist who works to synthesise complex information into rich data visualisations and targeted briefings. Most recently, he managed the digital communication activities of the Nuffield Trust, a British think tank focusing on health. He led or contributed to the communications activities of several large projects, including the Future Health Systems RPC, the Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN) and Comercio y Pobreza en Latino América (COPLA).

Richard Darlington_PicRichard Darlington: Richard is Head of Strategic Communications at Well Made Strategy, part of the Well Told Story group. He is a think tank communications specialist and former ministerial level Special Adviser for DFID. He has more than a decade of experience working in three UK government departments and two UK think tanks. He has also worked on three UK General Election campaigns. Over the last two years he has worked on communications strategy development, training, mentoring and coaching in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe and South Africa.

Jonathan Tanner: Jonathan is Director of Communications at Crown Agents. He also hosts the fortnightly podcast Government Vs The Robots which looks at how technology will affect politics in the future and was selected as a top 20 podcast of 2017 by The I newspaper.  He’s made podcasts for the Africa Governance Initiative and the Overseas Development Institute which have featured Presidents and Nobel Prize winners as well as refugees and rice farmers.


The entire course costs GBP 800.00.

Each unit costs GBP 120.00.

Registration for the full course will close on 14 May 2018

Join the entire course or sign-up for individual units by registering below through Eventbrite.

Before signing-up, review our terms and conditions.

If you have any questions, please contact us at [email protected].