July 4, 2017


Long course: Cutting-edge communications for research and policy

On Think Tanks – Online
start date: September 4, 2017 end date: December 19, 2017

Effective communication is central to being a successful think tank or advocacy group. It is a critical part of shaping policy and practice. It ensures that research is relevant and helps evidence get 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. Others have failed to keep up. And yet effective communications is more critical than ever before in a world  where ‘fake news’ is a reality. Where information overload is a growing issue. 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 the communication skills of staff is one of the soundest investments think tanks and research organisations can make. 

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, and 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.

Five highly experienced trainers will guide you through eight units, 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 and 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. It may also be interesting for researchers or think tanks managers looking to improve their communication skills.

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 trainers.

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: 5 September

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 consistent and strategic communication.

Trainers: Carolina Kern, Jeff Knezovich and Annapoorna Ravichander

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

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

Webinar date: 19 September

This unit will:

  • Demonstrate why communications is not just 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.
  • Teach you how to use After Action Review as an M&E tool to improve your dissemination approaches.

Trainers: Richard Darlington with Carolina Kern

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

Unit 3 | Upping your digital game

Webinar date: 3 October

This unit will:

  • Explain what ‘digital’ is and why it is 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.

Trainers: Jeff Knezovich and Annapoorna Ravichander

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

Unit 4 | Design-led communications

Webinar date: 17 October

This part of the course 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.

Trainers: Jeff Knezovich and Carolina Kern

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

Unit 5 | Writing better copy and how ‘longform’ can survive the digital age

Webinar date: 31 October

This part of the course will:

  • Explain why publications remain so important.
  • 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 (e.g. microsites, interactive publications, etc.).

Trainer: Carolina Kern 

Exercise: Included in this unit, focusing on synthesising and writing recommendations.

Unit 6 | Creating podcasts that people actually listen to   

Webinar date: 14 November

This part of the course will: 

  • Provide an overview of the different ways your podcasts can be structured and what key elements it should include.
  • Explain storyboarding and how you can use it to plan and obtain the content you need.
  • Outline your software options to create and host a podcast.

Trainers: Connie St Louis with Carolina Kern

Exercise: Included in this unit, focusing on storyboarding.

Unit 7 Taking events to the next level

Webinar date: 28 November

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 format is so important for creating and maintaining relationships with journalist.
  • Teach you how to reach more people through live streaming.

Trainers: Jeff Knezovich and Carolina Kern

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

Unit 8 | Communication strategy writing and using M&E

Webinar date: 12 December

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.
  • Provide an open Q&A session covering all topics from the course.

Trainers: Jeff Knezovich and Carolina Kern with Annapoorna Ravichander

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

Recap of Key dates

Webinar Unit 1: September 5

Webinar Unit 2: September 19

Webinar Unit 3: October 3

Webinar Unit 4: October 17

Webinar Unit 5: October 31

Webinar Unit 6: November 14

Webinar Unit 7: November 28

Webinar Unit 8: December 12

The time of each webinar is 2 PM GMT. Each webinar will last 2 hours. 

All webinars will be recorded and shared afterwards with participants.


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.

conniecrop pictureConnie St Louis: Connie began her journalism career in 1990 when she was recruited onto a two year BBC Network Radio Trainee Reporter Scheme. Soon she was promoted to senior producer within the BBC Science Unit producing a wide range of programming including weekly magazine programmes such as ‘Science Now’ and ‘Medicine Now’.  In 1996 she moved to the radio documentary features department to make documentaries and also to create and develop and edit Radio 4’s first black and Asian magazine programme ‘In Living Colour”. From 2003 to 2016 Connie lectured in the department of Journalism at City, University of London. Her main teaching expertise was in Radio and Podcast production and science and health journalism. She now works on as a freelance trainer and journalist.

OnThinkTank_Feb 17__CL_9645_Claudia LeisingerAnnapoorna Ravichander: Annapoorna is an independent consultant who joined the On Think Tanks team in late 2016. She holds a PhD in History and has over 25 years of experience in the areas of training, writing and communication. Annapoorna has published articles in journals, newspapers and newsletters and has worked as an associate editor and coordinator in book publishing. Her core skills include editing, communication and training. Until 2016 she was the Head of the Communication and Policy Engagement Team (CPE) at the Center for Study, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) in India. Annapoorna has been a recipient of the Rotary Award for Exemplary Services in 1999, Vadodara, Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Portugal from 1985-86 and UGC Fellowship from 1984-1988. She currently lives in India.


The entire course costs GBP 800.00.

Each unit costs GBP 120.00.

Join the entire course or the units by registering below through Eventbrite. Please be sure to pick the right ticket for the whole course, or the unit you are interested in.

If organisations want to participate in the entire long course, they can select different staff members to participate and register for each unit.

Before signing-up, review our Terms and Conditions.