Communications and impact

14 August 2018
SERIES OTT School Library

Think tanks need to be able to communicate their research to wide range of stakeholders in order to achieve impact. Without good communication, the research undertaken will not influence policy or practice. Some of the main issues around communication are: working with different communication outputs (both digital and ‘traditional’ formats), planning for impact, understanding research uptake, ensuring policy influence.

Standalone Webinars

Introductory webinar. Using video to communicate policy research

Presenter: Michael Kleinman (Media Tank Productions -OTT Associate)

July 9 2018

In this introductory webinar Michael explains why, when and how should video be used in the research to policy realm. He argues that public policy is a world of systems and numbers, but that these are not good to inspire people. People are more often inspired, change their minds and are moved into action by stories. With video, organisations can zoom into particular aspects and tell the story of a problem (or solution) to mobilise their stakeholders. Using video to communicate research is not intended to replace in-depth research but to complement it and help organisations speak to other audiences. The facilitator goes on to explain in what kind of situations it is good to use video, and discusses some guiding questions to help listeners plan how to use video to communicate policy research.


Introductory webinar .Designing think tank event experiences

Presenter: Melanie Rayment (Design Strategist)

May 2018

In this introductory webinar, Melanie Rayment, design strategist and social designer, discusses the think tank event experience and shares some basic, practical tools and approaches that could enhance your next event. She first explores why events are important within the policy research context. She explains why the human centred design approach is important and useful when designing events. She suggests some useful strategies, and design tools for developing better events through the lens of design.

Data visualisations: Where data, technology and design meet politics

On Think Tanks and Wonk Comms

Panel formed by Jeff Knezovich, Rebecca Ross (Central Saint Martin), Alejandra Brambila (Ethos) and Zdenek Hynek ( and Robert Muggah (Igarape Institute)

April 2014

This video is a recording of the event: Data visualisations: Where data, technology and design meet politics. In it, and after a brief description of the think tank data visualisation competition.

The panellists discuss where data, technology and design meet politics. Rebecca Ross discusses what is data visualisation and what makes up a good data visualisation. Afterwards Alejandra shares a data visualisation project (run by Ethos) which shows what are decision makers ( in Mexico ) tweeting about, she explains how the project was thought of, designed and implemented. Zdenek shares their project about crime and talks participant through the developing and use of the data visualisation. He highlights the problems they encountered with the data and how they dealt with it to create their data visualisation tool, and some of the political issues and problems they encountered when working with it. Robert Muggah discussed the politics of visualisations and describes their initiative mapping arms data, and why they did it. He also shares the impacts the tool aimed to achieve ,and insights on the future of data visualisation and the politics around it.


Cutting-edge communications course

Coordinated by Jeff Knezovich and Carolina Kern

May-July 2018

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

Facilitated by Jeff Knezovich, Carolina Kern

In the webinar of the unit  how to build your team and map your audiences Jeff and Carolina introduce the course and then dig into how to build a communications team and  map your audiences(what is it and how to do it), as the basics steps to develop an organisation’s communications. The facilitators produced the following materials: overview of audience mapping techniques and selected resources on team building and mapping audiences.

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

Facilitated by Richard Darlington

In the second webinar Richard highlights the importance of communication strategies, and the most important part of them is not the document they generate, but the strategising that goes into creating them. Richard also reflects on the value of using different tools and channels to suit audiences (avoid being a hammer and nailing everything). He then discusses different strategies and tools that think tanks use, and suggest how to improve the way that think tanks communicate. This unit is accompanied by selected resources on channels and tactics to achieve impact.

Unit 3: Upping your digital game

Facilitated by Jeff Knezovich and Carolina Kern

In the webinar of unit 3, the facilitators explain what is understood by digital, followed by an overview of websites, as the backbone of all things digital. Digital means a lot of things, it is not only a communication channel, but it is a whole approach to working, and engaging (active, agile, engaging and continuously updating). The session also covers newsletters and social media campaigns. In this document the facilitators shared a wide range of digital communications resources.

Unit 4: Creating podcasts that people actually listen to

Facilitated by Jonathan Tanner and Jeff Knezovich

In this webinar, Jonathan Tanner, creator of the Government vs. the robots podcast discusses why are podcasts so popular and helps listeners reflect if a podcast is the right channel to disseminate their research. After this introduction he walks participants through what needs to be done in order to set up a podcast. He also gives tips and advice on the necessary equipment, as well as how to produce good quality interviews, how to promote and distribute it, and how to demonstrate the success of the podcasts. The facilitators also produced the follow background documents: selected links on podcasts and 10 Production mistakes podcasters make

In the 2017 version of the Cutting-edge communications course, this session was facilitated by Connie St. Louis. The session dealt with the same issues, but the facilitator offered a slightly different approach, and also shared recommendations on perfect pitches for podcasting.

Unit 5: Design led communications

Facilitated by Jeff Knezovich and Carolina Kern

In the webinar of this unit, Jeff and Carolina discuss the importance of visual design, and explain its the basic elements. They highlight the importance of consistency and coherence for creating information systems. The webinar finalises with an overview of social media campaigns and how to design the visual aspects of a media campaign. The session is not intended for designers, but rather aimed at introducing people to the importance of design, and what to take into account to bring design into communications. The following visual design resources will provide more information on design led communications.

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

Facilitated by Carolina Kern and Jeff Knezovich

In this webinar the facilitators discuss the importance of writing content, despite the rise of other communication forms The webinar mostly focuses on guiding listeners on how to write better copy, and gives helpful tips on how to improve  writing skills. The background note logical line of argument, provides more information, as well as the document selected resources on writing.

Unit 7: Taking events to the next level

Facilitated by Carolina Kern and Jeff Knezovich

In the webinar of this unit Carolina and Jeff explain how to make the best of an event (one of the channels to disseminate findings discussed in the course). They focus on the aspects that characterize a good event, and discuss some of the different types of events that exists. They highlight how to prepare for an event, from an organisational point of view, and also how to prepare presenters, facilitators and attendants to make the best of the event. Finally, the facilitators discuss how to extend the reach of your events, and continue the dialogue with participants beyond the event itself. The background note overview of event types  provides more information, as well as the selected resources on events  that the facilitators shared.

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

Facilitated by Jeff Knezovich, Carolina Kern and Richard Darlington.

In this webinar, Jeff, Carolina and Richard explain the importance of communications strategies/action plans and explain how to put a plan together. They emphasise that it’s a process and not a document.  After a discussion and review of how to put together and enact a communication strategy (either organisation wide or campaign focused), they move to discussing how to make sure that you are moving in the right direction: monitoring evaluation and learning for communications. The facilitators also explain how to use different MEL tools (like After Action Reviews) to improve your dissemination approaches. The background note on communications strategy and MEL resources provides more information, as well as the selected resources on communication strategies and MEL that the facilitators shared.

Short Course on Using video to communicate policy research

Michael Kleiman (Media Tank and OTT associate)

May June 2017

The course focuses on helping listeners develop effective strategies to use video to communicate policy research. In the first webinar Michael focuses on producing effective videos, and gives an overview of the production process, and guidelines for both the pre, post and production stages. Including the logistics that need to be dealt with, and some of the best practice.

In webinar 2 he guides participants on how to share and distribute videos. He discusses a couple of case studies, and presents what should be taken into account when evaluating the success and impact of a video.

The background note produced for this course explores these issues further and gives readers access to further resources

Short course: Writing to achieve policy impact

Carolina Kern (On Think Tanks)

July 2018

The course aims to help participants write in a way that cuts through, enabling researchers to reach their intended audiences, and putting their message out as succinctly and clearly as possible. The first webinar focuses on writing, how to write clearly and “cut the fat” out of writing. Carolina discusses why publications are still so popular, and reflects with participants how readable their writing is. The webinar also covers styles guides and publication policies as well as top tips for writing clearly

In the second webinar Carolina discusses policy briefs, what they are and why are they important. She also covers the differences between objective and advocacy policy briefs, and finally takes participants trough developing a policy brief (the key content and design techniques).

The third and final webinar focuses on blogs: what they are, why are they important, and how to structure them. The session ends with and introduction to developing communication strategies and examples of communication action plans.

The background note produced for this course explores these issues further and gives readers access to further resources.

Short Course:  Creating effective data visualisations

Jeff Knezovich

June 2017

In the first session (webinar1) Jeff gives and introduction to data visualisation and then moves on to the characteristics of effective data visualisations, this is done mainly by sharing good and bad examples.

In the second webinar Jeff explains how to actually work with data to create effective visualisations, what tools can be used, and how to make your graphs great again (examples and tips on how to do it).

The background note produced for this course explores these issues further and gives readers access to further resources

How-to series

Data visualisation: develop, maintain, use and communicate data effectively

October 2014- January 2015

In these quick how-to videos, Jeff Knezovich from OTT and Nika Aleksjeva from Infogram show a number of data visualisation resources, useful for both researchers and communicators:

How-to import live data to google drive spreadsheets

This how-to video takes a quick look at importing live data from the web into a Google Drive Spreadsheet. This is a function that is also available in the most current edition of Microsoft Excel. Importing live data means the production of live charts and visuals to help people better understand something as it’s developing or evolving. The live data can also automatically update the results of functions and equations.

How-to collect data using

This how-to video looks at how to import and structure data collected directly from websites using The case runs through an example from the NHS choices website that analyses hospital care in the UK.

How-to merge and tidy data using Microsoft Excel

This video demonstration walks through merging two sets of data. It mainly relies on the VLOOKUP function in Excel, but we  sort and de-duplicate data.

How-to summarise data using PivotTables in Excel

This video uses the same data set of DFID flight data to learn how to summarise data for visualisation using PivotTables.

How-to map data using Google Fusion Tables

This video shows how to map (previously collected) data to create an interactive map using Google FusionTables.

How-to create interactive dashboards with Tableau Public

This video looks into creating interactive dashboards with Tableau Public. It uses the same DFID 2011 travel dataset to look at average costs, classes of travel, etc. It shows how to group the sheets into a dashboard, using a map as a universal filter for the other visuals.

How to animate a map to see changes over time using CartoDB

This how-to video explains the ‘torque’ function in the online mapping software CartoDB. It uses a dataset of all UK Department for International Development (DFID) staff flights in 2011 to show where they flew each day.

How-to use Infogram to tell stories with data

Nika Aleksjeva from Infogram presents a short webinar that examines how to tell stories with data. She shows how Infogram can be used as a tool create both static and interactive data visualisations, and how to make them go viral.

Selected articles and resources