April 3, 2012


Communications handbook for research programmes

I often say that when it comes to communications, just like with any other activity, one should rely on professionals -or at least those who know and have the experience. It is often tempting to add ‘capacity development’ to a proposal in the hope that the donor will prefer to fund us: after all our project would not just communicate research but also build the capacity of researchers to communicate their research in the future.

This is ok but the fact is that most researchers in the centres that excel at communications don’t do much themselves -other than directly engaging with their networks and contacts (which is crucial but not what this is about). They have teams of professionals to do it for them. At ODI, I had Jeff Knezovich to do most of our ‘professional comms’.  Getting things right in those circumstances is therefore not very difficult.

But when the organisations are small and there aren’t any communications professionals to help some new skills may have to be introduced. One thing that the lead organisations (in the case of large research programmes) or the funders could do right at the start is develop a handbook describing the range of communication tools and channels that researchers in the project may want or need to use.

This is what a DFID project focused on health in developing countries has done. Communications manager, Lara Brehmer, has written a Field Communications Toolkit that covers most of the tools that are usually used in these types of programmes. And they are also quite relevant for many think tanks regardless of whether they are focusing on health research or not.

The toolkit covers quite a lot and is quite clear and easy to follow. I would encourage you to give it a go, and maybe even edit it with examples from your own context and sectors. There is no reason why you should not use what has already been done: and there are plenty of manuals and toolkits that can help (reference them of course).

You can also download the document here.