ILRIComms / Knowledge and Information

Devising and sustaining agri-water research communication efforts over time

One year ago, in February 2011, project staff from 10 Agriculture Water Management projects got together in a mini ‘share fair’ to share their objectives, intended outcomes, products, timelines, stakeholders and geographical focus.

One of the ‘hot’ discussion topics was communication … more specifically how to sustain interest and investment over time. Participants were concerned that communication was often too ad hoc, too late, and too little. Key questions discussed included …

  • How do we keep communications – and interest – going along the entire lifespan of a project? Especially when we don’t have concrete results … yet!
  • How and when do we communicate emerging and intermediate results?
  • How and when do we communicate processes?
  • Can we combine informal with formal communication channels?
  • How do we communicate and/or sustain interest beyond the ‘end’ of a project?

We could not answer all of the questions, but we developed two simple slides to capture the principle notions we discussed.

In the first image, we track a desirable communication gradient over time, with communication, engagement and knowledge sharing activities starting early – before a project starts.

Click the image for a larger version

The idea is to build up interest in a project at the start, to sustain this over time (avoiding a ‘U’ shaped dip), then to kick start wider reach and impact beyond the life of the project (instead of perhaps more likely oblivion).

In the second image, we try to unpack different research ‘communication’ roles in a project. This envisages ongoing engagement with partners early in the project’s life; early communication ‘about’ a project and the activities it is engaged in; associated ‘process documentation’ about choices, decisions, design challenges, etc.; communication ‘about’ the science being undertaken; and finally multi-channel translation and communication of ‘the’ science itself.

Click the image for a larger version

In such an approach we recognize that the ways we approach a problem – and with whom – can be valuable and ‘communicable’ through intermediate products, long before the final results are ready. It also serves to help build up an interested audience for a piece of research, sustaining interest over time – and avoiding the ‘rush to reach out’ at the end of a project, trying to re-kindle interest in people who may have attended a launch several years before.

These ideas offer no panacea’s but may help us better position different types of communication over the course of a project, and validate among scientists the need to communicate, ‘even when the message isn’t ready yet!’

Read a news item on the event

View the event report on Slideshare

One thought on “Devising and sustaining agri-water research communication efforts over time

  1. Love your ‘sustaining interest over time’ slide. And your slide on ‘research communications roles over time’. I think we might profit from spending time thinking up ways to make much better and more extensive use of project proposals—which, after all, articulate the rationale of a project and its methods and desired outcomes—to begin ‘communicating about the science’ from the beginning (or near beginning) of the project. Indeed, often the greatest interest in a project is at its beginning, when expectations are high, donor interest is keen, staff are being hired . . . We always have at hand the project proposal as essential material in communicating about the project from the start—but getting our hands on the proposal, or knowing where to find it, is not always so easy. I would love to see these proposals made more visible, collected in more useful ways for all of us to use. Will the One Corporate System help us in this?

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