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.
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.
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!’