Cross-cultural learning in communication

For researchers to shape effective policy and practice for sustainable development we must communicate with decision makers on their terms. They need robust evidence that gives them confidence, context-relevant information that supports their own situation, and an understanding of the practical realities facing their constituents and other people they are trying to support.

Communicating research in a way that delivers on all these counts is difficult and varies across contexts and cultures. One way to rise to the challenge is to share lessons from what works across different countries and sectors. In February 2011, IIED’s communications team brought together nine researchers, communicators, advocates and project managers from partner organisations for a week-long opportunity to do just this.

Comms learning weekIIED’s Communication Learning Week covered a broad range of skills and tools, including crafting a communication strategy, writing for policymakers, working with the media, exploiting new technologies such as social media and participatory video, marketing publications and monitoring results.

Participant perspectives

I came into the week with relatively high expectations...but the week certainly lived up to them. It was personally a great learning experience for me and for TNRF too — I will be able to go back and bring a lot to the organisation...

It was great to have just nine participants. I was really able to troubleshoot and workshop my own issues, and make a lot of progress — not just talk in theory about things. And it was wonderful to hear from people with similar struggles and challenges to those we face in Tanzania — bureaucracy and politics but also simple things like trouble with internet connections. It was even more positive to hear how people overcome these challenges and I feel like I learnt a lot from my peers.

In short, I’ve gained a lot of wonderful tools, made great contacts and I now feel I have some real concrete ideas to bring back to my organisation.

Jessie Davie
Tanzania Natural Resource Forum (TNRF), Tanzania

What I liked most about the learning week was that the sessions were very interactive and participatory — even when I didn’t expect them to be — and that got everybody moving and made the whole programme quite exciting. The sessions on policy briefs and working with the media were particularly powerful and I drew a lot of energy from that. It’s an important area for us in Uganda to work on and see how we can improve.

I strongly feel that you could take this work forward with a mentorship programme, especially in the area of working with media and policymakers — because of our need to grow the language appropriate for engaging in and communicating about the different issues we deal with.

Christopher Busiinge
Kabarole Research and Resource Centre, Uganda

Salome GofanSalome Gongloe Gofan,
Rural Integrated Centre for Community Empowerment, Liberia

The Communication Learning Week was a great opportunity for me to improve my communication skills and put in place a communication strategy for my organisation. I’ve been doing lots of good work at home but how to communicate what I do to the public and local community has been a constraint. This week has helped me learn how to market my organisation and communicate well with donors and with local community people themselves.

The facilitators were friendly, especially to those of us coming from different social backgrounds — they created a friendly environment where we freely interacted with one another with no fear. The week provided a lot of opportunities to make new connections, including with journalists and others that we have had little opportunity to meet before.

My one recommendation would be to extend the time for practically doing some of this work with facilitators on hand to help. Writing a policy brief is not something you can do in one day.

Salome Gongloe Gofan
Rural Integrated Centre for Community Empowerment, Liberia

Online extra

Learning week feedback

Participants in the IIED Communications Learning Week reflect on their experience.

Photostory: Communications Learning Week in action

Comms learning week 011. Effective and targeted communications are essential for encouraging research uptake, influencing policy and promoting good governance. In February 2011, IIED’s communications team spent a week with nine researchers, communicators, advocates and project managers from partner organisations to share experiences and learn from one another about how to become more capable communicators.

Comms learning week 022. Early in the week, the partners presented specific communications challenges they’d been working on at home. “I was really able to troubleshoot and workshop my own issues,” said Jessie Davie from the Tanzania Natural Resource Forum.

Comms learning week 033. Everyone in the workshop had valuable knowledge and experience to share. George Grant Matiya from the University of Malawi said “I have learnt a lot from my fellow participants and enjoyed sharing experiences from different corners of the world”.

Comms learning week 044. Through strategic planning exercises, participants explored the potential benefits of precisely defining target audiences, shrewdly choosing when and how to contact them, and customising their messages. “The discussion on communication strategy was very useful for my current job and helped me a lot to develop my own strategy,” said Silvia Jundt from PEI Lao Programme.

Comms learning week 055. The week covered themed sessions on sessions on diverse topics — including crafting a communication strategy, writing for policymakers, exploiting new technologies such as social media and participatory video, marketing publications and monitoring results communication topics. Through presentations, discussions, and a series of games, participants also explored the opportunities and challenges of working with the media.

Comms learning week 066. Two afternoon writeshops got the partners writing an outline for a planned policy brief and crafting a press release about a topic close to their heart. “The sessions on policy briefs and working with the media were particularly powerful and I drew a lot of energy from that. It’s an important area for us in Uganda to work on and see how we can improve,” said Christopher Busiinge from the Kabarole Research and Resource Centre in Uganda.

Comms learning week 077. The practical writeshops enabled participants to work on real content and ground the discussions in reality. After writing, partners and IIED staff reviewed the pieces together, asking how to improve the style, structure and content to meet the cultural context at home.

Comms learning week 088. Reviewing other organisations’ approaches to communicating research helped both partners and IIED staff think about what works and what doesn’t. Our own communications team is taking on board a number of insights from the sessions, including reworking our briefings’ design based on feedback we received.

Comms learning week 099. Throughout the week, partners strengthened old relationships and formed new ones — with each other, with IIED staff, and with journalists, filmmakers and other communicators from outside organisations. “The week provided a lot of opportunities to make new connections, including with journalists and others that we have had little opportunity to meet before,” said Salome Gongloe Gofan from the Rural Integrated Centre for Community Empowerment in Liberia.

Comms learning week 1010. Partners also improved their skills in new media technologies, for example by filming their own short videos about their experience during the Communications Learning Week.

Comms learning week 1111. Since the learning week’s close in February 2011, IIED’s communications team has continued to work with many of the participants — developing communications strategies, supporting policy writing and media work, and sharing a range of communications plans and products. Most recently, Christopher Busiinge from Uganda has become an IIED international fellow, strengthening his ties to our communications team and opening the door to a more sustained and systematic relationship with the institute and our five research groups in future.

Internal links

Cross-cultural insights into communication

Making communication count: a Strategic Communications Framework

Development online: making the most of social media