Lately, we’ve been talking to clients about how they can keep their communication strategies updated and relevant.

For people to get behind these communication strategies and enact them well, the plans supporting the strategies have to be practical.

This topic reflects what you said you were interested in from the newsletter survey – and we’ve summarised those results in the final article this month.

Here are our tips for Making your communication strategy practical, and the Summary of the newsletter survey results:

Thanks again for your newsletter feedback – we always value hearing your ideas.

Regards from the @EconnectTeam

Jenni MetcalfeSarah Cole (newsletter editor), Jane Ilsley and guest contributor Toss Gascoigne



Stop your communication strategy gathering dust

By Jenni Metcalfe

I’ve helped produce hundreds of science communication strategies over the past 28 years of being a science communicator, and helped implement some.

But I’m always worried about what happens after the strategy has been signed off and delivered to our client.

  • Will the strategy sit on the shelf (electronic or real), gathering dust as people slowly forget it even existed?
  • Will the people trying to make it work decide it’s all too hard and go back to what they’ve always done?
  • What happens when there’s a change in the staff who drove the strategy’s formation?

Here are some tips to make sure all the time and effort put into developing a communication strategy actually pays off:

  1. Include a short-term (3–6 months) action plan with the strategy, where people commit to agreed actions within set timeframes and budgets.
  2. Choose a ‘champion’ who will keep reminding everyone about the strategy, and the need to constantly review and update it (including the action plan). If the champion moves on, make sure someone else is ready to take their place.
  3. Never finalise the strategy in print or PDF online form, because you regularly need to keep reviewing it to make sure it’s current and relevant.
  4. Keep the strategy ‘internal’ to the people implementing it. It doesn’t have to look pretty: it just needs to work.
  5. Celebrate with the team when they achieve agreed milestones, and discuss what they learned in the process so that the next step can be even more successful.

A plan getting an update. Image: Econnect Communication


Refining your target groups: clarifying ‘the general public’

By Dr Jane Ilsley

When planning your science communication, a key initial step is identifying who you need to communicate with.

You may want to communicate with the whole world, but is it realistic?

Target groups such as ‘the general public’ and ‘communities’ are often cited in communication strategies – these sound like good groups to communicate with, but you need to zero in.

When you start asking questions about them – such as “What do they already know?”, “What are their perceptions?”, “What do they want to know?” and “How do they like to receive information?” – you start to realise that the ‘general public’ is actually everyone, and it is too difficult to answer these questions about such a far-reaching group.

Scientists and farmers talking about farmers’ forecast needs. Image: Econnect Communication

The more specific your target groups are, the easier it will be to generate tangible tasks for the implementation plan that puts your communication strategy into action.

A more specific group may be cattle farmers, grade 10 students studying science, or your specific industry group. We recommend you interview representatives of your target groups – don’t assume you know their needs.

You can then shape your plan to meet the needs of who you really want to communicate with.


Don’t wait until the end to think about evaluation

By Jenni Metcalfe

Many organisations have asked us to evaluate their science communication strategies. When I look at their well thought out 3-year strategies, I often find that there’s been little thought of how to evaluate the strategy.

One of their objectives might be to ‘raise awareness’ about a new program, but there’s no indication of what the initial level of awareness was.

Another objective might be to ‘provide information to increase understanding about…’ Again, there’s nothing to tell me what their target groups’ level of initial understanding about the topic was.

Brainstorming in the Pacific. Image: TunaPacific

Having baseline data to measure your progress is essential if you want to properly evaluate how well your communication strategy achieved its objectives over a certain time period.

You can gather baseline data by:

  • conducting an online survey with your target groups (and then conducting the same survey 3 years later)
  • questioning a representative sample of your target groups in interviews or focus groups (and then repeating this in 3 years’ time, or sooner if you want more regular feedback)
  • finding relevant research that others have done into your target groups (then checking the research again, or doing your own in a few years’ time).


Short and separate strategies for your target groups

By Toss Gascoigne

Planning communication is a process that requires lots of thinking, but the plan itself should be quite short: a page or two for each project, and for each target group.

Why a separate page for each target group? Simple: The points you want to discuss with decision-makers are probably different to the points you want to make with farmers.

Your target groups have different needs.

  • For decision-makers, you may want to emphasise how the research fits in with their objectives and strategic plans, and how it offers good value for money.
  • But farmers will be more interested in the practical side: What should they do, and how should they do it? It’s about changing their practices.

And the methods you choose to communicate your work will be different.

  • Decision-makers will want a written document with a tight executive summary, with evidence set out in tables and graphs. They may want a meeting to ask questions, and probe into the research more deeply.
  • Farmers will want to see demonstrations, field days, trial sites, and get a chance to ask questions and talk it over with farming colleagues.

Some things are common, like a good website where both groups can check particulars, get contact details, and see photographs.

But each plan should focus on a target group, carefully designed to meet their information needs and provided in the way they like best. It may only be a couple of pages, but deep thinking is needed to get it right.


Your say: feedback on our newsletter

Results from our 10-question survey

We’re always urging you to get to know your audience. That’s why we appreciated so many of you completing our newsletter survey recently.

Your feedback will help drive us to improve. Here’s the gist of what you had to say:

  • What you love about our newsletter: Bite-sized. Based on experience. Practical. Accessible. Short. Succinct. Not self-aggrandising. New ideas. Themed. Lessons. Well written. Variety.
  • What we can do better: More images. Summarise at the top. More links. Slightly shorter articles or, instead, link through to our website. Other guest writers.
  • Most of you read most of the newsletter each month. Some of you rely on the theme to decide to skim or read it.
  • You seem to love the length – it’s easy to finish in one sitting and not so long that you ‘file’ it.
  • The design is good for most of you; you appreciate its simplicity. Many of you requested a ‘table’ of contents up top. Some of you dislike the listicle format.
  • Some of you don’t even notice the images we include; some of you do, and said we could include more – especially ones we’ve taken ourselves.
  • Your top-rated topics were: audiences, innovation in science communication, evaluation and planning. You were much less interested in fieldwork, workshops or conferences.
  • You’d like to hear more about: planning communication, telling stories, social media, and presenting your work.
  • Many of you asked us to improve our hyperlinking by explaining the links more, and linking to more research/evidence.
  • About half of the people who get it on their mobile read it on there, and the formatting is fine.
  • Most of you found the newsletter and signed up after attending a workshop, knowing us or having an email forwarded to you, or through ASC.

Quotes we loved:

  • “Keep up the great work guys! I hope to keep reading this well into the future. I also like how you’ve archived your previous newsletters for easy access. I have directed my colleagues to your site heaps of times for this reason.”
  • “I enjoy reading your newsletter as it helps to educate me (in bite-sized chunks) about the ever-changing world of communication. In fact, your newsletter is pretty much my only source of ‘continuous education’ on this topic. I am a research scientist in a government department.”
  • “Always relevant and interesting information distilled into easily digestible packages!”
  • “I love how practical and direct the tips are. I have changed the way I communicate based on your newsletters and have saved some that I refer back to when needed!”
  • “It’s written in a very clear language and tackles topics of great importance for science communication – there is no other one like this that I know of.”

Format note: Some of you receive the plain-text version but don’t like it. Please get in touch with us, and we’ll change your format to HTML.

So, thank you for your considered and detailed responses. It means a lot to know how we are hitting the mark and can improve for you.

PS. Congrats to reader Ted, who won the choice of an ABC voucher or box of wine, for his feedback.

Analysing the results. Image: Econnect Communication


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