Tips from the back of an envelope
By Toss Gascoigne
When I think about planning science communication, the words “back of an envelope” spring to mind.
The essence of planning comes down to three questions:
- Who do you want to talk to?
- What do you want to discuss?
- What’s the best method of reaching these people?
These questions focus on the essence of planning to help workshop participants understand the big picture before delving into the detail. They complement Jenni’s research and practice, and Michelle’s experience in Victoria.
So, who do want to talk to? Other researchers? Policy people? Industry? Funders? The public? Possibly all of the above.
One reason to avoid having too many different target groups is that you’ll probably have subtly different messages for each, and you will need to use different ways of reaching them. Life is complicated enough already without burdening yourself.
One way to avoid too many target groups is to choose your top three.
What ideas do you want to raise? Here you need to think about their priorities (not yours), their interests, what they need to know, what they already know – and what they could get wrong.
It’s important to get the points clear, the terminology at an appropriate level, and the focus on helping them meet their work objectives. At times in our workshops on planning communication, we ask participants to explain their work in three minutes to an audience of peers. Finished? Now explain it to a 6-year-old child.
It gets the idea across that you have to tailor your explanations to the audience.
How are you going to reach this target group? If it’s colleagues, perhaps a website, a workshop, emails and discussions over coffee. If it’s farmers, perhaps an on-the-ground demonstration where the participants can see and experience what you’re doing.
If it’s politicians, request a 20-minute meeting where you go in with three (or fewer) clear points and a single sheet of paper reiterating these in writing. Focus on the implications of your proposal. What effect will it have on the people a politician cares deeply about: their electors?
All this can fit onto the back of an envelope. But this is an important envelope because a lot of thinking needs to go into what you write.