Dotty dotted communication – can we avoid this please?


Sometimes, the best example one can offer is a counter-example. My colleague and boss Peter Ballantyne recently proved this point when sharing a presentation, and later a blog post, about what communication in a (research) project could and should look like – and what NOT.
The presentation depicted the general direction of communication and engagement efforts in a research project, as a curve which displayed both what is hoped for and what should be avoided in terms of communication activities and results.

Communicating agri-water research over time

The counter example – here the red line of course – shows that all too often, communication efforts, if at all undertaken, mean:
  1. A big bang project introduction (usually with project leaflet, kick-off workshop, poster, press release etc.) – the moment of glory of public relations and marketing – and spending of course.
  2. Then a long curve of nothingness – perhaps the result of a weak (or absent) engagement strategy?
  3. And then at the very end of the project, another series of activities related to the release of information and communication products – when the project closing / output delivering fever is kicking in.
This is a dotted communication approach: no continuous line, no constant progression. This dotted approach becomes downright dotty if one thinks that this type of interrupted engagement will lead to a wide uptake and impact. Unfortunately, all too often that is what happens in projects for lack of strategic communication thinking and lack of attention for endowing communications with proper resources.
What should change in practice is to ensure that the communication dots get much closer to one another to form an almost continuous line of communication (probably interlaced with all kinds of other lines going up and down but following the general progression trend). This means regular engagement with a wide range of actors, documentation of processes throughout, meshing together people, issues and insights that play out in the initiative, getting our hands dirty to ensure that people reflect, talk, write and work together.
That alternative approach takes courage and yes, resources too, but it brings back the investment manifold. If communication is to play a role, let it be even a modest one but a continuous one. Dotty dotted communication has long lived. Check Peter’s ideas for how we can ensure continuous engagement…
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