Internet notebook about my work: deep listening to facilitate positive change


Saturday 26 June 2010

Briefings for communication support

Large organizations tend to ask for external communication support to help them getting their messages out through websites, newsletters, press releases, posters, leaflets and brochures. In their briefings they mostly formulate their objectives as ‘to increase awareness, understanding, and support among stakeholders and the (interested) public, as the means for their further engagement’. Such ‘paper’ communication definitely contributes to access to information on policies and practices. It is questionable however whether it will create awareness and support of people in stakeholder groups and among the general public.
How to upgrade such ‘paper’ communication to ‘people’ communication? The first step is made when – in the briefing – you:
1. define the success of the policy or organization and the evolving needs of its audiences and position the added value of the transactions the policy or organization has to offer
2. segment the audience (identify those target groups that are key to the success of the policy or organization) and
3. quantify the objectives (SMART) per target group (often additional target group research is needed).
In the briefing you can then ask the communication support
1. to formulate short messages in the ‘language’ and ‘mind frame’ of the target group, that appeal to them, contain a promise and a proof that it is possible and make concrete what the target group can do contribute;
2. to make creative use of those media that are credible and effective sources of information for the audience, if possible by involving people and media from the target group itself;
3. to map out benchmarks to monitor the process, provide positive feedback and adapt the approach where necessary.
Read more about briefings.

Friday 25 June 2010

Web survey

A web survey is a good way to explore demand and how to best satisfy it. The tools are there and make it very easy. They are user friendly and are mostly free, but better use for a short period the upgraded versions. I learned the following five 'rules of the game'.
The respondents. Define whose opinion you need. If it is a small group of 10 to 20 people you already know, you may reconsider a web-survey and do telephonic interviews. If it is a large group of a few hundred or few thousand people it is important to know how much the issue is of concern to them. The closer they are to the issue the higher the response you may expect. 2% is a very high response for a large and ‘distant’ group. 20% response is a high for a smaller and 'closer' group. Make sure you have updated mailing lists.
The objectives. Define the two or three things you really want to get out of your questions. To do so it is best to first conduct telephonic interviews. This qualitative research will help you formulate what is really relevant to ask. 5-10 semi-structured interviews will do. Don’t ask more than 6-8 questions. Analyze and discuss the results with a few colleagues. Then design the web survey. If you don’t have time for interviews, at least discuss objectives and framework of the survey with colleagues.
The three parts of the survey. Start the survey with a concise formulation of the background and objectives. Explain what is in it for the participants, e.g. "it will help us to service you better"; "you will be credited in the publication as a contributor". As to the questions, keep their number as low as possible. Make sure you ask about the profile of respondents. Ask their email address to be able to keep in touch. In a choice matrix keep the number of choices around 5. More choices make reporting in a diagram difficult to read. If you need more choices use a new question. Ask to explain their answer when you use a closed question. The last question should be about what else respondents would like to say about the issue and what advice they have for you. Always end the survey with a thank you and indicate when and where respondents can see the results of the survey.
The test. Before you send out the survey always test its ‘usability’ among a few colleagues. Ask them to do the survey. This alone may bring to light some small mistakes. Also ask them about whether or not to use ‘compulsory’ questions. Are the questions clear? Do the open questions work or irritate? What other advice they have?
The message. The more personal the email with the request to participate, the more response. Use a sender they know, appreciate and has credibility. Keep the text in the mail short, but personal. If you use more mailing lists, apologize for possible cross-posting. Keep the time frame for the survey short (maximum three weeks). Send a reminder halfway the period for response.

Saturday 12 June 2010

Communication: tools or strategy?

Strategy is about how to most effectively reach your goal. Most communicators concentrate on tools: brochures, videos, photo exhibitions. The question is will that help us reach our goals? My students ask what then is a strategic communication? I answer it is a way of life. And I paraphrase Musashi. A strategy for effective communication is not different from a strategy for success in business development or war. If you don’t appreciate strategy, you won’t value the use of tools. Each situation is different and does not stay the same. Before you communicate you have to analyze it, including the context and key people. Then define success. Each situation may ask for a different tool, set of tools or a different use or timing of the tools. The main tool is speech. You master it when listening becomes hearing.Then you also know how to use the other written media. The other tool is drawing. You master it when looking becomes seeing. Then you also know how to use the other visual media. The success of a strategy is not in the plan but in the planning. It is professional way of life. The principles of the way of the strategy are:
* Always be honest.
* Keep on practicing and learning.
* Become acquainted with every art.
* Know the mindset of all professions.
* In worldly affairs go for the result.
* Develop your intuitive judgment and understanding for every person or situation.
* Perceive things that cannot be seen.
* Pay attention to details.
* Do nothing which is of no use.

Friday 11 June 2010

Communicating protected areas

For Life's sake. With students of two universities I analyzed a slide show from WCPA to better communicate the importance of protected areas. Afterwards we looked at the final publication and saw that only a few of our concerns were addressed. These are some of the conclusions from the combined analysis. From a factual or scientific perspective the main values are comprehensively captured and translated into content to be communicated. From a communication perspective the top five suggestions for improvement are:
1. Change the word protected area – it does not trigger positive connotation by the non-experts, use words a ‘nature areas’, ‘conservation areas’, special bird areas etc.
2. Start with the positive dream that nature can play in our lives, do not start your messages with the threats, people will immediately switch off their attention and interest.
3. Don’t be abstract or use jargon, be concrete e.g. ‘the mangroves protect us against cyclones’ instead of ‘For life’s carbon buffers’; or ‘the river gives us to eat and drink’ instead of ‘For life’s essentials’.
4. Don’t use landscape photos – people can only positively associate with nice animals, or people in the landscape. If you use a good landscape photo, have a few words providing the essence, e.g. a wild forest = carbon store, food source, playground.
5. Make clear to whom you are talking, what your promise is and what you ask them to do. Be aware that for most people your messages are new and don’t try to cover everything, e.g. inspiration, meaning, joy etc. maybe a bridge too far. Better use words as playground, a space to find some inner peace.

Thursday 10 June 2010


Talking about competencies of a sustainability professional, I just received a nice tool from my colleague Dominic Stucker and could share it with the workshop participants. A great animation and talk by Al Gore’s former speechwriter Dan Pink, explaining what really drives and motivates humans.' A nice example how to communicate research and science.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Sustainability mindset

Are conservation and sustainable development just another job opportunity or do they ask more of a professional? If so, where do I go to get the right education. The question of one of the participants makes me think. A recent study on ‘What a sustainability professional should know how to do´, surveyed opinions of experts in the field. It maps knowledge (concepts, theories, ideas, processes), skills (process dynamics, tools, methodologies), attributes (innate abilities) and performance competences (job/career duties/responsibilities) for corporate sustainability managers and community development professionals. Among the top three hard skills are strategic planning, system thinking and project management. The top three soft skills are communication, problem solving and inspiring and motivating. When we look at attributes we see a long list of innate abilities. The softer the skills and attibutes the less traditional training and learning approaches seem to have to offer. It looks as if it is a personal responsibility to develop these. Coaching or a teacher in an unexpected discipline (music, sports, meditation) may help. For me it is basically about looking inwards and practicing a sustainability mindset. Making yourself used of being mindful of others before self, non violence, respect for the diversity of life and cultures, timing, efficiency, effectiveness etc.

Tuesday 8 June 2010

Sustainability: sacrifice and gain

Sustainability does not mean sacrifice and expense. My environmental friends here in this Asian country are quite convinced. Instead it provides opportunities and competitive advantage. They have brought me in their four wheel drive to this fast food restaurant on top of a high rise building. Below the streets are literally filled with cars. More high rise buildings as far as I can see. Even this high my lungs seem to feel the air pollution. Transition to a sustainable urban development, mobility and clean air and water will not come only through new technologies and better planning. Habits also have to change. E.g. the habits of taking the car, throwing things so easily away. When you stop eating hamburgers and take the bicycle, in the end you will feel better and enjoy the exercise. But the behavior change has it costs: the pain of overcoming the resistance, the effort to keep repeating the new and unfamiliar behavior. I know you have to compromise, but if environmentalists want to be leaders in the change towards sustainability, they should continuously be mindful of what change really means and how it feels. The only way is to practice change yourself. Eating less or no meat is such a practice. Taking the bicycle or reducing your waste to (almost) zero too. Such practice means some sacrifice and expense, but it also provides opportunities for feeling better and gaining support for sustainability by being able to provide examples of change from personal experience.

Monday 7 June 2010

Don't try this at home

Donors often think that toolkits are a great way to support the implementation of policies. They can be, but only if accompanied by training and the awareness that experts still are needed. Toolkits contain very useful (explicit) knowledge, but one needs the tacit knowledge and skills of experts to solve questions of what is the right tool and when and how to use it. Otherwise the results might be contra-productive. I remember how I admired as a toddler my father’s carpentry toolkit. I was not allowed to touch any of these tools. I had to be content with my wooden play tools. When I was around ten years old my parents sent me to ‘carpentry’ lessons. An old carpenter had every Wednesday afternoon about ten boys in his work place who he would teach the basics of his trade. We learnt when and how to use each tool. The advantages and disadvantages of your choices and the dangers of either damaging the tool or yourself. After a few months I had acquired some basic skills and knowledge. And had produced a wooden footrest, as a birthday gift for my grandmother. I also knew now I should not try some of these tools at home alone. Some things you better leave to the specialists.