“And now we still have to do some kind of project communication!”
Does this sound like a familiar cry?
All expert work involves communication and expert work is often organised into projects. It’s therefore strange that communication feels like an additional task to people. Without thoughtful communication, the results of projects won’t materialise and the projects’ impact will remain small. There are several ways in which communication can make the significance of an individual project exceed its relative size.
We’ve put together five ways we’ve used for straightening out the project communication of Smart & Clean projects:
1. Set objectives that are concrete and precise enough
Effective communication is well-planned communication. The project’s impact objectives and communication objectives should complement each other. First, it’s necessary to clarify what kind of social change the project aims to achieve and the communication objectives are set to support this.
Communication involves a number of means used to improve the impact of the actual activity being done. Communication is never an end in itself. Successful communication in a project thus links directly to the project’s impact objectives.
For example, the objective of Smart & Clean’s “Closed plastic circle” project is to make all plastics circulate, as its name suggests. Of course, reaching the objective requires technical solutions, but first and foremost it’s about communication. How can you inspire people to care about plastic recycling and recycled plastic products?
There should never be a situation where an expert finds himself tweeting or writing a press release, for example, and wondering what the purpose of this is, apart from ticking a box in the funder’s Excel sheet. If the communication measure doesn’t seem to contribute to the project’s impact objectives, could it be abandoned altogether?
2. Take the time to accurately identify your stakeholders
Less and accurately timed communication to a small and influential group is often far more effective than lots of messages to an undefined audience. The general public isn’t a target audience; it’s everyone and no one. The alarm bells should start ringing if someone suggests “Finnish people” as a target group.
Once the project’s impact objectives are clear, it’s time to consider who the project’s key stakeholders are, that is, whose help is an integral part of reaching the objectives. Try to get as far as possible in identifying stakeholders.
“Businesses in the area” is a far more vague definition than “medium-sized transportation businesses in the area”.
Once you’ve identified the key stakeholders, make it clear to yourself what motivates them to interact with your project. Why would they come to your event or follow you on social media? How does your project help promote the stakeholders’ own goals?
3. Clear, concise, consistent
Creating something new is abstract and complicated work, and therefore often very challenging in terms of communication. How can you communicate clearly about things that are still being planned and may happen in the future?
It’s tricky. That’s why those working on the project should set aside a lot of time in the beginning to pinpoint the core messages and shared terminology. When those involved in the project are able to use the same phrasing to describe the project’s impact objectives, for example, it’s much easier for stakeholders to become interested in the project and see their own role in the change.
Carefully considering the project’s core messages often also clarifies impact objectives and helps experts focus their work.
4. Think carefully about the timing of communication
There is no end to the amount of things you can read online. In fact, the tidal wave of information available on social media is increasingly stressing people out. However, well-timed and insightful communication can receive surprising amounts of attention, even if the phenomenon being communicated about isn’t a world-changing breakthrough.
In the early stages of the project, think about what existing discussions the project relates to and on which forums the discussion is taking place. It’s much easier to join an existing discussion than to start a completely new one.
People are also interested in different things at different times of the year or different times of the parliamentary term, for example. When beginning to plan media communication, for instance, think about the optimal time for communicating. For example, when schools start in August, journalists are often looking for new angles on traffic safety. In turn, stormwater issues are going to be much more interesting in the rainy autumn period than during a summer heatwave.
5. Join forces, put yourself out there and connect with others
Project communication is often very infrastructure-centric. A lot of time is spent on setting up websites, social media channels and newsletters. If the project lasts for years and the funder demands this, then it’s certainly sensible, but in the case of a shorter project, it’s worth thinking carefully about where you could reach the largest possible audience with minimal effort.
This is when you should look to join forces with others. Could you, for example, publish texts related to the project as guest blog posts under another organisation, network or even media? Instead of organising your own seminar, you might want to think about offering to speak at someone else’s event. This will save you time and money.
The key today is collaboration. It’s worth trying to connect with others instead of trying to do everything on your own.
6. Start a conversation that will change the world
The world is changing one conversation at a time, which is why it’s important that a project aiming at social change strives to participate, and where appropriate, to create public debate. Projects can provide good perspectives and conversation starters for topics that interest everyone, thus accelerating change. Discussions can take place on TV programmes, social media and stakeholder events, for example.
So aim to get involved in the conversations and start them yourself: comment on social media, offer to be interviewed about your project and write guest articles or blog posts. Challenge and invite people to participate in the discussion in good faith. Don’t just talk about the project, also talk about the change that is needed. Start a social movement if necessary. The results and activities of the project support the message, which means the impact of the activities will increase.
Having public debate on the themes of your own project takes time, so it’s worth setting aside a lot of time for it. If successful, public debate is often the most effective and fastest way to enhance a project’s social impact.
Funders increasingly demand co-development and various stakeholder work from projects. This makes the projects serve as platforms for public debate that bring interesting parties together to discuss with each other.