Musings on research, international development and other stuff

Why communicating internally might be the key to getting your message out



Communication (Photo credit: P Shanks)

I have worked with a variety of research organisations who are struggling with their research communication strategy. One surprising thing I have learnt is that in many cases, these programme actually have what seems to be a very well thought through strategy and even a person who is responsible for communications. However the common complaint that I hear from such people is that their communication is failing because the people they are communicating on behalf of… don’t communicate with them! This makes me suspect that poor external communication is often due to poor internal communication and therefore that any research communication/uptake strategy needs to focus on both aspects. The reason for this is obvious when you think about it – a communication officer can only be as good as the messages s/he has. If they don’t know what is going on internally they will not be able to transmit these messages to others.

So, how do you make sure that your internal communication is working? The first step is to look for blockages. What messages does your communication officer (or equivalent) need to know and what is preventing him/her from getting them. Remember that the communication officer does not just need to know what you are doing, they will also need to know about how you, and others in your sector, are using language and what the dominant narratives and discussion points in the field are. Once you know the blockages (whether due to infrastructure, human capacity or organisational culture) you can put in place a strategy to combat them.

Strategies don’t need to be complex. A simple ’round table’ catch up meeting can be a wonderful way for small teams to hear what everyone else is up to. For larger and dispersed teams, an informal sharing document or wiki can work equally well – provided that there are (enforced) deadlines by which people have to update it and then ideally a meeting (in person or virtual) at which people can ask questions on the information provided.

Another area which can usually be improved is use of emails. Some training and guidance on writing effective emails can do wonders. For example in a previous job the whole organisation received guidance on using better subject lines and we all started tagging emails with keywords such as ‘Action required’; ‘For information only’; ‘Urgent’ etc. It really made dealing with your email queue much easier. Promoting a culture where inboxes are cleared regularly (yes you can!) can also make internal communication much more efficient.

These are just a couple of ideas but I would love to hear what strategies others have tried to make internal communication work better.


3 thoughts on “Why communicating internally might be the key to getting your message out

  1. You are absolutely right Kirsty it’s all about internal communication which is why small outfits like mine have no problem. But I worked for a larger one and it was a big issue. On emails, people just don’t look a them the first time, you need to keep sending them or following up personally by phone or face-to-face until they are on the verge of being annoyed (at which time you need placating strategies!). What really helps all of this is a clear communications/stakeholder engagement strategy that splits internal and external as need be. Everyone needs a chance to contribute to it and once agreed it must be abided by unless a major revision is required (and it can be reviewed on a regular basis to make sure it is still relevant).

  2. Agree with the poor internal comms being a primary contribution with the struggle on external comms. Personally, I think that email and online has a lot to do with that – people assume ”send” or ”publish” is the same as communicate, which obviously it isn\’t. One thing that I have seen work well, is a 10 min stand up meeting (virtual or in person but with faces/voices) every day or at least every week – just a very quick catch up. That gets comms started and ideas flowing.

    So what is the common characteristic of the internal things that work? They’re all personal first and foremost and that is what I would say is the most important characteristic for external comms success as well.

  3. Pingback: Poor Internal Communications | mazthmatic

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