Dissemination strategies

Submitted by simon_milligan on October 13, 2006 - 2:40pm.

Dear all,

I will shortly be tasked to assist a DFID-funded good governance programme develop a dissemination strategy that will capture the learning, experience and expertise developed through the programme's activities to ensure that others can learn from them in the future. With the programme having run for about 6 years there's a large number of reports (200+) and it's inevitable that many will only be read by a handful of people and most are probably sitting on shelves gathering dust. I suspect that this must be a common feature of a large number of donor-funded initiatives that require the assistance of a large number of short-term consultants. I'd be interested to see if there are "best practice" guidelines or thoughts - DFID or otherwise - about how best programme's/projects can document the key successes and approaches in a structured way, and communicate such with a number of distinct stakeholders.

Any suggestions or pointers to online documentation would be most welcomed.

Best regards,

Simon

Submitted by priyanthi on October 14, 2006 - 4:30am.

Hi Simon

Yours is a problem that I had hoped had gone away at least five if not ten years ago... because that's how long I've been in conversations like this!
I believe there is a lot going on now about how lessons from development practice can be better shared - and I guess much of what is written on development communication relates to the dissemination or sharing of knowledge generated by projects. We had a discussion here on the Forum a few weeks ago which you will find if you follow the tag "marketing and public relations".
DFID has a whole linked site devoted to addressing the problems you are talking about - though it's actually pegged to 'research', the ideas are applicable more widely. See www.cimrc.info
Also interesting is the work the ODI has done, particularly in connection with its Civil Society Partnership Programme - see www.odi.org.uk/cspp/index.html
In my opinion, the problem arises when dissemination becomes a post-project activity, which then requires yet another external input (like yours) to operationalise. Ideally, communication targets (audiences and what they are interested in) should be identified right at the beginning, and dissemination strategies need to be built into the project design itself. I would imagine this is critical in all projects and especially critical in governance related projects since governance itself is about transparency and information sharing.
In the organisation I work for (see www.cepa.lk) we are trying to develop communication frameworks for each project we undertake as part of formal project planning and management. What this actually does is to formalise activities that we often do instinctively. For instance, we are engaged in monitoring the resettlement activity from a large infrastructure project for the financing institutions, and at the end of each phase of the project we are having stakeholder workshops which result in us sharing the learning from our work with key stakeholders, but which also enhances our learning through their feedback. So you may find that even though there has not been any formal 'dissemination' , lessons have already been shared through the course of the project.
I would also like to use the word sharing rather than disseminating.. precisely because learning should be a two way process.
Apologies for the long posting.. but this is my particular area of interest, and I would be pleased to continue the dialogue.

Submitted by simon_milligan on October 14, 2006 - 1:18pm.

Hi and thanks for the links and thoughts.

First, a question. Would you tell me where I can find the 'Marketing and PR' tag? I find the new web format a little difficult to navigate.

Secondly, yes, I somewhat feared that I might be stimulating a discussion that had been had a thousand times before!

I fear that dissemination is often an afterthought and is squeezed out as the pressures of day-to-day management, the coordination of inputs, following these up etc., etc take central stage. Moreover, I sense that the donors themselves often don't place as much importance on this as they should, with "lesson-learning", "dissemination" etc sometimes used as throw-away terms, enabling programmes to 'get off the hook'. Rhetoric is so often different from reality.

I know the programme well because I worked on it for about a year and a half. As you correctly guessed, it was usual for us to hold workshops at the end of each input and to circulate reports to the various offices. However, in having about six offices and providing over 200 short-term inputs over the last 6 years there is a likelihood that 'report fatique' has set in. Moreover, with staff and government officials moving on from time to time, knowledge is lost and there often isn't the time to delve into all that's gone before. The dangers of this are obvious to all.

Perhaps a little belatedly, as the staff would recognise, the programme is now looking at how best to communicate the wealth of knowledge in its reports. Options might include a series of punchy summary/synthesized reports, perhaps a moderated forum (such as this), plus the usual workshops, conferences and such like. Inevitably it will be complicated by regional differences in target user/audience groups, how and to whom to channel very specific information needs (and likewise, the more general lessons), how to engage with a range of actors from highly capable staff in federal ministries through to rural, poor, illiterate citizens of several focal states, and how to do all of this against the various resource constraints the programme will face in it's last year.

Finally, yes, I agree that share is a more appropraite term so as to encourage all parties to see the process as being two-way.

I look forward to any follow-up!

Submitted by jcravens42 on October 18, 2006 - 7:31pm.

You ask about "how best programme's/projects can document the key successes and approaches in a structured way, and communicate such with a number of distinct stakeholders" and "how best to communicate the wealth of knowledge in its reports." You are right in that so many reports sit on a shelf instead of anyone actually learning from them, and that's such a shame, because whenever I've bothered to read a program report, I learn oh-so-much -- in the end, it's actually made my job easier (particularly when it's a new job).

The reality is that this isn't just a development problem -- it happens in the corporate world all the time as well.

You offered the options you are considering (all excellent -- you are definitely on the right track): I'll add my own thoughts on each:
-- a series of punchy summary/synthesized reports; excellent idea. In fact, you could do SHORT powerpoint presentations (15 minutes, max) with audio, and send these to your stakeholders. If a person wants more in-depth info, provide a way for them to access this.
-- a moderated online forum (such as this); it's a very hard thing to do successfully (just look at how hard it can be to get people to post to the AidWorker's Network, which is huge), but if you have the staff and resources to support such (and I don't mean the tech part as much as the facilitation and discussion-prompting part), go for it.
-- the usual workshops, conferences and such like; what about the "unusual" workshops and conferences? What I mean is, what about choosing conferences and workshops that might be organized by people you don't usually work with, but who do reach the audience you want to? I've been pushing several nonprofits I work with to look for corporate-related conferences in their geographic areas and, if there is even a *hint* of a workshop or focus that might relate to them (community relations, the environment, community engagement, whatever), to "volunteer" to present at such.

If it's appropriate, think about theater/role playing as a way to deliver your message/findings. I've found that even a bit of this works well not just with illiterate populations, but corporate audiences as well (they sometimes can't see the forests for the trees, you know?).

Also consider:
-- one page synthesis. Yes, ONE page.
-- synthesizing findings into a report for an academic journal (you'd be surprised at who you might reach with those)
-- one poster showing as much visually, and with as little words, as possible (not always possible, ofcourse)
-- posting to other people's and other organization's forums. Sometimes, I've reached a company I was targeting by knowing where the staff "hang out" online.
-- bringing the press your findings. Sometimes, a person will read the copy of a newspaper article that you've put in their information packet first, instead of the official information you've provided. I don't know why... but they do.

Please post again -- I'm very interested in this topic.

<><><><>
Jayne Cravens
www.coyotecommunications.com/developoment/

Submitted by priyanthi on October 15, 2006 - 6:38pm.

The tags are found on the right hand column on the Forum page.

Submitted by Tom Longley on October 15, 2006 - 7:16pm.

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