A communication and outreach roadmap with examples — part 1 of 5

When building a communication and outreach roadmap:

Start with what you want to achieve.

As simple as this may sound, many organisations skip this step.

We assume “everyone knows” what we want to achieve, we decide to use the channels that we already use because we are there and the channels are familiar, we plan to talk to people we already know because we know them (so they must be influential…right?), we don’t want to confront others in the organisation who may (legitimately or not) disagree with our goals and our plans so we decide to just keep doing what we always do rather than rock the boat, we just “don’t have the time” to specifically outline our goals…[insert additional excuses for continuing to spin our wheels without any idea of our destination here].

That said.

While concretely and transparently clarifying what we want to achieve with everyone involved can be exhausting and lead to the occasional (fine, the all-too-frequent) argument, isn’t that going to happen anyway?

Best to seek clarity if not complete consensus up front. Get everyone on the same page and provide a consistent and detailed roadmap of what we are doing and why and how we will define and measure our success (as well as identify, catalogue and learn from our failures.)

Everyone should have this roadmap and participate in its revision and finalisation (with the understanding that not necessarily everyone will be overjoyed with the final plans. But at leas they will understand them!) Then we can all see what we are doing and why and more objectively judge the impact of our collective efforts.

To that end, I’m supplying my communications roadmap plus monitoring and evaluation plan in five posts over the next few weeks. This allows me to ensure I’m transparent in how I think and, possibly, to help others struggling with how to put together their own communications roadmap.

First, a guiding principle to any roadmap development:

When it comes to communications, be transparent and genuine both internally and externally. At all times.

There are a lot of benefits to the transparent and genuine approach:

Transparent discussions around the objectives and goals of a resource-intensive communication campaign or outreach strategy, done well, can motivate and unify teams that were struggling to understand how they could best contribute to or constructively criticise an organisation’s erstwhile outreach strategy. Such discussions clarify resources and identify potential concerns and possible solutions.

These discussions also help identify the more flexible staff interested in contributing to long-term goals versus the “button-pushers,” the occasional inflexible individual more committed to doing what he does in the way that he does it whether or not his actions support a more comprehensive strategy. (By the way, button-pushers shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand; many are there because a piece of technology or a change management process gone wrong has convinced them that the only way they can continue to do their job well is through resisting the inconstant and transient winds of change. Here’s how you can address that issue.)

There are also some pitfalls that we must avoid when pursuing this principle:

To be successful in our guiding principle of genuine transparency, we need everyone to know what’s going on and to understand that hidden agendas will not be tolerated; we are all working to have the clearly described impact in the openly detailed manner.

If some key teams or individuals eschew the larger roadmap in favour of protecting their own turf, we will quickly lose to the “tragedy of the commons,” when everyone grabs what they can to protect their own self-interest and as a result very few (and often strictly symbolic, e.g. “our team’s new social media intern”) resources are dedicated to the collective communication action.

The moment this disintegration begins, we will see our outreach start to fail.

To make sure this doesn’t happen, management has to be on board with the roadmap and willing and able to quickly correct any attempts to go rogue. This doesn’t mean management has to punish staff for not participating in the outreach campaign, just that management has to clarify that staff will be reviewed and remunerated based on how they contribute to the common objectives rather than how well they keep their own projects afloat. The benefit of a detailed and transparent communication roadmap means that the difference between the two should be obvious to both management and staff. People respond to clear incentives (though the response is not always enthusiastic.)

To ensure everyone knows what we are doing and why and can contribute accordingly, we can follow these simple steps when developing a communication and outreach roadmap:

Step 1. Define our objectives and our goals. What do we want to achieve?

Describe exactly what the organisation’s objectives are.

Categorise relevant and concrete timebound goals underneath each objective.

What is the impact the organisation wants to have and on whom?

An objective always involves a desired result and a specific audience. Some useful questions to start: Who do we want to impact? What impact do we want to have on this audience?

A goal falls under an objective. A goal describes a concrete real-world behaviour that we want to see our audience perform by a certain date as a result of our outreach strategy.

Goals come with a deadline — the deadline can change as events evolve, but our goal lets us measure how far we’ve come and judge our use of critical resources (time, budget, personnel.) The goal supports the more long-term objective which is not usually time-bound.

When pondering a goal, think: what do we want our target audience to do as a result of our outreach and by when would we like to see them do it?

Defining our objectives.

For example, the organisation’s objective could be,

“Encourage community members to recycle and to recognise the importance of recycling when it comes to environmental conservation.”

This is actually two objectives:

  • one is tied to an action (recycling) that we want our audience to perform.
  • one is tied to an opinion (positively associating recycling with environmental conservation) that we want our audience to have.
  • Both are tied to our desired audience (the community.)

Recognise and separate out the proposed objectives into two separate (but linked) communication strategies.

One objective aims to impact people’s behavior: ideally, as a result of our communication strategy, recycling will become widespread and automatic amongst community members.

The other objective aims to influence people’s opinions: as a result of our communication strategy, community members will feel increasingly positive about recycling and environmental conservation.

Setting and categorising our goals.

Goals underneath the first objective, “Get community members to recycle” could then be:

  • Reduce the amount of garbage thrown out on average each month by the community.
  • Increase the number of aluminum cans recycled on average each month by the community.
  • Increase the amount of cardboard recycled on average each month by the community.

Goals under the second objective, “Get community members to feel good about recycling and environmental conservation” could then be:

  • Increase positive public opinion towards recycling as it relates to environmental conservation.
  • Increase positive community media coverage of recycling as it relates to environmental conservation.

With clear goals, we can concretely define what our objectives mean through describing the real-world behaviours emblematic of our objectives.

Refining our objectives and goals.

We want to be as explicit as possible. Do we want to focus on recycling and environmental conservation just as it relates to the local community? Do we want opinion and related media coverage to be tied to local efforts? If so, we might rewrite, for example, the objectives and their goals like so:

Objective 1. Get local community members to recycle more aluminum and cardboard than they are currently recycling. Make it a community goal that all cardboard and aluminum used in the community be recycled.

  • Reduce the amount of garbage thrown out on average each month by the community.
  • Increase the number of aluminum cans recycled on average each month by the community.
  • Increase the amount of cardboard recycled on average each month by the community.
  • Introduce local legislation to recycle all aluminum and cardboard used in the community and ensure over 60% of the community agrees with and backs the proposed legislation within 1 to 2 years.

Objective 2. “Get community members to feel good about local recycling and environmental conservation efforts.

  • Over the next 1 to 2 years, increase local positive public opinion towards recycling as it relates to environmental conservation within the community.
  • Over the next six months, increase local positive community media coverage of local recycling efforts as it these efforts relates to environmental conservation at the community level.
  • Identify, promote, and support a number of self-sustaining recycling and conservation efforts within the community in the next 1 to 2 years.

Note how the goals need to reinforce not only the objectives but also the other goals.

Keep reviewing and rewriting until you feel sufficiently satisfied that you can envision exactly what things will look like after the organisation successfully achieves these objectives and related goals.

Next week, we’ll talk about how to quantify and qualify these goals and objectives — to ensure that we can measure our impact and thus more intelligently allocate our resources — through proper data analysis.