In this blog, the Global Waters Communication and Knowledge Management team reflects on how our work embodies the hallmarks of EnCompass’ work. Our general way of working takes an appreciative approach. We regularly celebrate our wins, small and large, and think about how we can make things better.
Focusing on the human element to encourage sustainable learning: Much of our communications and knowledge management work is focused online. We post PDFs on a website, draft tweets, and facilitate webinars. When there’s room and time for creativity, we put together videos or graphics to convey complex messages. But we could do a better job of—and perhaps this is due to our project starting during COVID-19—supporting the face-to-face nature of communications and knowledge.
The human element is something that our project’s recent Listening Tour highlighted for me. During the Listening Tour, we interviewed more than 50 representatives from our client’s (USAID’s Center for Water) stakeholder groups. We asked people to think about something they had changed in their work and why, and it usually came down to a conversation they had with someone they respected. When we think about how to position our clients and their partners as thought leaders, that personal connection is something that will beat even the most beautiful website, interactive infographic, report, or video.
As people go back to conferences, networking, and in-person events, our team is thinking about how we can help our clients make those connections with a consistent and purposeful call to action. We can then organize our online presence to provide backup with evidence and tools.
Developing stakeholder profiles to ensure participant-centered engagement: Another goal of the Listening Tour was to gather insight into what type of information was useful to various representatives and how they like to receive it. Based on this information, plus analysis of our newsletter subscribers, Twitter followers, and story authors, we created profiles for each stakeholder group.
At STORY 2022, David Paull, a behavioral scientist and storyteller, emphasized the importance of having direct conversations with the target audience: “It’s important to know the audience on a deeper level—understand what makes the audiences tick—so that when we write messaging and stories for them, they feel understood and connected to the content.” Insights gained during our Listening Tour conversations will help the Center for Water better reach its key audiences. Having these profiles as touchstones helps us keep the recipients centered as we find new ways to share USAID’s knowledge.
Standing out from the crowd with participant-centered engagement: More than 3 billion blog posts are published each year worldwide. USAID’s Center for Water is competing with many other sources and platforms for people’s attention. Our challenge is to help people not only find these documents, but also read, digest, learn from, and act on them.
Our team experiments with ways to make information discoverable and digestible for more diverse audiences. Here are a few things we’ve tried:
- Think Shrinky Dink. I loved playing with Shrinky Dinks as a kid, seeing my beautiful artwork transform into something small but lasting. What if we applied that principle to big, important documents? A typical document posted on GlobalWaters.org is 28 pages long. When the 140-page 2022 U.S. Global Water Strategy was released in October, we wanted to help people quickly find what was relevant to them. We created these simple one-page and two-page summaries that explained the key points of the strategy and USAID’s role. These are prominently linked on the Global Water Strategy landing page and they make great handouts at conferences.
- Make knowledge bite-sized. We created a handbook for USAID’s partners with guidance on how we can support them and communications tips. To make this information even more accessible, we developed Knowledge Bite emails. Every month, we send a Knowledge Bite to our list of partner contacts with brief excerpts from the handbook. Partners have commended us for our “proactive, practical leadership.” Check out a few examples:
Diversifying and expanding audiences through equity-focused methods: One of our strongest channels for sharing USAID’s resources and announcements is GlobalWaters.org. The website receives over 30,000 visitors per month. As one of our objectives is to expand and diversify the audience, we take the “global” in Global Waters seriously. We started by adding French, Spanish, and Arabic translations to the website’s key navigation and taxonomy terms, taking advantage of the multilingual skills of the broader EnCompass team!
We also added robust accessibility options (one of the first LINKS sites to do so). Through a widget, users can adjust color contrast, text size, line spacing and height, and more. This helps people with low vision, color blindness, and dyslexia, among others, find and read USAID resources. While websites might not immediately come to mind when we think about equity, these upgrades are significant steps toward making GlobalWaters.org more inclusive and accessible.
Navigating complex processes with creative thinking: In early 2022, the CKM II team was asked to support USAID’s sponsorship at the World Water Forum in Dakar, the world’s largest water-related event. This was USAID’s most prominent participation in the Forum ever. How exciting! We got to develop and execute a strategy for USAID’s 500-square-foot exhibition space. In less than two months. In a country where EnCompass does not have a presence. Starting from scratch. The event planners reading this are probably getting nervous. Five hundred square feet is the size of a small apartment—how would we not only fill the space, but ensure it positioned USAID as a prominent partner in the water world? Enter creative thinking.
The team quickly mobilized to:
- Secure a dedicated EnCompass project manager to coordinate the multiple local procurements
- Hire local event consultants to negotiate competitive prices and ensure quality of services and products
- Draw on the in-house graphic design and video editing skills of project staff
- Use as much previously cleared content as possible
- Create a “Look Book” of booth design and communication materials with clear deadlines to facilitate rapid reviews across multiple USAID teams in DC and Senegal
This intense effort culminated in an engaging USAID exhibition space that drew almost 2,000 visitors over the course of the week.
We’re happy to speak with you about how to incorporate these values into your communication and knowledge management efforts. For any questions related to our work or additional information, please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This piece was written by the USAID Global Waters Communication and Knowledge Management II team: Patricia Chourio, Susan Davis, Kristen (KD) Dayton, Hailey Keuck, and Joelle Peikes.
Photo credit: Marc Sylva