So What? Who Cares?

I took a philosophy class in college and received a paper back that had the letters ‘SWWC’ scrawled across the top. When asked to explain, my professor said, “Nothing in this paper was wrong, but it wasn’t interesting or compelling, and I didn’t care about what you had to say. You didn’t convince me that this issue was important. SWWC means: So what? Who cares?”

This lesson has always stayed with me, and often, when I read a report or review a communications product, I ask myself:

  • Is the audience clear?
  • Is this issue important to the audience?
  • Is the call to action or message compelling?

If the answer is not obvious, then it fails the SWWC test.

Each day at EnCompass, we get to work on some of the biggest challenges around the world: global health, gender, inclusive development, democracy, governance, climate change, and more. We have the privilege of working with incredible clients on a range of services. Our goal in all that we do is to provide services that support meaningful change.

An essential part of that value proposition is generating final deliverables that are utilization-focused. Because if we don’t share the right information with the right audience at the right time, then our work won’t resonate the way we want it to, the audience will be unable to use our results, and our impact will only be a fraction of what it could have been.

In this blog, we will share some tips for how to generate meaningful, clear, and compelling communications products (reports or otherwise) to tell the story of your work to the audience(s) that need to know.

Figure Out Who Needs to Care – Map your Stakeholders and Create a Communications Matrix

To promote utilization of your work, start with a clear idea of who the stakeholders are that you will be communicating with, what they want or need to know, how best to reach them, and what evidence or information they are likely to find compelling. Think about your measure of success. What are you realistically trying to achieve? Successful uptake/utilization may look different across your stakeholder map.

Think of the good old five Ws and one H (who, what, when, where, why, and how). Ask:

  • Who do you need to reach?
  • What do they want or need to know?
  • When can you reach out?
  • Where can you find them?
  • Why should they care to hear from you?
  • How do you want them to act when they engage with your message?

These questions will help you insert, in evaluation planning, specific ways to enhance evaluation utilization and strong communication of results throughout your evaluation.

Sometimes you need a report, and sometimes you don’t!

Nowadays, there are so many different formats available for reporting. While there are still some commissioners who require a lengthy write-up that documents every element involved for accountability or audit purposes, many people acknowledge that those reports don’t get much traction and are often left to gather dust in digital repositories that few people access or care much about.

So firstly, you may want to ask if you need a traditional report. The answer may be yes, and if you do, do a good job preparing one. Documenting the details of what you have done has value, but don’t stop there. Ask yourself, what else do we need (besides a report) to ensure that we are helping the right people engage with the right information at the right time and in the right way?

Think about who you need to reach and ask yourself how you can best reach that audience. Would your message be best conveyed in a briefer, like this one from our USAID ASPIRE project? How about a short video like this one we created for Eval4Action or this one we created for our USAID DEEP project that was meant to accompany the full roadmap for measuring distance learning publication? Should you create an interactive website like the one our USAID Global Waters team developed? How about a one-page infographic like this one from our USAID Transform team? The Transform team also created an engaging Slidedoc as an alternate form of the traditional report. Other dissemination methods we have used include FAQs, podcasts, and toolkits. But the point is, there are lots of creative ways to share information!

Using the right message format/platform is vital and should be driven by the audience and intended use. Are you pushing information out or looking for a dialog and engagement? Are you engaging with people who are already familiar with your work, or are you trying to communicate with someone new to the effort about why it is important? The objective and the audience are always the most important drivers in any communications effort.

It’s also essential to think about what budget is available for your communication and reporting efforts. Most of the time, the budget associated with reporting and dissemination is only a small part of your project’s overall resources. While you don’t necessarily need to spend a lot to maximize engagement efforts, you need to plan to ensure that your reporting dollars are well-spent!

And this is where your friendly, neighborhood Communications Specialist comes into the picture.

Stay tuned for part two of this blog series, where we will share some tips from our Communications Services team on best practices in developing deliverables (reports or otherwise) that are engaging and compelling in terms of design, format, language, accessibility and more!