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Connecting communicators: lessons from the WaterAid global comms meet

20 April 2018

Recently, I was lucky enough to join WaterAid on day two of its first ever global comms meet.

Held just outside London, the event brought together communicators from across WaterAid’s global network, to share challenges, opportunities, and examples of the inspiring work being done all over the world. With a hefty dose of coffee, comms and craic, WaterAid harnessed the individual and collective power of their communicators. Here’s what helped the process:

Light the fire for comms

At the beginning of the day, delegates expressed the significance of having a space where comms was given direct attention and recognition. Many of the countries where WaterAid works only have one person involved in comms, so the meet provided the opportunity to feel part of a team, to reflect and develop strategy, and consider the importance of the work they do.

Take action:

Find ways to underline the importance of comms and bring communicators together. The work communicators do is important and deserves its own space.

The informal is just as important as the formal

Formalised knowledge-sharing is important, but equally important is the informal stuff. From the get-go, what was evident was the bonds being fostered between the different offices – sharing feedback about their favourite projects to planning collective dance performances. Beyond just creating a positive environment, these relationships could continue to serve staff once they left the conference and returned to their country offices.

For example, when one office expressed a need for more behaviour change communication, other offices pitched in, promising to serve as advocates for how this could be successful, as they had seen it in their own work. Such discussions about how they could support or inform each other’s work were constant. Further, the diversity of work across the different offices meant increasing buy-in among departments was more accessible.

Take action:

Connect with communicators! Find people doing the things you want to do and learn from them. You can find a range of resources on the Knowledge Hub – and of course if there are people within the network you’d like to connect with, get in touch and we would be happy to facilitate that.

Get granular – go beyond top-level objectives to get to the crux of how you deliver change

The workshops focused on providing simple, accessible tools and matrices for the different offices to design their strategy around and gave them a space to challenge each other or defend their choices. Objectives varied hugely between nations with different opportunities and constraints, while the tools provided a level of consistency.

Objectives were decided based on WaterAid’s overall aims and regionally-specific needs, while strategy was decided with the use of stakeholder engagement matrices and channel planning tools. Through this there was a balancing act between guidance and freedom, moving away from a ‘lift and drop’ approach to strategy, towards a ‘bring and adapt’ method.

At the same time, there was focus on the organisational-wide strategy points, such as key influencing dates, along with a space to identify ones which were country or region-specific. This is exemplary of WaterAid’s approach; there is top-level direction, but these are malleable, recognising the contextual understanding of regional staff.

Take action:

Everything communicators do is in part driven and influenced by context, but it’s a point often forgotten in the scramble to achieve our objectives. Because of the diversity of situations and objectives, there’s no one-size-fits-all for WaterAid’s comms strategy – and that’s equally true sector-wide.

Your top-level objectives are important to make sure everyone is working toward the same aims. Still, different offices will have to focus their energies in different places to work towards those goals. Get granular about who you are trying to influence and why, while remaining aware of how this ties into the bigger picture.

Have a laugh

One thing WaterAid is great at is humour – and that’s true internally as much as it is outward-facing. Globally, there are distinct and acute challenges around the provision of safe, clean water – the lack of which can result in avoidable fatalities. It’s not an easy context, logistically or emotionally. What stood out to me was their ability to recognise the severity and significance of the issue, while side-stepping being overwhelmed with a bit of light-heartedness.

Take action:

It’s a hard balance to strike when working on some of society’s most challenging and complex problems. It might sometimes feel like you’re never doing enough, and that you’re not moving forward if you’re not pushing yourself as hard as you can. But putting an absurd amount of pressure on ourselves only slows us down and makes us less effective and responsive. Taking time to make your well-being a priority, whatever that means to you, can help lighten the load.

Whether your team spans the globe, the country or even just your building, there is value in bringing people together to share perspective and expertise. Providing simple and accessible tools can help to bring cohesion to your comms without losing nuance, and fostering community can help encourage organic innovation. The idea that we should talk to each other more seems a simplistic one, but carving out time dedicated to this can have some powerful effects.

Image: Photo by Slava Bowman on Unsplash

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Molly Clarke

former digital content officer, CharityComms

Molly was formerly the digital content officer at CharityComms and a Charity Works fellow. Before CharityComms, she was studying for her MA in International Development. Prior to that, she directed, produced and edited film projects both in a corporate and not-for-profit setting in the UK and internationally.