Author: Emil Salim | Country: Mexico
Evaluation is indispensable in any project that aims to be successful. Evaluations can focus on a variety of aspects of projects, but usually concentrate on their design, implementation or impact. No matter what type of evaluation is conducted, it is essential that the findings are communicated effectively. Failure to do so risks wasting valuable evidence that could contribute to improving the project.
Communication of findings can occur in different ways. It may be that the evaluation team communicates findings to the implementing agency or that the implementing agency communicates findings to supervisors, partners or allies. Whether we are an evaluation team or an implementing team, it is essential to have a communication plan to strategically structure our communication inputs and actions. Below are four simple steps that should be part of a communication plan for evaluation findings.
1. Establishing communication objectives
The first step is to think about what we want to achieve with the evaluation findings. Communication objectives are usually actions that we expect our audiences to take once they know our evidence. The uses of evaluation provide a framework for categorizing the communication objectives of evaluation findings. The evaluation literature suggests that there are three uses, which are presented below.
The first use is instrumental and involves making changes to the program as a result of evaluation findings and recommendations. For example, a project may adjust the definition of its target population or the type of support based on the findings of an evaluation. The second use is conceptual and occurs when findings and conclusions are transformed over time into ideas and concepts discussed and developed within the implementing organization. It changes the terms of the conversation within the implementing organization but is not necessarily reflected in the operational documents of the program or its operation. The third and final use is symbolic and occurs when evaluation findings serve to confirm and legitimize a previous position about the program or some aspect of it. For example, when a donor confirms their enthusiasm to continue providing resources to a project on the basis of good results.
2. Know your audience
Communication is an empathetic exercise. However, empathy cannot exist if we do not know and understand our interlocutors. Once we have established what we want the audience to do, we must define who that audience is. For this reason, it is essential to know the target audience by means of a realistic characterization that allows us to understand their interests, positions and affinities. The resulting knowledge will be essential to develop key messages.
One exercise to empathize with audiences is to develop communication personas. The characters can be developed on the basis of four axes that help to understand the audience in a personal way. The axes are: 1) professional, personal and social background; 2) personality, for which the main characteristics of their personality are identified; 3) challenges they face; and 4) goals, to learn about their aspirations and desires. The image below shows an example of a character developed to empathize with the evaluation community in Latin America and the Caribbean.
It is important that characterization of the developed communication personas is not just anecdotal. Quantitative and qualitative data on the interests of different segments of the population exist in studies, surveys and social media metadata.
3. Developing key messages
Once the philias and phobias of the audience are understood, conditions are in place to develop key messages. A key message is an input to attract the attention of the audience based on their characteristics. These messages should present findings in a style or jargon in line with the interests of the audience. Key messages should be clear, concise and coherent. In this way, they can be adapted to different formats.
For example, if the target audience is an official from an international aid agency, a key message might be “cash transfer projects increased the productivity of farmers in the poorest regions of Central America”. A short message like this can capture their attention by establishing a type of program that is successful in a hard-to-reach region.
4. Select communication channels
It is important to know which communication channels the audience uses. In addition to meetings to present findings with key actors, the digital era provides a wide variety of spaces where audiences obtain information: email, social networks, and news portals, among others. The characterization of the communication persona will be incomplete without investigating which channels he or she consults for information. For example, the website Statista offers information on the use of social networks by age group and gender in different countries.
The choice of channel helps to define the format in which the key message is presented. For example, if you have found that your audience uses Twitter for information, the key message will be entirely textual. On the other hand, if it uses Facebook, the key message might take the form of a digital card or, in many cases, an infographic.
Communication unlocks the transformative potential of evaluation. Without it, it risks being a sterile exercise. However, to communicate is to plan and the core of planning, once the communication objective has been established, is to empathize with the audience. From this communication perspective, empathy is the basis for the use of evaluation.
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