Wondering how to build a communication strategy from a practical angle? In the last of a 3-part series, we will cover how implementation and evaluation phases should be conducted.
After surviving the adventure of the analysis and research phase, and successfully navigating through the obstacles of the design and testing processes, we are ready to start implementing our plan and evaluate its performance.
Implementation. The hard hat
It’s diffusion time. Everything is prepared to be launched.
During the first stages of your strategy, it is crucial to focus on polishing the way the whole team is working and pay attention to those simple details that can really screw up all your hard work.
You may need to use a wide variety of activities in order to roll out your communication plan. The activities might be one-time, periodic, or ongoing depending on the scope of your program.
Think about who is responsible for developing communication materials, sharing messages with communities, gathering feedback, and communicating with other stakeholders.
Try to concentrate in your task as a communication strategist when managing the communication plan and sustaining the approach reviewing whether the communication approach is effective.
Review that everything is aligned and you have all the puzzle pieces over the table: what will be communicated, to whom, when, by whom, at which events, and how these pieces will be tracked.
Add these findings to your communication plan and develop specific points addressing specific stakeholders.
Measure times, challenges, and needs when conducting production tasks. In that way you will be able to adjust those little details for further activities.
It is very important to adjust the time-frame of actions. Even if you took into consideration all things related to events and you planned what messages should be spread in every stage of the strategy, during the implementation phase it becomes more real and making calendar adjustments is mandatory.
Sharing information during the implementation phase with selected stakeholders (media, donors, academia, etc.) is very important. Periodical reports, press releases, workshops, etc., can provide valuable feedback and maintain public interest in the program.
Implementing the feedback cycle is key. From recipients to staff, from staff to management, and back, this is done to ensure that adjustments are made while implementing the strategy. Yes, capturing feedback is important but without encouraging staff and empowering recipients, this will be useless.
During the implementation phase, it is key to consider asking for feedback to all stakeholders and adjust the plan if needed.
Assessing this feedback is not an easy task. The trick here is to study what audience intend to say rather than what they’re actually saying.
No specialized stakeholders tend to provide solutions based on their own assumptions and using their own words. They know something is wrong, but most of the time, because they are not specialists, they don’t know what it is and they provide solutions based in what they feel can fit solving the issue. It’s your job to ‘translate’ these inputs into communication solutions.
Adjust materials, methods and documents if necessary, based on this data.
Monitoring and Evaluation. Surgical cap
Do not get confused. Monitoring is about tracking strategy development using an already defined and pre-tested KPIs. By monitoring the communication plan, you can examine if you’re accomplishing the objectives you defined at the very beginning and adjust, if necessary, all the details to achieve desired results.
On the other hand, evaluation is centered on strategy impact from several angles: efficiency and effectiveness, sustainability, resources used, etc.
Tracking communications performance is one of these processes you need to run parallel to implementation.
Cross-sectional surveys, focus groups, one on one interviews, analysis on event attendance, and tests after conducting training. You already planned and pre-tested your KPIs, both qualitative and quantitative. At this stage you must trust them.
Start from scratch with a media analysis document containing press clipping statistics and metrics measuring media behavior.
Indeed, quantitative data (social media, mobile, web, etc.) is very valuable, but qualitative data extracted from public opinion tracking and content comprehension assessment are fundamental to understand how participation and impact monitoring, channel attribution and resources use effectiveness have contributed to deliver success or not.
Include monitoring activities on a daily basis. Even before implementation. The way strategy is developed should be a study subject for these purposes.
Evaluation is not about success. Of course, success is important, but what we are assessing here is strategy impact.
Evaluation provides useful data on what changes were produced since we launched the plan. Positive and negative. Intended and unintended.
Social impact depends on what the social issue is. There’s no one way to measure social impact but the rules of evaluation applies the same for any communication for change project.
Use the same pyramid you used in all other phases. Start evaluating the impact on internal audiences. Afterwards, move into a wider stakeholder groups.
Evaluation should provide inputs to improve strategy and these, when correctly measured, will highlight non-working aspects to adjust.
Several standard evaluation methods are adjusted for communication measuring but, in order to best fit your unique context, combining or adapting different techniques it’s the most practical approach.
The evaluation process starts by asking what should be evaluated. Pretty obvious, yes. But this is a hard statement to follow when you intend to measure both the quantitative and qualitative impact.
For that end, extract data from every method, material, and event you are conducting in the most efficient manner. Try to think that every material or technique as a source of data. Go beyond the primary goal. Apart from the obvious, what else can this specific material tell you from audience?
It is crucial to focus on those responsibilities directly related with communication activities. In other words, do not measure impacts not caused due to communication activities. This is not easy as a lot of external factors can have influence in your actions. If a well-planned event is canceled because of the rain, you will be not able to assess data extracted from this.
Finally, produce a communication assessment document to help roll-out activities develop with all lessons learned.
Remember, these findings are also part of your communication plan. These data can be communicated to a broader audience, academia, media, or final recipients, adapting to most appropriate channels to reach each specific public.
What’s inside your hat?
What about you? Have you experienced some of these techniques to conduct monitoring and evaluation? Have you ever used these techniques in other processes?
Some free easy-to-use resources are listed below to help you to design all related documents in this text.
In addition, some comprehensive ‘how-to’ guides are also below if you want to get deeper into the concepts shown here.