NIPN communication plan
This guidance note focuses on the development of a NIPN Communication plan.
Communication is a key element for NIPN:
- With different objectives
- To different audiences
- With different messages
This is the communication strategy.
- Using different communication channels and tools
- At specific points in time
These are the communication activities.
This note aims to provide high-level guidance on what a NIPN team could include in the communication plan, but this is of course very much dependent on the country context and the team’s capacity and resources.
In any case, a communication plan should define the communication strategy that specify the objectives: WHY you communicate, the target audiences: to WHOM you want to communicate, and the key messages: WHAT you want to communicate.
It should also describe HOW to do this, with which tools and through which channels and WHEN, identifying key communication opportunities throughout time.
In addition, a communication plan should include an M&E plan with indicators to assess the achievements of the communication activities, as well as a budget. The comunication plan should be commensurate with the available human and financial resources and proprotionate to the scale of the action in terms of cost-benefit. Even if there is no fully dedicated communication officer, a designated communication and visibility focal person should be identified within the team.
At the end of the guidance note, there are references to communication examples of different NIPN countries and to additional useful guidance that can be found on the web, while the next guidance note provides specific insight on how to communicate with decision makers.*****
What should a communication plan contain?
There are multiple reasons for communication by NIPN but clear objectives of communication for NIPN need to be defined.
These objectives may change according to the phase in which NIPN finds itself: the launch of the platform, the establishment of the Multisectoral Advisory Committee, the consultation with sectors to formulate priority policy-relevant questions, the dissemination of key lessons learnt from NIPN analyses, etc.
For instance in the set-up phase of NIPN, it is extremely important to raise awareness about the goal, structure and way of working of NIPN, and to advocate with stakeholders for their participation. Also it is important to create visibility for the platform, its actors as well as its donors.
At a more advanced stage, when the NIPN team has started to implement certain activities it is important to engage stakeholders in those activities, for instance to validate priority policy-relevant questions or to share a first output (such as a NIPN dashboard) to establish the platform’s credibility.
It is also essential to communicate about the outputs of the NIPN processes or the results of NIPN analyses.
There are also different objectives for external communication (to stakeholders of NIPN) and internal communication (within the NIPN team), see below table, and for giving visibility to the NIPN versus communicating specific information, see below link.*****
Examples of objectives for external and internal communication***** Visibility is part of the communication plan
It is important to identify the different target audiences for communication. The specific audience will depend on the objective of the communication as described before.
For instance, when the objective is to raise awareness about NIPN, the target audience may include all actors in the multisectoral nutrition system of the country.
However when the objective is to influence nutrition policy decision-makers regarding a specific response to one of the policy-relevant questions, the audience is likely to be much narrower as engagement zoom on the decision-makers.
Of course, it is also possible to advocate with a broader audience in order to create a bigger influence on the decision-makers.
Audiences may exist national and subnational levels. In countries where decision-making is done at sub-national level, the different steps of the NIPN operational cycle will be carried out at regional or district level, and the target audience of communication will therefore also be the nutrition policy decision makers at subnational level.
In any case, the choice of audience for a specific communication objective will need to be highly strategic if the ultimate purpose is to influence policy, programme or investment decisions. Knowledge of the priority objectives and key interests of the stakeholders themselves is key as this is often a good entry point to start communication: start with what is of interest to them. Only sending the NIPN messages, without connecting to what is of interest to the stakeholders may not fall into fertile ground.
It is recommended to do a stakeholder mapping (see below link) of the actors in the multisectoral nutrition system with regard to their levels of interest and influence on NIPN in the country, and to identify what the key interests of the stakeholders with the most influence are (also refer to section 2.2). Examples of target audiences are provided in the table below.*****
Examples of target audiences***** A stakeholder mapping is useful to identify your target audiences
The communication strategy should define the key messages to be shared. The formulation of the right message depends again on the objective of the communication, but also on the audience and the communication channel that is chosen. One does not communicate a message using the same words to nutrition researchers, to politicians, to decision makers or to donors.
Initial key messages about the NIPN function can be defined as part of the visibility and branding strategy, and then for each specific communication activity. The key messages will then be used consistently throughout the different communication tools: for instance a brief, a presentation, a press release, on the social medias, etc.
Though the exact formulation of a message is highly context-specific, it is important to stick to a number of basic principles which include:
- Target the messages to the audience, but remain consistent across communication tools & audiences
- Make sure that your core message is supported by evidence, be credible
- Be concise, to-the-point and factual
- Be positive and use active language
- Keep it simple, use plain language and avoid jargon – be understood
- Visualise your messages or illustrate with a concrete example
- Focus on results rather than on activities
- TELL A STORY because stories and experiences will be remembered, but facts and figures won’t
Different communication channels and tools may be used to reach your target audiences, depending on the type of media they usually consult to be informed (see below table).
Nowadays there is a wealth of communication tools available, but the resources available to implement the communication plan will limit the possibilities. Communication channels and tools all have advantages and drawbacks, that must be weighted in order to strategically select a few ones that, in combination, are specifically adapted to the target audiences that need to be reached.*****
All communication tools have advantages and drawbacksFor instance, in this digital age, many messages are communicated through an organisation’s website, or through e-mailings. This is quick and efficient, but not necessarily very effective as recipients are inundated by information, do not read everything but choose and pick what seems most relevant to them.
Though researchers and technical people like to read the details of a study design and methodology, research reports are often too long and complicated for policy makers that have little time and are looking for digestible bits and pieces. Policy briefs extracting key messages for policy-makers are more adapted.
Personal interaction allows for direct interaction and adjustment of the messages and justification to the audiences reactions, but may be time-consuming.*****
Another important aspect to consider is the timing of the activities. Activities must be properly planned and sequenced, in relation to NIPN implementation stages and to important project milestones and results. An analysis of policy processes in the country (refer to section 2.2) may help identify ahead of time key communication opportunites for NIPN. In addition, it is also important to be able to take advantage of any appropriate arising opportunity to reach the communication objectives of the NIPN.*****
Examples of communication channels and related tools
Monitoring, evaluation and learning (MEL) is important to ensure that your communications are strategic, helping you to understand and learn from what works, what doesn’t, when and for whom. It is also an important tool for accountability, helping you to demonstrate uptake, and that your work is of high quality and useful.
The Overseas Development Institute (ODI, UK) has developed a toolkit which is intended for use by communications, research and project implementation staff working in think tanks, universities and NGOs. This toolkit can be very useful for supporting the development of a MEL approach for the NIPN Communications Plan.
The toolkit highlights 8 key questions that need to be asked and answered when looking at communications strategy, management, what was done and what was learned (see below figure).*****
8 questions to address when looking back at communication activities
Source: Cassidy C. and Ball L. (2018). Communications monitoring, evaluating and learning toolkit. Overseas Development Institute, London.
The table below illustrates a few communication activities from NIPN countries. More information can be found by clicking on the links underneath the table.
- Communication and visibility requirements for EU external actions: download pdf
- How to write a policy brief
- Guidance from International Development Research Centre (IDRC, Canada): download pdf
- How to make an effective powerpoint presentation
- Next section on practical consideration for communicating evidence to decison makers