Three templates for communications planning

Alice Macfarlan's picture 3rd May 2018 by Alice Macfarlan

Evaluations are a huge investment, in terms of both money and time. However, despite this investment, many evaluations are not used.

There are a number of factors that can affect use of evaluations.  Validity is one  - was the evaluation’s methodology up to scratch and defensible?). There are external factors  - was the evaluation report released just as a big story broke in the news, and did this bolster or hinder receptiveness to the evaluation’s findings? And then there’s the demand factor. How much do the key stakeholders and audience want to know about the evaluation? Do they care at all? Are they interested?

Sometimes, they will be. You may have a whole range of key decision makers and influencers hanging out for the release of the evaluation report, ready to jump at the findings and take the recommendations on board. That’s great. In this case, you might be able to get away with releasing the report online (ideally with an executive summary) and holding a dissemination workshop and have a great impact on your stakeholders.

However, as is often the case, it may be more of an uphill battle to get the attention your evaluation findings deserve. This is where communications planning is really important, and unfortunately, often overlooked – or not done to the extent it perhaps should be.

One of our current priorities for the BetterEvaluation website is providing better guidance about evaluation reporting.  The BetterEvaluation Rainbow Framework has a number of options for the task Develop Reporting Media (and is currently being reviewed and updated – we’ll be sharing this with you soon).  

But we know that effective communication is not just about having good reporting formats.  It’s important to think through some key questions about what it is you’re trying to achieve, and who you’re trying to reach. So we’re also focusing on improving the guidance about communication plans for evaluation.

Communication planning in evaluation can often be evidenced in a one paragraph discussion in the inception or final report outlining what the evaluation team is planning to do. However, this can often miss the important considerations of why

In this blog, I wanted to share three examples of communication plan templates that address this and allow for more detail and thinking through of the communication and dissemination process. I think that each of the templates has merit in their own ways, but I’d love to hear your thoughts on whether you think they’re useful, and what processes or discussions you have had about communicating evaluation findings on projects you’ve worked on. What level of effort or thought about communication do you typically put in? Are there any barriers to communicating evaluation results that you’ve come across? What’s worked and what hasn’t?

 

Template for Strategic Communications Plan

Communication Toolkit, W.K. Kellogg Foundation (2006)

View the template here

What are the key features of the plan?

I came across this resource while browsing the W.K. Kellog Foundation website and noticed it in the Most Popular Resources section. It’s not specifically targeted towards communicating evaluation results but is easily applicable in this context.

The document breaks strategic communication planning into eight key elements:

  • Determine Goal
  • Identify and Profile Audience
  • Develop Messages
  • Select Communication Channels
  • Choose Activities and Materials
  • Establish Partnerships
  • Implement the Plan
  • Evaluate and Make Mid-Course Corrections

It then contains a number of worksheets designed to guide the user through some key questions that will help in developing a plan, as well as overviews and advice on how to approach each element.

How could this plan be used?

I’d use this as a first step planning document, and could be used by an individual or in a meeting with a team where the questions could be used to guide a brainstorming session.

Why would you recommend it to other people?

I particularly like the way the structure of this resource really forces users to stop and think through important considerations before jumping into picking reporting options, but also that the questions and advice posed cover a lot of things that might otherwise get missed in communications planning – for example, what makes new information credible to your audiences? Are there others who can influence your primary and secondary audiences?

Template: Evaluation Communication and Learning Plan

DEQAS: Decentralized Evaluation Quality Assurance System (2017)

View the template here (.doc)

What are the key features of the plan?

The template is made up of three sections:

  1. What is a communication and Learning plan and why is it important? – Which briefly discusses the purpose of a communication plan and answers some FAQs such as when the plan should be developed, and who should develop it.
  1. Components of an Evaluation Communication and Learning Plan – Here we’re presented with a diagram outlining the evaluation phases where communications planning is important (hint – it’s all phases), alongside target audiences, products/information, and communication means.
  1. The Communications and Learning Plan Template – a filled out an example of what a communications plan might look like, divided into two parts: internal communication and external communication.

How could this plan be used?

While the template was designed to give guidance to decentralised evaluation teams going through WFP’s DEQAS process, I think it’s a great example to get all users thinking about the different components of communication during an evaluation.

For this purpose, the most useful part of this resource is the example plan itself. It’s a simple planning matrix in two parts (internal and external) and outlines what communication product or information should be given to whom at what organisational level of communication, from whom, how, and why. Best of all, it breaks this down evaluation phase, including communication activities during:

  • planning
  • preparation or development of the TOR
  • inception
  • data analysis and debriefing
  • dissemination and follow up

Why would you recommend it to other people?

A lot of communication plans focus on dissemination after an evaluation and don’t address communication during the earlier stages. This template might help users to consider why and how to do this.

The template doesn’t go into great written detail about why each stage is important or how to go about developing the plan, however it was designed as an accompaniment to the DEQAS: Decentralized Evaluation Quality Assurance System Process Guide, which has a number of additional resources hyperlinked within (including a technical note on Stakeholder Analysis on p.39).

 

Developing an Effective Evaluation Report: Setting the course for effective program evaluation

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity​ (2013​)

View the template here

What are the key features of the plan?

This guide was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Office on Smoking and Health (OSH) and Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO), and ICF International as part of a series of technical assistance workbooks for use by program managers and evaluators. It provides guidance on the process of writing an evaluation report as a whole (noting that this process starts in the earliest stages of an evaluation project, rather than at the end). Step 6. Ensure Use and Share Lessons Learned focuses on planning for communication and dissemination. It discusses effective dissemination strategies, considerations about audiences, and lists some options for supporting use.

The guide also contains a number of useful worksheets and templates relevant to the creation of a strong communications strategy, including:

  • Stakeholder inclusion and communication plan exercise: designed to capture the key stakeholders, their relationship to the evaluation, and the best mode and timing of the communication
  • Stakeholder information needs exercise: which builds on the above to identify the specific information each stakeholder group needs
  • Stakeholder interpretation meeting exercise: this includes a template to develop a timeline of stakeholder feedback sessions throughout an evaluation and advice on running these. Unfortunately, the link within the guide to the Western Michigan University checklist for facilitating the development of a formal stakeholder interpretation meeting is no longer active, however, we were able to an updated link here.
  • Communicating results exercise: This is where the ‘communication plan’ itself is found, and includes matrices for describing the channels and formats, and outlining the objectives and timelines of communication, and gathering feedback and tracking the strategy.

How could this plan be used?

Although the communications plan template itself doesn’t capture as many elements as the DEQAS template discussed above, the supporting worksheets and templates have the potential to help users think through and document a number of important factors relevant to communications planning.

Why would you recommend it to other people?

This resource gives a bit more detail on processes surrounding the development of a communication plan, including processes to set up and engage stakeholder groups, as well as linking to other CDC resources, such as Developing an Effective Evaluation Plan, for more detail when necessary. The fact that this is one section within a guide on report writing also helps to ground the communication activity within the wider evaluation process and has the added benefit of including specific tips for creating dissemination products such as the report and the executive summary.

 

What do you think?  Have you had experience using any of these resources?  Are there other resources for planning evaluation communication that you’d recommend? Do you have good examples of evaluation communication plans you’d like to share?

Add your comments below or email us privately via the contact form.

A special thanks to this page's contributors
Author
BetterEvaluation Website and Engagement Coordinator, BetterEvaluation and ANZSOG.
Melbourne, Australia.

Comments

porekuupeter's picture
Peter Porekuu Francis Xavier

Alice and team, i cannot but say thank you for sharing these templates. They will go a long way to improve our communications.

 

Alice Macfarlan's picture
Alice Macfarlan

Hi Peter,

I'm really glad to hear that! The aim of sharing these was to get people thinking about what they could do differently in their own practice so I'm glad you've found these useful in that regard.

Best,

Alice 

Anonymous's picture
Kerry McCarthy

I think these are useful resources, highlighting an often neglected stage of evaluation. I plan for the 'translation' phase of evaluation, including the need to allocate a budget for this (easier when you are commissioning and hold the purse strings, than when delivering!).  I talk about this, and preparing stakeholder maps in my blog http://kclarity.org/2016/11/02/9-pause-tips-evaluation/ 

Alice Macfarlan's picture
Alice Macfarlan

Hey Kerry,

Thanks for sharing your blog. I like the idea of calling it a 'translation phase' - It really gets away from the idea that there's one way to talk about findings and puts the emphasis on the evaluation team and management to actively make their content accessible to different audience needs. And I agree - having a clear budget for this phase (and realistic ideas about the resources and skills involved) is so important to doing this effectively.

Best,

Alice

Add new comment

Login Login and comment as BetterEvaluation member or simply fill out the fields below.