Step 8: Communicate Climate Change Information
Communicating climate change science is less about the science and more about the people you are communicating with.
While understanding the underlying science is important for the preparation of climate change information and risk assessment, such information is not always going to be relevant and useful to the people the results of the assessment are communicated to. If information is not relevant and useful to the target audience, it is likely that key messages will not get through. See also Advice for effective communication.
- Identify the target audience
- Determine the communication objectives
- Determine the key messages
- Determine how to convey the information
- Prepare a communication plan
- Implement, monitor and evaluate communication activities
Identify the target audiences
The most important aspect of any communication activity is identifying the audiences to be reached and understanding their needs and capabilities. Note the use of the plural ‘audiences’ – effective communication is not a ‘one size fits all’ activity. For example, the information that policy makers need from a climate risk assessment is very different from the information that is useful to farmers, as is the way information is conveyed to these two groups. It is very rare for one communication activity to be appropriate for communicating to a range of people.
To determine the target audiences, consider questions such as:
- Where do they live?
- What are their sectoral interests?
- What is their first language?
- What is their level of education?
- What do they do for a living?
- What level of responsibility and authority do they have?
- What is their level of understanding of climate change and its impacts?
- What is most important to them in terms of information needs?
- Where do they get information from?
- What do they do with the information they get?
- Do they have access to/understanding of information technology?
The answers to these and other relevant questions help tailor and target communication messages, content and delivery methods to ensure that the communication is relevant and meaningful to the people it is aimed at.
Determine the communication objectives
For each audience group, identify the reason for the communication. Is it simply for information or awareness raising? Or is there a desired action that the communication is encouraging? Determining the objective not only helps develop the key message but also provides a means for evaluating the success of the communication activity.
Determine the key messages
When talking or writing about climate change and its impacts, there is much information to consider. Sometimes, in an effort to present all of this information, there is a risk of overwhelming the audience with detail, and they may miss the most important message.
In many cases, the science information itself is not the key message. This information simply provides the evidence for explaining or otherwise validating a particular point. Instead, the impact on the area or sector of interest and the subsequent adaptation action(s) may be the most important messages to convey.
For example, a taro farmer does not need to understand the physical processes behind changing circulation patterns that will affect rainfall and temperature in 30 years; the important information is whether his land will still be suitable for growing taro, or if he should consider a different crop or acquiring land in a region that will be suitable for taro.
To identify the key message, it is useful to ask, ‘If there is only one thing I want them to remember, what is it?’.
Determine how to convey the information
Ensuring that the right message and level of information is made available to the audience without causing confusion (or boredom!) can make determining how best to convey information challenging. To successfully convey information, both the content and delivery method must be considered.
Language is an important content consideration. Is it too technical for the target audience? Does it use jargon or terminology that is not widely understood? Is English appropriate or will a local language be more effective?
Information can be delivered in many ways. It could be as simple as a phone call or meeting, or require the development of climate knowledge products or advisory materials. Climate knowledge products deliver information about projected change in climate variables such as rainfall in the format of graphs, maps, or infographics, among others. Science-based advice can be found in reports (e.g. summary report for policy makers) or journal papers. They usually provide recommendations about plausible climate impacts on a given matter based on the results of a scientific study.
If the information is to be conveyed via intermediaries, additional products and activities may be required. For example – training materials for intermediaries and posters or presentations that they use when talking to their audiences.
To determine the best way to deliver your information, you need to consider the answers to the questions used to understand the audience. For example, a website full of information is not useful if the people the information is for do not have internet access, or computers or smart devices to access it. However, if the target audience has ready access to and uses social media (e.g. Facebook) then this may be a very effective delivery method.
Prepare a communication plan
Much like a stakeholder engagement plan (step 1), a communication plan is a valuable tool for ensuring the intended key messages are communicated to identified audiences at an appropriate time using appropriate methods. A simple table, such as in the following example, that sets out the audience, communication objective, key message, method, timing and person responsible is all that is needed to manage effective and efficient communication.
Implement, monitor and evaluate communication activities
Following this plan will ensure that communication activities are completed in a timely manner. It is a good idea to print a copy of the plan and keep it in plain sight (e.g. on a pin board or wall) as a reminder of upcoming activities.
Monitoring and evaluation is important for determining the success of your current plan and for informing future communication activities. To do this, identify ways to measure how well your communication objectives have been met. This could be as simple as the number of likes on Facebook, visitors on a website, or copies of a publication requested, or more involved, such as determining changes in behaviour or activities over time.