Advice for Effective Communication

Be useful and relevant

Information must be useful – if the audience cannot use, what is the point of communicating it? – and relevant. Relevance makes the information more easily understood and remembered.

For example, a government health official has been given funding by a donor to build a new hospital. However, the donor organisation needs to know that sea-level rise has been taken into account in the planning, so the hospital will be appropriately located to avoid coastal inundation hazards and will therefore still be around in 50 years, or at least until the useful life span of the building expires. Useful information for the government official to communicate to the donor could include maps showing projected sea-level rise for the area near the building site, and a non-technical analysis that explains the best positioning of the hospital in light of the projections.

Tell a story

An effective way to convey information is to tell a story – focus less on the numbers and more on what they mean in terms of impacts. What will a changed climate look like in the area? How will this impact on the lives and work of the people that live there? Talking about crops no longer being viable in a particular area, or pointing which land will be under water or roads will be cut is much more meaningful to people than talking about a 1.5°C temperature rise, or 25 cm sea-level rise.

Prepare layers of information

Telling a story does not mean that the science should be ignored or avoided altogether; after all, the strength of the message is that it is based on scientific evidence. Instead, provide many layers of information. For example, a presentation may simply tell the story focusing on what life will look like under a changed climate. For people who are interested in more detail, there may be a fact sheet that provides some of the summary technical facts and figures. For technical experts who need very detailed information, there may be a technical report.

Use graphics and images

It is often said that ‘a picture tells a thousand words’, so using graphics and images can be a useful way of getting messages across. This may simply be relevant photos or simple infographics, or a short video.

Scientific information typically contains many graphs and complex figures that are often beyond the easy understanding of non-experts. If graphs are used to illustrate a point, ensure they are clear, simple and easily understood. Labels are very important.

Formal presentations are often accompanied by PowerPoint slides or other audio-visual aids. It is important to remember that these slides are simply signposts. Do not clutter them with text and numbers. Ideally, each slide will contain only one main message.

Use and support intermediaries

Collaborating with intermediaries to communicate information has a number of advantages. It can effectively extend the reach of communication activities beyond what project resources allow. If the intermediary is a trusted by an audience (e.g. a church or community leader, a teacher) the message may be more readily accepted and acted on. Intermediaries may also have access to existing local communication networks across different socio-economic groups in the community (e.g. NGOs, church groups, women’s groups, schools) that would be otherwise difficult to access.

When using intermediaries there are two audiences to consider – the intermediaries themselves and the audiences they will be communicating with. It is important to ensure that the intermediaries are supported in their understanding of your messages (e.g. with training materials and other resources) and in the information that they pass on (e.g. with handouts, presentations, speaking points, posters).

Be practical

If the target audience access the internet via a mobile phone, and the mobile network is expensive or not reliable, posting a large, technical report online for downloading is not practical.