How can strategic communication help build commitment to reform? Strategic communication is a stakeholder- or client-centred approach to promoting changes in people’s attitudes, knowledge and behaviour to achieve development objectives. This chapter from the World Bank book Building Commitment to Reform through Strategic Communication outlines a five-step process for designing a communication strategy: (1) identify whose support is critical; (2) identify which behaviours, by which groups of people, will contribute to reform success; (3) use messages that start from the audience’s perspective; (4)choose communication channels based on reach, frequency and credibility; (5) consider how changes will be tracked and evaluated.
Strategic communication can play a key role at various stages of reform, whether conducted at the national or international level; or whether promoting societal change, institutional change or change associated with specific programmes or policy reforms. At the start of the process, leaders may use strategic communication to explain the rationale behind an intended change. When launched, initiatives must be understood by a broad range of audiences. Developing support means encouraging people to revise their thinking, attitudes and practices. For reforms to take root, strategic communication needs to build stakeholders’ commitment in the long term.
A communication strategy articulates, explains and promotes a vision and a set of development objectives. Once managers have defined their objectives clearly, a communication strategy can be shaped by five core decisions:
- Whose support is critical? To decide which people are most valuable at each stage of reform, it is necessary to: segment prospective audiences, distinguish opponents from supporters, and assess their levels of interest and power.
- What changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviours will lead to successful reform? A communication strategy must identify which behaviours, by which groups of people, will contribute directly to success.
- What messages will persuade audiences to support reform? Communication efforts have a better chance of helping people to gain new knowledge or change behaviour if they start from the position of the audience rather than the communicator.
- What channels of communication will reach audiences and be credible to them? In deciding which mix of communication channels will be effective, reforms must consider three aspects: reach, frequency and credibility.
- How should changes in knowledge, attitudes and behaviour be tracked and evaluated? Descriptive and experimental approaches may be valuable in this respect. It can be difficult to isolate the effects of communication activities from other trends.
Reform leaders and communication specialists may encounter difficulties in using communication to facilitate reform. Advice for avoiding or addressing problems includes:
- Determine when communication activities are ‘off strategy’. A carefully conceived communication strategy should act as a roadmap for policymakers and reform agents.
- Promote awareness that leads to action, not just knowledge. There are specific types of information that help people adopt new behaviour: information on advantages and disadvantages; information on social norms; and information that helps people visualise what it will take to adopt a new behaviour.
- Keep strategies flexible and responsive. They should be grounded in an understanding of changing perceptions and the feasibility of new practices in daily life.
- Remember that audiences dictate strategy and organisations execute strategy. A communication strategy centred on the audience’s needs, perceptions and motivations has a greater chance of success.
- Articulate objectives before developing a communication strategy to support them. When objectives are unclear, the communication strategy is sure to fail.