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Event Summary: How and why to communicate about development results

Development organisations publish results to be accountable, learn for the future and build public support. How can they make their reports and data platforms more useful and engaging?

All development organisations communicate about their performance. They do so to be accountable to taxpayers, to learn from the past and improve their work, and to build public support. Yet, transparency also brings risks and challenges.

At this fifth DevCom Zooms In meeting, members of the OECD Development Communication Network shared experiences and explored new ways to communicate results.

THE BENEFITS & RISKS OF COMMUNICATING RESULTS

There are three big reasons for development organisations to communicate about their results.

  1. Accountability. Taxpayers, parliaments, citizens and partners expect to know how organisations are allocating their funds and whether their work is making a difference.
  2. Action. To improve their work, organisations need to learn from past performance. Sharing results information publicly also helps external audiences learn and improve their work.
  3. Attitudes. Showing that development cooperation works – and that organisations take their results seriously – can help build public support and trust.

Yet, transparency also brings risks and challenges.

  1. Taking credit. It may be easy to measure inputs like money spent, but it is much harder to measure the impact of specific interventions. Organisations also need to be careful about taking too much credit when results have come from a broader team effort.
  2. Bearing bad news. Not all projects succeed, and the media craves stories about failure. Development organisations need strategies to anticipate and deal with bad publicity.
  3. Waking the bear. Even successful projects can provoke negative publicity when they don’t seem worthwhile. Read what happened when this UK project for sustainable livelihoods was picked by the media, perhaps because it was presented as a project for coconuts.

TRENDS & IDEAS IN COMMUNICATING RESULTS

Communicating about results is an obligation, and the above risks and challenges show that it needs to be done well. Results information needs to be not only accurate and relevant, but also accessible and engaging. This is an investment: an interactive digital platform with pictures will be more costly and difficult to produce than a 400-page report full of tables.

In our discussion, participants shared their latest experiences and ideas, beginning with short presentations from:

Based on these presentations and the ensuing exchange, here are 5 ways to innovate in communicating about results.

  1. Combine data with relatable testimonies. For many important audiences, data reports are not very engaging. They need to hear relatable stories about what was (or wasn’t) achieved, and about lessons learned from the experience. These stories work best when delivered by authoritative and warm messengers that audiences trust and find relatable. Sometimes, it is also worth surprising audiences: development work can be about tech and entrepreneurship, not only education and health.
  2. Nurture new data consumers. Data is often seen an “experts-only” domain. To engage important new audiences like journalists and civil society, organisations can offer them active support, encouragement and training on how to interpret and communicate data. Organisations also need to seek out their audiences, rather than expecting audiences to come to them.
  3. Diversify reporting formats. One 400-page results report in pdf format is not enough. Organisations need to produce diverse content for diverse audiences. Sharable videos, data visualisations, interactive microsites and colourful magazines – the digital options are endless!
  4. Befriend the data producers. It is crucial to keep the producers of data on board. This means making it easy for them to update data platforms, and providing them with simple tools to communicate data themselves. It also means showing them how good results communication can be in their own interests and help achieve organisational goals.
  5. Be real-time and flexible. Data need no longer be communicated once a year. Organisations can become more demand-driven by bringing pertinent results information evidence into the news cycle or ongoing policy debates. With the right privacy safeguards, they can also monitor how and by whom their content is used, which can generate ideas on making content more useful.

NEXT STEPS: SHARING EXAMPLES OF RESULTS COMMUNICATION

Several DevCom members and partners shared links to their own efforts to communicate results:

The Project Browser by Global Affairs Canada allows users to search for projects by geographical region or project sector.

Please share your own links with the DevCom Secretariat: Dev.Com@oecd.org. And check out the following related initiatives:

  • For recommendations, trends and inspiration in communicating development, please browse the new DevCom Toolkit.
  • To learn how development organisations measure and manage for results, please visit the website of our sister network, the Results Community.
  • The Development Gateway builds systems, dashboards and tools to create more effective, open, and engaging institutions
  • The OECD-hosted Paris21 promotes the better use and production of statistics.

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