Learning Area 9: Knowledge

What evidence and insights can help us do a better job?


Never before has the development community had more access to data. This abundance of information can be overwhelming. But, like policy makers and researchers, communicators need to harness the digital revolution and base their decisions on evidence. With budgets under pressure, communicators also need evidence to demonstrate that their work brings value for money.

There are three types of insights that are particularly helpful to communicators.

  • Audience insights help segment audiences and design more targeted strategies.
  • Performance insights show communicators how well they are doing, allowing them to adjust and improve strategies, and to demonstrate that communications is a worthy investment.
  • Peer insights are a valuable source of ideas and good practices and can reveal opportunities for communicators to collaborate and amplify their campaigns.

In order to collect these insights, communicators have always used diverse sources of data, including public attitudes surveys and opinion polls, focus groups and policy consultations. Today, they can also turn to social media and big data analytics. They also have access to an abundance of digital tools to help visualise and make sense of the data.

Infographic - key insights & data for development communicators


Development communicators have used data to inform their strategies since the 1970s. Here are five ways that communicators use insights today:

  1. Clarifying goals. Where do we stand in terms of public awareness, attitudes and actions for sustainable development? Where do we want to go?  
  2. Segmenting and prioritising audiences. How dodifferent socio-demographic groups engage with our work? How do different values or lifestyles link with public support? With which audience personas can we achieve the greatest impact?
  3. Tailoring strategies. Where do our target audiences get their news? Who are their influencers, and what types of content will they find most engaging?
  4. Measuring reach, uptake and engagement. How many visitors, users, or followers do we have? How do they read, like, share or comment on our content? How has our media coverage changed?
  5. Assessing impact. How has our work affected audience awareness, attitudes and behaviours? How has it contributed to the policy goals of our organisation?

To answer these questions, communicators turn to a number of sources. They use:

Some organisations also commission studies on public attitudes, providing communicators with deeper knowledge and advice. Yet, even with the best data and analytical tools, it is difficult to attribute impacts to specific communications efforts. To help manage expectations, communicators need to:

  • Define very specific goals for very specific audiences. The more specific, the easier it will be to measure, understand and demonstrate the results of communications work.
  • Gather qualitative stories on impact. When data is not available, stories about individuals changing their minds or behaviours can be instructive and powerful.
  • Explain how their work contributes to a team effort with educators, policy makers and campaigners all seeking to promote sustainable behaviours and attitudes.


  1. Find comprehensive guidance in the Barcelona Principles 3.0 and ODI’s Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation Toolkit.
  2. Learn how other countries approach communications by reading the OECD DAC Peer Reviews and Voluntary National Reviews submitted to the UN.
  3. Explore DevCom’s work on Listening Architectures for advice on public attitudes research and an overview of international surveys on sustainable development.


The UK provides guidance on monitoring and evaluating government activity for the country’s civil service, including its own Evaluation Framework 2.0 and Knowledge Hub.

Uganda and Pulselab Kampala used speech-to-text analytics on local radio content to reveal discrimination concerns and support policy response to rising inequalities.