Effective policy influence with a four-point plan

IIED's Communications Learning Week provided director of communications Liz Carlile with four key points to remember when trying to communicate to influence policy.

Liz Carlile's picture
Insight by 
Liz Carlile
20 May 2015
Participants in IIED's 2015 Communications Learning Week join in a session on audience mapping (Photo: Kate Wilson/IIED)

Participants in IIED's 2015 Communications Learning Week join in a session on audience mapping (Photo: Kate Wilson/IIED)

I rarely see my colleague Ced Hesse. He and many other of our researchers in IIED spend most of their time working in country with our partners. 

This 'coal face' experience, gained over many years, is invaluable and provides real practical insights into how we need to communicate if we want to have an impact on policy. This blog identifies Ced's four key things to remember if you want to exercise significant influencing power.

In one of the sessions in our 2015 comms learning week (read a detailed round-up of the week via Storify) with Ced and other research colleagues last week, we reminded ourselves just what it takes to have real policy impact when you are operating in different environments.

Jane Kiiru, communications officer for the Adaptation Consortium that Ced works with in Kenya, was also with us to share her experience. They told us how they are using this four-point plan below to work in the Kenyan local context.

For many of us working in countries across the globe, the complexity of political economies based on inter-cultural and power relations at national, local and community level, means it is very hard to understand the nuances of the context in which you are working.   

  1. The first of our four things to remember is that context is key. Even if it is challenging, it is critical to understand the space in which you are working. But, importantly, we also need to recognise the limitations we have as outsiders. This brings us to the second point... 
  2. Invest in citizens – well-informed and empowered citizens can put pressure on their politicians and decision-makers. It is not rocket science but prioritising support for citizens, to help identify issues and concerns and then to improve awareness through communications strategies, makes a huge difference.

    Choosing how to share information in the most appropriate ways can be a challenge. Our colleague Francis Musinguzi, specialised program officer at Kaborole Research and Resource Centre (KRC) in Uganda, shared with us the ways in which they have used fictional characters to help farmers see the potential influence they can have.
  3. A wide communications programme is essential to support citizen empowerment linked to policy change. Our comms learning week colleagues endorsed the view that media – particularly radio – is the major tool for reaching citizens, particularly in Africa.

    Print media is also powerful. Our colleague Nivedita Mani, coordinator (networking and liaison) at Gorakhpur Environmental Action Group in India (where there is a plethora of different media houses), has had considerable success in mobilising citizens. Masroora Haque, communications coordinator at the International Centre for Climate Change and development (ICCCAD) in Bangladesh, has recently been invited to contribute a two-weekly supplement in the new Dhaka Tribune and is evaluating its impact.

    We know that workshops remain one of the sharper tools in the policy influence toolbox. What was good to hear from our partner Aniessa Delima Sari, programme manager at Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN), from Indonesia, is the appetite and need to engage policy-makers in different ways. She has found that games yield better results for engagement and memory. We should take courage and learn from this experience.
  4. The fourth dimension is to recognise that publications play quite a small part – although small does not mean insignificant or unimportant. A short targeted output still provides the vehicle for the evidence and credibility, but we need to make sure we understand the relevance of the different channels we use to share information and we need to be resolute in making effective choices.  

Liz Carlile, seventh left in the back row, with the participants of IIED's Communications Learning Week (Photo: Vish Patel/IIED)

Our sector could do a lot more with less, particularly now we have other social media to help. We heard from colleague Maarten Akkerman, a researcher at GreenID Vietnam, and Michael Stanley-Jones, programme officer (communications, knowledge management and outreach) for the Poverty Environment Initiative, about examples and opportunities that social media provide for social engagement and wider marketing.

Bringing the experience of research colleagues and communications colleagues together was invaluable and demonstrated both that by sharing our combined knowledge we are more than the sum of our parts, and that refining our strategies can ensure we do more with less.

Liz Carlile ([email protected]) is IIED's director of communications.