Knowledge exchange: collaborative learning about communications

Communications Learning Week: communications specialists come together to discuss how best to achieve impact.

Article, 22 August 2017
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The participants of the 2015 Communications Learning Week (Photo: IIED)

The participants of the 2015 Communications Learning Week (Photo: IIED)

IIED's Communications Group brings together researchers, communicators, advocates and project managers from partner organisations for a four-day workshop to explore and share learning on tools and strategies for delivering effective communications.

Communications Learning Week has taken place four times, with the agenda evolving each time depending on the previous year's experience and on the skills and experience of the participants. 

Participants are consulted beforehand about their skills, what they would like to learn, and what they could contribute to the agenda. The emphasis is very much on a mutual learning and capacity building exercise – it is not an IIED-led training exercise.

We do daily interviews with participants to test their opinion of how things are going, we hold a formal evaluation session on the last day, and as many follow-up interviews as possible are done after six months. 

For the first time in 2017 we evaluated individual sessions via posters on which participants could add comments and lessons learnt (it worked reasonably well but not perfectly).

What have we found out?

It is absolutely essential to mould the agenda around the skills and experience of the participants. Make it too basic and you are not learning anything new. 

We realised one year that our group was more experienced than we had expected: we were not making the most of the wealth of knowledge available. In response, we set about changing the agenda to include short presentations from participants for the remaining days. Everyone gained. 

It's easy to make a day too long – or at least too packed. More time is needed for discussion and reflection, and flexibility too, to change a session if something else would be more useful.

And on a practical note, a regular change of venue helps to maintain energy levels.

At the end of each week, participants are invited to write about their experience and over the years we have published a series of blogs. In 2011, participants shared their experiences and provided valuable feedback in a series of video interviews.

Continuing the learning

Four days has never been enough. By the last day we are just beginning to get to know each other and find out more about each other's work.

In 2017 we created a WhatsApp group ahead of the week primarily to help make communication about arrangements easy, and we found this also brought participants closer together in a more informal environment. After the event we set up a private Facebook group for all Communications Learning Week alumni, with the aim of creating a space in which participants can continue to share materials, talk about their work, ask questions and learn from one another, and the WhatsApp group is also now used for these purposes.