Communications

Just who are you talking to?

When we write a blog post, draft a leaflet, design a poster or click 'publish', it's important to think about who we're trying to reach, and what will get through to them.  This isn't just about the mechanisms, it's also about the tone of voice, the words we choose and the messages we decide to present. Sometimes we get it right, by chance or intuition.  Sometimes - especially when we're trying to reach out beyond people like us - we fall flat on our faces.

Here's some ways that you can segment your audiences, to make sure your talking gets heard.  The article was first published in the environmentalist.

Iconic, not incremental - the history of a leap forward

At an action research seminar organised by Bath University, Dr Gill Coleman shared a work-in-progress: a learning history of the iconic eco-factory built by MAS Intimates in Sri Lanka. By coincidence (if you believe in it), someone from MAS had been a student on the Post-Graduate Certificate in Sustainable Business (on which I was a tutor) so I was intrigued to listen to this detailed inside story.

I've written more (in the environmentalist) about learning histories as an 'intervention', and about the eco-factory here .

Are you sitting comfortably? Using stories

Good.  Then I'll begin. Stories are a powerful way to get your message heard.  And telling our own stories is a powerful way of helping us to make sense of our experiences.

The story you tell might, when you examine it, be unwittingly framing a situation.  Change the frame and you may see something different.

Making sense of stories and unravelling their role in building better understanding between us are just two of the themes covered in my article on stories for the environmentalist.

Read on.

Update

Here's a round up of stories about climate change, from the good people over at the Centre for Alternative Technology.

IEMA Conference 2009

I was delighted to be asked to run a skills-based session for IEMA's 2009 conference (London, September 22nd), because it's a chance to help environmental specialists get better at the soft stuff.  I'm going to be sharing three different skills which change agents really need if they want to influence other people, and I'll blog about how it went when it's done. The skills are - developing rapport, asking facilitative questions, and understanding six key sources of influence.

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Later addition:

The handouts from this session are available here, and the 'how it went' entry is here.

Sustainable tourism - whole-company training

From time to time I've been invited to work with Jane Ashton and her team at First Choice, now part of TUI Travel plc.  Jane understands the importance of enabling sustainable development to leave the safe haven of the CSR team, and spread virally through the organisation. One way that First Choice encourages this is through tailored training for people in different parts of the organisation, whether they work in retail shops, in holiday destinations, liaising with local suppliers of accommodation and activities, or in teams that dream up the new products to sell to holidaymakers.  I was delighted to be asked to work with Jane's team and the Travel Foundation to develop this training.

Once piloted by First Choice, the training courses and materials were made generic, so that any similar business in the sector could use them.  This won't just help staff become more aware of sustainable tourism, it will also help them plan together how to rethink their own businesses to make them more sustainable.

You can access those training materials here.

Feedback works!

One of the initiatives that I'm proud and privileged to be involved with is the Sciencewise Expert Resource Centre.  There's a team of Dialogue and Engagement Specialists (DESs), and we provide mentoring and advice to government and semi-government bodies which are engaging the public in discussions and deliberations on science-related topics. Sciencewise has asked its DESs for insights - key things we've learnt from experience.  This is mine.

Essentially the message is this - when you've engaged people and asked for their views, you need to let them know how your decisions and plans have changed as a result.  Or, if you haven't changed aspects that they wanted you to, let them know why not.

This is simple and perhaps obvious, but frighteningly often isn't done well at all.  Read the insight to see what happens when it is done.

Psychology to save the planet

A recent report by the American Psychological Association, featured in the New Scientist, brings together some of the evidence and theory behind the 'positive thinking' approach to communicating about climate change. It goes something like this: people will block up their ears if you tell them the scary facts and make them feel bad.  Instead, discover what already motivates them and makes them feel good, and use that knowledge to promote the new behaviours you'd like them to adopt.  You might not mention the climate change links at all.

The areas picked up the NS article are:

  • social networks
  • immediate feedback
  • competitive instincts
  • fitting in with the crowd

I'm very excited that this kind of psychological analysis is seeping into the world of technical experts and physical sciences.   How have you been using psychology to help engaging people more effectively?

And speaking personally about climate change...

There are quite a few courses on offer in the UK to help people speak in public more confidently, knowledgeably and effectively about climate change. This article which I wrote for the environmentalist examines two of them, focusing on the key points that the trainers are trying to get across.

Eco-nomics and the credit crunch

Enticing people with a money-saving message has always been part of the eco-communicator's armoury.  When the credit crunch began to hit in late 2008, I looked at how those messages were being resurrected in the UK, through make-do-and-mend to more radical voices hoping for a wholesale redesign of the economy. Read that article here. It's a pdf file.

Behave!

Changing behaviour, encouraging and enabling pro-environmental behaviours in particular, is endlessly fascinating.  There are lots of theories of behaviour change, and lots of practitioners getting out there and trying to make it happen.  And some of them even succeed from time to time!  This article - Behave - which I wrote in 2007 - covers some approaches.  There are also other models, like the six sources of influence which I came across recently. Start your exploration of that model with this great video!


The UK Government's Defra (Department of Food and Rural Affairs) has its own behaviour change models, which I wrote about here in the context of audience segmentation.  NESTA also produced a great report on the use of established social marketing techniques to sell 'low carbon' living.  My September 08 column in the environmentalist covered that.

Which approaches to behaviour change do you see being used by environmental organisations?  And which are used by multi-national FMCG organisations? (That's Fast Moving Consumer Goods to you and me.)  Clue: the behaviour FMCGs want to influence is purchasing behaviour.