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Communications and stakeholder engagement strategies

A key element of sustaining and embedding any innovation project is to communicate with stakeholders effectively and to engage them as early on as possible with the project. It is worth spending time on developing a communications and stakeholder engagement strategy and plan to enable the project team to:

Better understand the needs and concerns of different stakeholders.
Different stakeholders will have different needs and concerns – for instance, practitioners are more likely to want to know why they should adopt and prioritise your project (as opposed to other innovations), if there is good evidence to support its pedagogical value, how it will benefit them/their students and the degree of support that they can expect, whilst heads of faculties/schools/departments maybe more likely to be concerned with resourcing, budgets and how to integrate innovations into their policies/plans.

Develop a shared understanding of what they want to achieve by communicating and engaging with each stakeholder group.
Too often, projects are concerned with purely producing the project outputs that they specified in the project plan. However, these outputs will be meaningless unless they are adopted by stakeholders – in the short, medium and long term. It is therefore worthwhile identifying what they want to achieve for each stakeholder group and ensuring these outputs are usable. For example, defining how many academics/teaching staff will make an informed choice as to whether they wish to adopt the innovation or establishing whether or not the innovation has been integrated into institutional or faculty/school/departmental strategies, processes, services and systems. It must, however, be recognised that projects may have to carefully balance the articulated needs from different stakeholder groups.

Collaboratively develop a common set of key messages to communicate to different stakeholders as well as a plan to use both traditional and new media communications techniques.
It is not uncommon to find different project team members giving out totally different key messages about the project. A collaborative exercise to develop key common messages about the innovations project will help to provide a more coherent approach to engaging with different stakeholders. Having stated that the development of “shared messages” is important, the emphasis on communications must be on interaction, dialogue and engagement – bearing in mind that the word “dissemination” has a rather one-way feeling about it!

The diagram below illustrates a suggested approach to developing a communications and stakeholder strategy and plan.

Communications plans should aim to convey simple messages based on the WHY – WHAT – WHEN – WHO – HOW principles e.g.

WHY:

      Why should academic/teaching staff change their teaching and learning practices?

WHAT:

      What should academic/teaching staff change in their teaching and learning practices?

WHEN:

      When best to make changes e.g. at curriculum review time?

WHO:

      Who needs to be involved in the change?

HOW:

    How to make the changes e.g. is it a DIY approach and what support is available?

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