Actually the formal title was ‘Maximising outcomes with minimum resources for development communications’ – but that is what it means!

I have just returned from a fascinating workshop organised by the OECD/DAC development communications group, held in Haifa (and what a piece of interesting timing that was!)

The organisers of the OECD DevCom workshop

Steffen Beitz, DevCom coordinator and Ilan Fluss, Director of Policy Planning & External Relations, Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Many of the participants were from the newer members of the OECD, whose development communications programmes were in the very early stages. All had something interesting to say – case studies were presented from: Poland, Spain, Slovakia, Estonia, Slovenia and the Czech Republic. What struck me overwhelmingly was the ingenious way that departments dealing with development co-operation in countries who had in several cases only recently become donors, and may have had only 2-3 people working on communications, manage to commission and carry out audience research, and run a wide programme of events, online activities and interaction. Each country experience gave me something to think about and possible follow up, from the Development days (or was it a week?!) held in Slovenia, to the interesting partnerships Spain have set up with public sector broadcasters. In an echo of the current UK focus on data and aid transparency, it was interesting to hear about Estonian development co-operation, who have made information about their  projects available on the web

It was also heartening to hear the results of audience research even in times of economic recession, which showed public support for development – there was a real feeling of pride that their country was in a position to give something back and play a part in the international community.

There were 3 presentations from invited experts: an academic, a representative of the private sector, and a social media specialist. Professor Sondra Rubenstein of the University of Haifa gave an interesting introduction which covered how fashions and trends have evolved in communications. She also spoke on the second day about the importance of understanding your audience, and presented 2 interesting case studies from Bangladesh: Meena – a cartoon character who was developed to confront discrimination against girls, and she has become a household name not only in Bangladesh, but also India, Nepal and beyond;  and Moni, a symbol of a small child, which has become recognized across Bangladesh, and has helped raise awareness of the need to immunize children.

Yossi Koren, VP corporate communications at TEVA pharmaceutical industries gave an energetic presentation of his “what’s next” strategy. He talked about understanding the ‘megatrends’ – what is next in communications. He talked about how to empower special/specific groups of people, and raised the question of identity – how to create prinde in an organisation or issue. He presented an interesting example which was equally valid in the private as public sector, of how organisation, context and client/audience,  can be used together with culture, bahaviour and communication activity to come up with specific values that each can agree on. I’ll have to study his presentation to work out more specifically how his examples could be used in a development communications context, but to a UK government communicator, it had a lot of similarities with the GCN Engage approach.

Finally Paula Stern gave a whistle stop overview of the opportunities offered by social media – highlighting some of the tools which can help to navigate and cope with what can often seem to newcomers like a tidal wave of information.

I spoke about DFID’s digital media strategy with its elements: inform, engage, enthuse and innovate – what we are doing to implements it and how we measure the results. I’m happy to share this with any communicators facing the same challenges.

Then, using the example of Haiti, I spoke about how we were able to use all the social media channels we had been building up to communicate our response to the disaster. Being able to react quickly, with unique and powerful content from people actually there was valuable.

UKaid being delivered in Haiti

One of the photos sent back by a colleague who accompanied DFID's humanitarian response team.

It brought our work to the attention of many new people, however the challenge now is to hold their interest. We need to continue to work on new ways to get people involved in discussion of development issues, in particular targeted communication with people who have expressed interest in a particular subject.

My session was followed by a practical workshop, where participants were challenged to come up with a digital communications strategy on one of the following themes: publicising a cause, an organisation, or an event. Despite many of the participants speaking in perhaps their second or third language, and few having any real experience with digital communications, there was lively discussion which ran well over the time allotted. A practical and fun way to bring together all the elements that had been portrayed and discussed over both days.

My place at the table

Its the little touches that count!