Crossing the Communication Chasm

Communication and evaluation are everyday activities. We evaluate what the weather is like, how our day went, if our work presentation was effective, and we share that information with others in our life. But when the stakes get higher and we add more data into the mix like when we’re working on an evaluation project, sometimes our communication gets a little wonky.

Sometimes we forget about the many factors to consider like:

  • Who is the audience?
  • What is the purpose?
  • What is the best format (one pager, dashboard, brief)?
  • What is the key message?
  • What language resonates with our stakeholders?
  • Why are we disseminating this information?
  • What technology best meets our needs/does our audience use?
  • Are there any politics (within the organization, community, or nationally) to be aware of around the findings?
  • What resources do we have to dedicate to dissemination?

When thinking about all these factors one point remains central – context is key. Readers will only see what you present. Often this is just the tip of the iceberg so help them understand anything below the surface that might be important.

Don’t assume that you’ve communicated your message well because the information has been disseminated. You may have created a beautiful, well-formatted deliverable. But pretty does not mean effective. Repeat after me: Pretty does not mean effective! To be utilized, the deliverable must meet the needs of the stakeholders. You have to talk in their language, use technology they’re familiar with, and present the findings in a way that speaks to them. Tell me why I should care about the results – paint the picture for me, don’t make me connect the dots. Misrepresentation and miscommunication are likely to occur when people are left to read between the lines.

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Another way to connect the dots and streamline communication is by engaging stakeholders from the beginning. Think about using this three-step process: listen, design, refine. I recently created a dashboard and having the input of the stakeholders from the beginning to determine the most important metrics and the format was critical. Doing so reduced the number of revisions throughout the process, increased community buy-in, and established a culture of data-driven decision-making from the beginning.

So what does this all mean? Communication is the foundation of evaluation and good communication is imperative for evaluation utilization. So start conversations about disseminating findings early and have them often. And remember to tailor the deliverable to the stakeholder. Good luck and happy reporting!

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