Communicating research and engaging stakeholders are closely related but distinct aspects of effective partnership work. Communication, generally, is a matter of passing along information about the partnership’s work for the sake of transparency, educating, or increasing visibility and support. Engagement, on the other hand, is more akin to establishing and maintaining an active dialogue whereby decision makers, practitioners, or other stakeholders participate in the process and are able to both inform and be informed by the partnership’s research.
Communication and engagement are two key ingredients in efforts that directly shape the health and life of a partnership. Seeking and obtaining funding, demonstrating impact, and encouraging the use of research evidence all relate back to how a partnership positions itself through its external and internal communications, as well as how and to what extent it engages and responds to the needs and perspectives of stakeholders. Therefore, at every stage of the work, partners should consider communication and engagement opportunities and anticipate potential challenges.
Effective communication and engagement plans begin with clear and specific goals. The appropriate channel and content will be determined by the partnership’s goals and the needs of its audiences. Once you articulate what you want to happen, you can then identify who you need to reach and what they need to know. By beginning with this level of specificity, partnerships are better equipped to frame and present the information they want to get across, allocate time and resources commensurate with their goals, and ultimately pursue their communications and engagement objectives with purpose.