People are exposed to environmental information, as they are to other issues, through a vast range of communication channels. It is therefore important to choose channels based on the audience’s favoured way of accessing information. Your communication goal should align with the desired changes recorded as part of the impact strategy (see Module 3) (e.g., to change people’s attitude towards an environmentally-related problem, to communicate your key findings to a narrow circle, such as politicians and ministries). Remember that communication is not only about information, but also about meaning. Meaning is actively constructed, not passively extracted from books or other sources provided by a sender. Keeping this in mind will assist in choosing outlets because the channels will be tailored to reach the target groups in large or narrow circles.
When selecting an appropriate channel consider its effectiveness and efficiency.
Communication effectiveness means that your message is:
- Received by the target audiences
- Interpreted by recipients as intended by senders
- Remembered over a sufficient period of time
- Triggered an appropriate action
Effectiveness = Impact achieved / The cost of producing message
Communication efficiency of a channel means that the maximum number of recipients has been reached per unit cost
Efficiency = Number of recipients reached / The cost of producing message
In each case, the communication must be tailored to the target audience. In countries like Norway, which has the highest number of daily newspapers per capita, people read newspapers extensively. In other places, like Uzbekistan, they are more avid radio listeners. Age, social status and level of education all play roles.
Information may reach its target audience directly: people buy books in a bookstore, borrow at a library, receive a briefing note in the mail, or download a map from the Internet. In other cases, information reaches its audience through media channels. The environmental information rarely is trivial. It is very complex: those who receive briefing notes might also be exposed to newspaper headlines, but they may not have a time to download a map.
Information received from different sources on the same issue may be conflicting or highlight different angles of the problem, requiring active construction of meaning by the audience.
Even though the most effective and powerful communication channels are newspapers, radio and television, this should not limit you from trying to attract people’s attention through additional communications channels. There are many direct channels, like information centres open for the public, e.g., ENFO in Ireland (www.enfo.ie), which provides public access to wide-ranging and authoritative information; environmental bookstores and ordinary bookstores, online bookstores (like www.earthprint.com), libraries, and the Internet. Be innovative in your tactics, and utilize community fora, theatre, music, dialogues or meetings as alternative means.
Each channel has its strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, it is advisable to use a combination of channels, choosing some that offset weaknesses of others.
Consider the messenger and the timing of the message (link to issue cycles, as discussed in more detail in Module 3). These are both important and affect the effectiveness of the communication. For example, an op-ed (opinion or commentary article in a newspaper) by someone not associated with the assessment but referring to it can add significant credibility.
Be aware that language and cultural differences can affect your choice of channels. Choosing only a few main channels might prevent you from reaching as broad an audience as you might wish. In countries with several official languages, this is crucial to keep in mind.
If you want to reach large target audiences, repetition and continuation of messages in different channels is crucial. Promotion campaigns are an efficient approach to raising awareness. You may use a range of methods over a longer period to get your message across, including media campaigns, information leaflets and posters.
Remember that information produced but not disseminated will remain unknown and lose its significance.
It is very important at this stage of the project to start developing a well-structured dissemination plan for your various products. The table below provides guidelines for dissemination activities planned throughout the project. It indicates purpose, target audience, timing, media used for dissemination and follow-up with target audience and actions to be taken.
Table 3: A possible outline to disseminate IEA products
|Launch of the
outreach to the
of the report to
|To inform them
content of the
report, so that
the report can
be used in
Case Study – Dedicated environmental information centres
Dedicated environmental information centres were established in many countries in Europe and Central Asia under the Convention on Access to Information, Public Participation in Decision making and Access to Justice in Environmental Matters (Aarhus Convention ). If equipped with the necessary means, they provide access to environmental information for the public. They initiate debates through round tables and meetings, especially among NGOs.
See Exercise 7.2.5 ab