While communication is indicated as a stage that comes once the content of the assessment has been finalized it is actually something that needs to start as early as the setup stage. A unique and powerful aspect of the global GEO process many sub-global iterations is that communication with potential audiences runs parallel with developing content. While products of the assessment are important in conveying key findings, interactions between experts and policymakers throughout the process provide many opportunities for conveying key assumptions, concerns or questions. In this sense, communication is not a ‘stage’ but an ongoing activity running parallel to the IEA.
The number and type of interactions depends on the scale of the IEA and of course the available budget, but at a minimum 2-3 meetings typically involving 25–30 participants can be used first to help with scoping then to review draft findings. Besides larger focus groups small group meetings with thematic experts can both help address more specific questions and build credibility for the assessment.
The main product of an IEA is usually a comprehensive report with a SoE, policy analysis and scenario components, among others. Besides the main report in hard copy there are possibilities for many other products that either explore some issues in more detail or that are geared towards some specific audience. As a matter of routine, IEA products should be posted on a public website or printed on a CD. Other associated products such as underlying data can be made available through interactive databases. Outputs may also need to be translated into other languages. The process of edition and publication usually takes significant time, involving design, style correction and printing, so it is important to plan for this early on in terms of time, resources and capacity.
Effective communication often requires the involvement of communication experts, taking advantage if possible of government public relations offices or if these are not available building a close relationship with the electronic and print media.
Communication issues from an impact strategy point of view are discussed in Module 3, while aspects related to creating physical products are in Module 7. Following are some tips for preparing your messages so they will be more easily understood.
Making your messages understandable to your audiences
The team producing the IEA needs to remember that the audience will not be environmental specialists or technical experts. Results of the assessment have to be easy to read, with limited use of jargon. Experiences in national IEA reports show that maps and other visual aids are very useful for communicating messages in an easy manner.
Make information relevant to your audiences
Communications is a two-way process. Before designing communication products and processes , it is important to first listen to your audiences, and understand what is relevant to them. Try to find out their level of familiarity with environmental and sustainability issues, if there are any potential misconceptions and knowledge gaps. Use this information to shape your messages so you provide them with useful information.
Shape the delivery system for the audience
Do not target people who do not have a technical background with long technical reports. Offer more detailed information to those who want it. Senior officials, such as cabinet ministers or business executives like a one or two-page synopsis. Only specialized audiences such as academics or students may have more time and interest to read the full report.
There are many communications options. The classic methods are largely oriented to print (reports, synopsis report with highlights, bulletins, articles, newsletters), or to radio and TV (interviews, pre-recorded messages). In recent years, the Internet has become a major communications tool through the posting of reports online and the use of techniques such as interactive reports and electronic bulletins by e-mail. Consider alternative communications such as cartoons for populations that can’t read or write or puppets in a theatre play. In addition to distribution to the news media, consider outreach to a wide range of interested organizations, such civil society organizations, universities, national and international agencies, schools and many others.