Regionally contextualized and integrated engagement, dialoguing, knowledge sharing and communication
Part 4: The elements of a paseo approach
In this section we outline our suggested steps for ensuring an integrated paseo approach. They might happen in a different sequence as best fits your specific context. Sometimes intermediary steps are required to get towards the ultimate ideal scenario of embedded and integrated engagement, knowledge sharing and communications.
Identifying competencies and building skills. Looking at a team anew. We are moving into a new era of brokerage (complementing extension and facilitation). This is a more complex era, with more challenges. We would like to see the required competencies and skills demonstrated by a wide range of program and project members. Missing competencies should be strategically filled. Relationship building and overcoming the gap between researchers and next-users, such as policy makers or development practitioners, is not the task of one person, i.e. the Paseo (or regional communicator). (See http://www.whatishumanresource.com/competency-mapping.)
In the following section we offer some building blocks of key competencies and skill sets that should ideally be embodied by each person involved. However, people come with their strengths (and weaknesses) and we suggest a two-pronged approach: on the one hand we want people to follow Microsoft’s motto ‘Do what you are best at’ and on the other hand we want to incentivize, enable, and allow people to grow and develop skills and competencies, i.e. to challenge and stretch (often beyond their comfort zone). To build awareness and capacity, we have identified a set of skills that the Paseo can train and support others in acquiring:
- Knowing about applied impact pathways and theory of change;
- Listening skills (what is important when listening, interviewing, paraphrasing, etc.);
- Storytelling (what are key elements of a story and what makes a good story);
- Identifying your audience and main game-changers (outcome mapping, social network and stakeholder analysis, boundary partners concept, and reaching people through the most influential nodes within a network – do they exist or need to be built?); and
- Networking and engagement – 1) Creating awareness of the weaknesses and strengths of each team member and of the team as a whole. Using the boundary partners concept that you do not have to have it all but must be aware of relationships and power dynamics, 2) Employing a variety of engagement formats, and 3) Identifying and pursuing good practices.
Identifying your common goals by building an impact pathway and developing a theory of change – having a unified vision. Impact pathways must be built right from the beginning of your project or program. It is important to have a plan in place in the form of an impact pathway that clearly lays out where to go with your project activities, what outputs/ deliverables are useful for your identified next-users (partners who would be using your products) to make the necessary changes, i.e. behavioral changes or changes in practice that lead to outcomes.
Program and project planning starts with drafting impact pathways, in which teams lay out how their project will result in the necessary positive development changes. So based on this, impact pathways lay out two different types of activities: ones that lead to research products and others that ensure these products are being used and leading to changes. For the latter type of activities, regional integrated engagement, knowledge sharing and communications is essential for achieving research for development (R4D) goals. In our ideal scenario both set of activities are very much embedded and integral to every program and project team member.
Aligning your goals with regional strategies and agendas. Project and programs must recognize ongoing initiatives in a region and clarify organizational mandates and development agendas. One way of doing this could be to involve a wide variety and diversity of people in the building of your impact pathways, not in silos, but with multi-disciplinary researchers and a range of stakeholder representation (diversity in types of people, scales and sectors). This will help build a stronger theory of change based on solid assumptions. Bringing in a diversity of views and perspectives as early as possible (e.g. a the draft proposal stage) will help you build a stronger theory of change and impact pathway. Make sure that the Paseo is involved so that he/she can ensure that the paseo approach is mapped into the impact pathway and that each stakeholder’s skills are optimized to achieve maximum impact.
Linking to corporate communications. Paseos, often thought of as regionally-focused communicators, will serve a dual role. They will be actively involved in research projects and regionally-focused engagement, but they will also provide an important complementary role to corporate communications. The Paseos, with specialized knowledge of the region and research, will be able to deliver effective materials and information to corporate communications.
Recognition of this dual role for Paseos is important for changing the way in which we view communications, not just as a service for story writing but more importantly as a way in which engagement can be facilitated, partnerships strengthened, and research outputs directed towards the most appropriate actors so that outcomes and impact are not only supported but incorporated into the entire research pathway. (See http://www.redplough.com/articles/why-marketing-is-the-wrong-metaphor-for-development-communication.)
Budgetary provision. In order for the paseo approach to become deeply embedded in regional programs, strategies and projects, there must be a portion of budget set aside for each project to support the tasks, roles and responsibilities identified in part 2.
Performance evaluation. Team members should have their performance evaluated against their involvement in paseo activities, and their contributions to achieving outcomes.
Main Insights and Recommendations
- Context matters – ensure engagement, knowledge sharing, and communications activities are adapted to local conditions.
- People’s personalities matter and play a key role in the composition of a project or program team. Therefore roles and responsibilities matter and change with each team, as team members come with their different and individual strengths. It is necessary to rethink team integration (communications and science together in an ongoing conversation and joint process of working).
- The interdisciplinarity of teams that with different sectors and on different scales leads often to what we refer to as blurred boundaries; responsibilities are often not within one field but cut across or become part of several. It is necessary to accept these rather than wasting resources over-defining clear domains and responsibilities.
- Making connections - connecting people, organizations and issues and ideas is an important aspect of the process and also needs process facilitation—not just creating a product but also creating some process/dialogue.
- Grounding work in a theory of change and embedding engagement and communication activities within it is key, and defining the link to corporate communications is essential.
- A paseo approach requires a wide range of skills that include brokerage, knowledge sharing and ability to understand the needs of different audiences and what tools can be used in different contexts.
- Integration - projects and regional programs should adopt the paseo integrative approach. Where there is a designated Paseo, project and programs should take a proactive approach to ensuring that they are integrated into the team and project activities. Appropriate tools should also be integrated.
- Understanding the need to engage rather than disseminate is key. “Engage vs. disseminate“, i.e. use approaches that engage our stakeholders in the process rather than simply providing them with information.
- Value certain assumptions: ambiguity, learning from failure, complexity, multiple knowledge. Design interventions differently: more engagement, more quick-and-dirty feedback loops. Teams develop different engagement, dialoguing, communication approaches and products, the usefulness of which needs to be monitored in order to inform research and its impact on development. Recognize the need for fitted approaches - know which approach/product to use at the right time, for the right people.