Communications is a strategic function directly supporting the RI activities and achieving its goals. RI leadership should understand its strategic nature and dedicate proper resources to support the function.
Communication is definitely a fundamental aspect in RI’s activities. In general, communication activities of environmental RI aim at informing different target groups and/or getting them involved in the RI’s activities (eg. using/providing data or participating in the events, gathering their feedback, etc.). There are several means to facilitate the internal and external communication of an environmental RI. Meetings and virtual communication tools, newsletters, websites, social media etc. are the common tools used for communication among RIs and projects supporting the RIs like COOP+. To guarantee good and long-term communication, RI needs to map out the resources it has (the number and competence of the available staff) and concentrate on those activities it has the recourses. For example, it doesn’t give a good impression of the RI if it’s monthly released newsletter suddenly start to be released not regularly, social media account stops being active, weekly news stop appearing to website.
Difference between communication and dissemination. Communication is always two (or multi-) way activity - i.e. there is feedback involved the process. Dissemination is instead meant as one-way activity, where the information consumer is considered passive for the process. Typically both are used, and communication tools are used also for feedback purposes in connection with dissemination.
COOP+ communication: in the COOP+ project, at internal level, the RIs that are part of the consortium, as well as the project institutional partners, constitute one target audience, and communication activities involving them aimed at facilitating and promoting the feedback and cooperation among them. On the other hand, communication beyond project participants played a key role in the success of the project and that’s why external RIs received special attention during the project. Moreover, the scientific community, SMEs as well as the general public have also been the target audience of external communication activities of the COOP+ project.
Regarding external communication, COOP+ website was the main digital platform, but Twitter social network was also used to inform about "just happening" activities. Finally, the scientific community was specially addressed by participating in several scientific fora and promoting the publication of project results in the form of scientific publications.
The amount and ways how RI disseminates/communicates needs to be in balance with the amount of available working hours and competence. It might not be vice idea to try to do everything and reach as many stakeholders as possible, as sometimes less is more. Both in methods and target audiences. Planning of the dissemination and exploitation of an RI might be a good start. It can include determining the RI’s visual identity, mapping the stakeholders, and making/updating an outreach and dissemination/communication plan. As important as it is to map the stakeholders and make a dissemination/communication plan and strategy, it is to measure the efficiency and actively follow up the dissemination/communication activities.
Some of the interviewed RI’s have a communication team with each member having their special skills and specified roles. Others might only have one person working partly in the communication activities. The competences and background of the RI’s communication officers varies from a scientist who is interested on communication, but doesn’t have any communication education nor background to professional communicator with no background in science. This just shows that depending on the RI and its structure, the skill requirements of its communication officer(s) differ. Some RIs are using external companies for technical support and graphical design.
Few examples of competences that communication officer should have based on RIs communication officers:
- Understanding of stakeholders (decision makers, industry, citizen, data users, researchers etc)
- Understanding of the different working environments and time scales of RI’s stakeholders/target audiences (Universities, Governmental bodies, general public),
- Education or at least experiences on communication
- Scientific background can be useful or even necessary
- IT/coding skills (updating website, making interfaces/portals)
- Capability to understand complex science and turn it into simple message that can be sold to general public and decisions makers.
- Personal skills:
- Open mind
- Eager to learn more
- Be oneself on face-to-face contacts
- Friendly and flexible
Examples for RIs communication staff
TERN: Used to have three communication officers, but currently only one titled as communications and engagement manager. He is a scientist without any communication education or training. All the tree officers that they have had, have been excellent science communicators, and their strong science background mixed with excellent communications skills maked them particularly effective at communicating with a range of stakeholders. - Ben Sparrow, TERN
EISCAT: Part time science officer with scientific background working approximately 1.5 day/month with RI’s communication, expect Twitter. They have another persons taking care of the Twitter account.
ICOS: Communication team of three persons, who all have background and education on communication.
Euro-Argo:They have a small ERIC with 4 employers from which one is a science officer in charge of communication. She doesn’t have a communication background but is interested on communication and planning to participate on training courses on subject. She has found the ENVRI community and its activities helpful in developing Euro-Argo’s communication .
ACTRIS: One full time employ for communication (updating website, making newsletter, flyer, brochure) and another person taking care of the twitter account
Key to succeed in outreach and communication is to find the products with most potential for each user group, and select the most promising and cost-effective communication methods (scientific publications, conferences and trade shows, workshops, webpages, newsletters, email workflows, flyers etc.) for each product/user group combination. With other words, the key to great dissemination is to communicate the right message to the right target audience at the right time through the most effective means. A well-defined plan of the dissemination, including cost-benefit estimates, prioritization and follow up plan, is a good tool for efficient dissemination. it is good to establish close and regular contacts to the target audience of the RI in order to get feedback of the quality and necessity of the communication and dissemination activities to be able develop and improve them. Follow up actions are part of the dissemination plan. Performance measuring and monitoring including well-defined Key Performance Indicators should be part of every dissemination plan.
There are several different freely available templates that can be used to make a dissemination plan. One example is the Common Dissemination Booster (CDB, https://cdbservices.eu), which is a service from the European Commission. It is free of charge and available to all, ongoing or closed, European, National, Regional funded Research & Innovation (R&I) projects (H2020, FP7 or other). The booster encourages projects to come together to identify a common portfolio of results and shows them how best to disseminate to end-users, with an eye on exploitation opportunities. It includes five services covering the path from identifying services, mapping stakeholders, and dissemination.
The CDB Service 3 is a portfolio dissemination plan (PDP) development and it is described as follows:
The aim is to identify, coordinate and converge on innovative dissemination practices of the project, based on the actions identified, enabling them to share results and data across wider geographies and variety of stakeholders.
The PDP provides the project with a market-facing communication and dissemination strategy that extends engagement with industry and public-sector stakeholders for uptake of relevant outputs, including opportunities for internationalisation. The plan lists the relevant mix of communication tools, using means and mechanisms tailored to specific stakeholders. If implemented correctly it will enable the shift from current practices to an impact-driven approach and ensure convergence on common actions to maximise uptake of complementary results within the portfolio of thematic projects.
Visual identity and Branding
Branding and creating a visual identity are important for RIs. They help RI to deliver its key messages more effectively as target audiences can instantly recognize RI and associate it to the correct content. It can confirm credibility, connects to target audiences emotionally, motivates and facilitates the building of trust among the target audience. Good to remember that bad visualisation can be on the way to understand the message.
The visual identity should contain at least a logo, a colour scheme, fonts, visual guidelines, and a graphic design. The visual identity should be applied throughout all RI communication including e.g. website, newsletters, printed materials, posters, PowerPoint slides, reports, seasonal greetings. The numeric requirements of different medias should be considered. Depending on the resources available, the visual identity can be planned in house our made in collaboration with a private company. One important aspect is to inform and guide RI members on using the branding material. This can be done providing a user manual or guidebook or organize tutorial (teleconference or session in RI’s meeting).
#ICOScapes is an example of unique branding. #ICOScapes is a photo campaign providing a visual tour d’Europe of greenhouse gas measurements (GHG) in 12 ICOS stations. The campaign aims to raise awareness on the ongoing climate change as well as to highlight the importance of reliable, integrated and standardized GHG measurements in tackling the challenges of a warming world. #ICOScapes shows breathtaking photographs of the ICOS stations, their surroundings and their research facilities and personnel, features the famous nature and wilderness. The campaign has been carried out with Finnish photographer Konsta Punkka.
During the campaign, the photographs were published regularly on the ICOS social media channels (Instagram, YouTube and Twitter) as well as on dedicated #ICOScpapes webpage following Konsta’s journey around Europe. The campaign reached its peak in September 2018, when an #ICOScapes Photo Exhibition was presented at the 3rd ICOS Science Conference on greenhouse gases and biochemical cycles in Prague, Czech Republic. From Prague, the exhibition began its travel through the 12 participating ICOS member countries. The #ICOScapes has created a strong visual identity for ICOS and the outcomes (photographs and videos) are actively used in all ICOS materials (flyers, website, roll ups, newsletter, social media, reports etc.) and in presentations, booths and conferences. Even though the campaign required extensive resources, ICOS values it. The increase of awareness and interest of general public, decision makers and scientific communities towards GHG and ICOS due to #ICOScapes has been notable. For example, the amount of ICOS Instagram followers grew exceedingly during #ICOScape partly due to Punkkas over 1 million followers.
The #ICOScapes can be followed on Instagram @icosri, ICOS YouTube channel, and on Twitter @ICOS_RI with the campaign hashtag #ICOScapes, and online on #ICOScapes campaign webpage.
Examples of the #ICOScapes photographs. Photos by Konsta Punkka, copyright ICOS