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Engage Users in Communications Work

Engage Users in Communications Work

Project users and other participants can be instrumental in shaping, extending, and, in some cases, leading communication efforts.

You may find that your intended users have more to say about communication strategies than about technical research products. Here are some ideas for when and how to collaborate with users on communication activities.


  Tip: Work with intended users to refine your messaging

Early in your project, invite feedback on the way you are explaining a project by, for example, inviting users to review a simple project overview document. You might find that the words and concepts that resonated with project funders need to be modified to better engage local audiences.

Encourage everyone on your team to use consistent, approachable words and messages when explaining the project, even during small team meetings. This will improve your communication with users and stakeholders down the road.

If your project might generate controversial findings, begin discussing that possibility early in the project. It is important to focus attention on areas where wording could unintentionally convey disrespectful, unjust, or exclusionary messages. It can also take time for users to understand findings that contradict common understanding or current program assumptions, and your user advisors can help you develop appropriate messaging for new findings.

Intended users should review draft products at key moments throughout the project and offer ideas for improving their presentation and utility. These individuals likely have a good sense of what might resonate with other key audiences. They can help identify potentially problematic wording, or areas that do not sufficiently acknowledge diversity, equity, justice, inclusivity, or accessibility concerns.


Project example: Evaluating the cost effectiveness of restoration

A project team working with Weeks Bay Reserve studied the effectiveness of constructing breakwaters and planting native vegetation to reduce shoreline erosion. Knowing that their results could indicate that some recent investments in restoration were not cost effective, they began talking about potential results early in the project. As a result, the project's management advisory team was prepared to help the team message and share the findings when the results were available for sharing. Visit the project page.


Project example: Building future partnerships while improving your research

Sharing your work — even before the final results are analyzed — can lead to many unanticipated benefits, as the Bringing Wetlands to Market project team observed. See case study | project webpage.

In most cases, your project's users, and potentially their networks, are the main audience for collaborative science projects. This means that conversations with intended users can help you better understand your audience.

As you begin working together, note the information that will assist in your communication efforts. For example:

  • Notice the language and concepts that resonate with your users and how they talk about the management issue and need.
  • Ask questions to help you understand why intended users are interested and motivated to participate in your project, and to properly acknowledge land, customs, culture, and history.
  • Invite users to explain the policy and management context and how different organizations could make use of the project's products.
  • Make a note of preferred communication channels, newsletters, groups, and task forces that could be used to share project findings.


Project example: Leveling the communications playing field

Using language that resonates with stakeholders is critical to an effective exchange of information. A team at the Weeks Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve investigated and adopted the language preferences of their stakeholders in project-related communication. See: case study | project webpage | Language of Conservation Memo.


“...having an anchor point to end on is quite valuable, so that we all have the correct information and we're all saying the same thing.”

Hear more from a nonprofit program director »


“...chain reactions of information [being shared]… became a huge awareness thing... It’s getting enculturated.”

Hear more from a conservation district manager »

Take inventory of the communications resources and activities within your team and user groups that could be put to use for your project. Are there graphics or video specialists in the groups who could help develop certain products? Do their organizations already communicate regularly with your priority audiences? Do they have communications products or other resources that could be adapted to fit your project's needs?

Intended users and other project partners can be valuable champions for the project and can spread results to additional potential users. Consider ways to support and facilitate their communication efforts, such as providing a project-branded slide deck template with overview slides and talking points, and content for newsletters and social media.

In addition to project partners and intended users, project sponsors are likely to have the interest and capacity to support and magnify your communication efforts. For example, the Science Collaborative hosts a monthly webinar series, provides graphic support to project teams, maintains a web page for all the projects the program supports, and regularly shares project stories through an electronic newsletter with a large distribution list.


Project example: Tools can extend a project's reach

One project team developed a set of outreach resources that made it easier for the project advisory group to share information with their networks. For example, the team provided language and photos that could readily be added to a newsletter or social media feed, and they created a slide deck that could be modified and used to extend the project's reach. Explore the Credit for Going Green Outreach Toolkit, or visit the project page.