Director at CONCORD Europe
Imagine you are in the Titanic … and the Titanic is sinking… slowly but surely at first…. then faster and faster…. And you are busy telling people to come and join you on the boat…! Will they join?? This was a powerful (if slightly exaggerated) analogy used at our recent “Learning and Exchange Forum” in Zagreb, to help us understand that; the language we use matters. It matters whether we are communications experts or fund-raisers, whether advocates or brand managers. And whether we are communicating with the public or with policy-makers, if we are doomsayers, focusing on how badly the world is doing, people won’t feel inspired to join us or to stand behind our causes.
This was one of the key messages I took away from our fascinating two-day workshop focusing on integrating communication and advocacy for greater impact. While we were not for a moment suggesting that we should say everything is going great, when it may not be, the key is to identify how to change things and what role we – or others – can play in making those changes happen. And underpinning that, is the need to focus on systemic change so that we can make sure we don’t just change things for a few individuals who happen to be part of one of our programs, but for whole communities and generations to come. This of course goes to the heart of what we as ‘development actors’ are trying to achieve: how to influence the assumptions, beliefs and values that people hold which underpin the current system(s) in order to move towards a different system in which each individual is valued, the planet is respected and equality is the name of the game?
But, back to Zagreb. The workshop enabled us to review key campaigns and messaging that have been used in our sector and by human rights movements and to see how, practically, we could have greater impact through the words we use. For example, instead of using fear to motivate people (or, on the contrary, to de-motivate them), we should use hope; instead of threats, identify opportunities to improve things; instead of problems – solutions; and instead of focusing on the suffering of people and victimising them, relate to them as agents of change.
Lastly, and very practically, another key message that I took away was; the need to integrate communications into all our advocacy from the start – not as a last-minute add-on or after-thought. It’s a question of breaking down the silo’s and ensuring we liaise with each other from the beginning of any project or piece of work. Easy to say, perhaps, but, as we all recognised in the workshop, in the end the result is greater and time is saved.
The Learning and Exchange Forum intends to contribute to a peer learning culture within CONCORD, with a focus on innovating together, using external contributions, in order to find inspiration for our future work. As Mousumi Saika, from one of our member organisations, Islamic Relief, so aptly said, “knowledge is power; information is liberating; learning is the premise of progress in every society”. CONCORD will continue to convene its members and offer a space so that we can learn together over the coming years on a wide variety of topics. A super big thank you to our Croatian National Platform, CROSOL for all their help in organising the logistics of this meeting! To the Membership, Outreach and Communications Team in the Secretariat for making this happen. And to all our members who participated – thank you for sharing great examples and being willing to be part of the learning experience and to think differently!