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Strategy to Plan

The development of a successful communication plan depends on a strategic approach to ensure the right stakeholders are being reached and goals are being met. Once the vision/mission/goals for a communication effort are identified, the next steps are to carry out a situational analysis to understand the current situation and undertake a stakeholder mapping exercise. Then it is time to develop an implementation plan, which explains how to perform the tasks proposed.

A key component of the communication plan sets out the tasks to be done, their timelines, and who is responsible for them. Failure to develop an adequate tasks and timelines schedule can lead to confusion, missed deadlines, misunderstandings and tension. Ultimately, it can result in a failure to achieve the required objectives. This damages the credibility and reputation of your organization and project.

Some key considerations for developing a strategic communication plan include:

  • Designate one person to oversee the entire effort and act as project manager.
  • Develop a step-by-step timeline to keep your programme, staff and any external partners on schedule.
  • Build in a reasonable review time for all the documents, etc. that need developed and the activities that need to be planned and arranged.
  • Ask your staff and external partners to review the timeline to ensure that they can carry out their responsibilities in the proposed timeframe.
  • Consider software packages like Microsoft Project for planning large projects with lots of tasks and deadlines.
  • Consider developing a simple flowchart outlining roles and responsibilities. This provides all stakeholders with a better understanding of the steps involved with the distribution of all communication activities on the project.

Build in a regular evaluation component to check on how things are working, and be prepared to adjust it if needed.

Media Monitoring

Depending on the organization’s size, the reach of communication efforts determines if professional media monitoring is needed to track results. But despite good or bad coverage, it needs to be monitored.

Not only is this important to determine the effectiveness of communication strategies, but an error or misunderstanding may have crept into publicly provided published materials. Journalists fear being wrong in their reporting and mistakes are usually rapidly corrected if they are pointed out.

Good communication is an iterative process and resources need to be deployed to monitor the results of communication, without which it is difficult to analyze communication activities for refining and improving. There are several commercial media monitoring organisations which can provide support by monitoring multiple language versions of your material, including on the radio, TV and internet.


Analytics offer communicators an important tool they can employ to better understand the impact of their outreach. News media and some international organisations are embracing the analysis of audience data and metrics to help them better meet their communication goals. The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford offers a review of the use of analytics by news gathering organizations:

“Leading digital news organizations are developing distinct forms of editorial analytics tailored to help them pursue their particular goals. These forms of editorial analytics differ from more rudimentary and generic approaches in: 

  • being aligned with the editorial priorities and organisational imperatives (whether commercial, non-profit, or public service) of specific news organizations,
  • informing both short term day-to-day decisions and longer term strategic development, and
  • continually evolving to keep pace with a changing media environment.”


Evaluation measures success (or other results) of communication activities. It does not mean stakeholders are necessarily convinced of the validity of the argument, but rather that the implementation plan has been followed.

Often, only time will tell whether the implementation plan has led to a successful outcome. But evaluation of the impact of a communication and involvement process does contribute to fulfilling the duty of accountability to participants contained within the Aarhus Convention.

For a staged communication programme, measure results over time, as this has the benefit of allowing for corrective action if activities are not achieving the desired results. Look at different milestones previously identified in the implementation plan and consider which are suitable points to measure from. If possible, set a benchmark to measure against. A much more compelling case of success can often be made by showing a before/after comparison. That means, of course, also measuring at the end of the initiative to see whether the objectives are accomplished, in so far as that is possible.

The metrics for evaluation depend on the situation. If the communication efforts are related to a specific facility, local stakeholders are especially important. If it involves a national siting effort for a new facility, they are different, and it may need to be broken down in terms of different audiences, relative to their importance to the project.

Things to evaluate can include:

  • What went well? What was not so successful?
    • Identify obstacles and make plans about how to cope with them
  • Levels of participation and meeting attendance
    • Did you attract all relevant stakeholders?
    • If not, were useful lessons learnt?
  • Comments received; letters; emails etc.
    • How did people react?
    • Evaluate feedback
  • Changes in stakeholder views or perceptions
    • Can it be quantified in terms of support for the project?
    • Has deliberative polling been carried out to support this?
  • Level of media coverage (positive and negative)
    • Can local and national coverage be differentiated, if necessary?
  • Cost effectiveness
    • Do the cost estimates prove realistic?
    • Is additional budget needed?
  • What improvements are possible for subsequent activities or communication campaigns?

It is also useful to undertake interim evaluation and assessment after each individual communication activity, especially meetings, workshops and similar events. This can be done with questionnaires for participants and debriefing members of the communication team.

Evaluation for individual events/activities

This is an example of a template that could be used for the record of an individual event and for evaluation of the communication activities:

An invitation letter as well as a list of the invited participants and the event agenda should also be included together with the evaluation form.

Annual programme evaluation

The annual work programme should be divided into a number of individual projects (defined here as an action which has clear Terms of Reference and limited timetable) or activities (defined here as an action which is repetitive and is carried out on an annual basis) for which reporting should be done. The following information should be provided at the end of the year:

Number___________(according to the relevant internal system):

Name ____________ (name of the project/activity)

Planned value of project/activity in year ____: _______ €

Realization in year ________: _______€

Deadline and status:________(due date/annual activity), ________(realized, not yet finished)

Who performed the work: _________(name of any contractors, in-house staff)

Results: ___________(description of main results achieved, deliverables, results not achieved, reasons)

Plans for next year: ___________(description of any continuation of activities)

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