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Help Sheet

Internal communication methods

Whether you're running a one-off campaign or are a dedicated advocacy organisation, it's vital to have internal communication structures in place.

This means communicating your thoughts, messages and ideas clearly, and providing the appropriate structures for information to be disseminated within the organisation.

There are many methods that can be used to ensure that members, staff and volunteers are kept up to date with what is happening in your organisation. This internal communication is vital if you want to ensure ongoing support. It also facilitates a more efficient workplace with a greater amount of internal collaboration.

Below are a few of the main communication methods you can use. They each have their unique features, so pick and choose the ones that suit you and your purposes best.

Campaign Coordinator

Sometimes dedicated advocacy organisations will have a 'campaign coordinator' whose main role is to communicate to the organisation what the various campaigns are doing and try to minimise doubling up. In bigger groups, this can be a full-time job.

There are great benefits to be had by having one person to oversee all campaigns, and if your operations are big enough to warrant one they generally constitute money well spent. A good campaign coordinator will easily pay for him/herself in creation of efficiency and effectiveness.

Weekly meetings

Many organisations run weekly meetings involving all staff members so that everyone knows what everyone else is up to. These meetings usually take the format of someone senior outlining the broader organisational direction, followed by everyone else telling the group what they will be up to for the rest of the week. This way everyone keeps up to date with what's happening around the office.

'My Week' email

Similar to the weekly meetings is a 'my week' email. This works by everyone in the office sending around an email with 'my week' or something similar in the subject heading.

The email explains what key tasks you have for the week (it's often a good idea to add in any meetings you have so that people know when you'll be out of the office, and for how long).

This option is particularly favoured when weekly meetings are physically harder to do for geographic, time-related or other reasons.

Phone hook ups

If your organisation is spread across the country a periodic phone link-up can be a good way of keeping everyone informed (and it's a lot cheaper than meeting face-to-face).

Most phone companies offer a virtual meeting option; contact your phone provider for more details.

Email groups/discussion lists

Increasingly, community groups are using email groups. The idea is quite simple. If you send an email to one central email address, everyone on the email group list will receive a copy of the email. This can be a good way to have a discussion that is both open to all involved and easily recorded.

There are quite a few free email groups you can hook into. Both Yahoo and Google offer free email group services and, with a bit of technical know-how, Mailman can be installed on your web server and hosted internally.

Wikis

Wiki stands for "what I know is". Wiki is also the first Hawaiian word meaning "quick" or "fast". In essence, a wiki is a web page that anyone can easily edit using a web browser.

The various "wiki pages" are all hyperlinked to create a web of information that can be collectively edited.

The best known and biggest wiki is Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org).

Wikis are being used more and more frequently by advocacy groups to develop any number of things from policies to training manuals. They act as a working document that is continually refined by this group editing process.

Conveniently, all changes can be tracked, and people can leave notes explaining why a particular change has been made.

Popular wiki software packages include Media Wiki (www.mediawiki.org), which is used by Wikipedia, and Tikiwiki (http://tikiwiki.org/), which probably has the most comprehensive list of features but is less aesthetically pleasing.

Etiquette

Advocacy is usually a hard slog. There will always be conflicting ideologies, tactics, and egos, all mixed in with a healthy dose of attachment to an issue. More often than not this passion is inspiring. However, sometimes campaigns collapse because of the friction these things can create.

Be polite and try to treat everyone with respect in order to keep harmony and remain effective. As they say in football, play the ball, not the (wo)man.

It's important to be aware that different communication methods have different nuances. For example, it's estimated that 80% of emails are read with a different tone to the one the writer intended. What was intended to be humourous can be read as offensive; what was intended to be brief can be read as curt or dismissive; what was intended to be informative can be read as hectoring.

Some people develop strict guidelines for mailing lists and monitor them heavily, deleting any comments that contravene the guidelines. Others just let people sort things out individually and hope that readers have a thick skin. It's a fine balance, and you certainly don't want to stop the flow of ideas. Do keep the possible risks in mind, and if necessary step in to avoid a potential disaster before everything explodes and all is lost.

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