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Integrity Insights: Fresh communications approaches that jettison development jargon

The language of the International development world is crammed full of jargon and assumed knowledge. Development actors, academics, and NGOs are all guilty of shielding themselves with the weighty power of words.

In a new blog for the Integrity Insights series, Head of Communications, Kelly Shephard explains why the need to adopt a narrative approach to communications – shaping and sharing our work and processes – is vitally important if we are to have impact on the ground.

Communications commitments

Earlier this year when I joined Integrity as the new Head of Communications, I made three communications commitments – to make our work more relevant by building and strengthening our networks; to personalise our purposes and showcase the team behind the great work that we do; and to deliver clear and accessible communications.

To stay true to these pledges calls for flexible and fresh approaches. But it also relies on clear language and well-structured narratives. This sounds simple enough but in practise it can be hard.

Over many years the development world has wrapped itself in layers of complex language. We use technical language (have you met my friend the intermediary?), clichés (have you ever visited the Global South?) and acronyms that are so long and complicated that they are instantly forgettable.

To strip away the language is to reveal the real issues and spotlight real people. Integrity’s communications commitments recognise the need to demystify the problems that we seek to address and to shine light on the methods and assumptions that we make. To do this is creative and bold.

Impact stories

At a project level this means that we choose the formats for our communications carefully – we map primary and secondary audiences and work to shape evidence so that it can be insightful and impactful.  We give equal thought to the messages and the means of delivering them. These often include short accessible impact stories and news stories, accompanied by clear dissemination activities, enabling us to connect and identify lessons in the way we learn and the ways that we work.

At an organisation level, clear communications become even harder. Not only are there layers of development jargon to battle with but there are also structural issues. Put on the spot, how do you describe what a complex, global development agency actually does? Where do you start? With the people? The geographies? The projects? The issues? The methods? There are so many facets to development work that before too long you find yourself assuming the language and surrounding yourself in strings of words that make little sense.

Coming in with a fresh perspective often helps. When Sam Godber, an animation student from the University of Gloucestershire, contacted me to ask if he could make a short film about Integrity’s work, I leapt at the chance. We worked together on a short script and Sam then created a snapshot that is light-hearted without being overly simplistic. Sure, it could be more polished. Sure, we could have made it longer and crammed in more examples of our work. We could have spent weeks and hundreds of pounds getting it just right, but sometimes less is definitely more. Explaining his approach Sam said, “I decided to get a visual idea of how I wanted to present the information in the script, making sure to illustrate it as professional yet easy to understand, like the clip art you find when you insert pictures in your Microsoft Word document”.

I am delighted with the end result and I want to thank Sam for reaching out and giving his time to work with us. I hope the resulting animation helps spark interest and starts a conversation that we can build on. Do let me know what you think.