/writing/ Report Staging Areas

LET’S THINK ABOUT large project reports and our approach to writing them. We rarely get any more direction from a boss than “start writing the report.” Of course, writing is only one phase of a broader production process. Writing is the product of thinking, organization, and developing a conceptual understanding of how we want to... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Content Versus Format

I WAS RECENTLY talking with a friend. He was developing a communications strategy for a large-scale education project implemented on behalf of a government funder in a war-torn environment. Simple enough. He further explained that the client restricted the Strategy to two pages. Slightly more complicated. Two pages is very little space to capture the... Continue Reading →

/writing/ A Cerebral Dive

PEOPLE RESPONSIBLE FOR large volumes of writing – journalists, authors, PhD candidates to name just a few – are often cerebral by nature. Their world exists in their head, and to create something of meaning, they dig deep within. (Cerebral in this sense does not necessarily equate to intelligence. We can dig deep and still... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Three Sided Stories

AS THE ‘OL saying goes: There is always three sides to a story – side A, side B, and the truth. As I stand knee-deep in conflicting data for an annual donor / client report, there seems an appropriate applicability to the development setting: There is four sides to client reporting: M&E, communications / reporting,... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Beware: Proxy Battles

I’VE BEEN ON a recent history streak. One theme that continually intrigues me is the concept of proxy battles. In plain terms, it goes something like this: -Interest A conflicts with interest B. -Interest B is friends with interest C. -Interest A avoids direct confrontation with interest B, and instead, attacks interest C. -Interest C... Continue Reading →

/writing/ A Spacing Tip

FOR All THE brilliant development consultants working on your next report or technical handbook, a quick editing tip: There is never an appropriate situation to use the space bar for more than two consecutive spaces. The tab key does just fine, as does the ruler function. Or if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, even a borderless... Continue Reading →

/writing/ The Overlooked Email

I ONCE RECEIVED a curious email that had been sent office-wide. The subject line read “RE: Imminent security threat, see below for details.” This email, naturally, alarmed me. I read with some urgency. “It comes with great pain that I have to say goodbye to this wonderful team. I am moving on to another position.”... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Creating Shared Understandings

YOU MAKE A product. You put it out for feedback. The potential responses simplified: feedback on it is good, bad, or your product doesn’t make sense. It’s easy to jump to the positive feedback. It gives us immediate validation. But let’s wait. Let’s look at a more pressing need. Your product is bad, here’s why.... Continue Reading →

/writing/ A Morning Dip

THE ROGUE TURTLE continued swimming against the current. I have no idea, he thought, where this is all headed. Genuinely confounded. The struggles, the learning, the awkwardness, it seemed to him he should know. Why do I do what I do? But the turtle knew the answer in an abstract and meaningful way. He stiffened... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Starting Your Strategy

WE THROW AROUND the concept of communications strategy often. Let’s look at a practical approach to beginning the strategy development process for your organization. MAPPING. Identify all groups / stakeholder that your organization is working with or should be working with. Examples: Donors, government, partners, members, media, partners / sub-contractors, internal staff, board members. Don’t... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Communications And Accountability

IN OUR ON-GOING effort to collectively build the value of our work, let’s look at communications as a means to build accountability within an organization. Reporting is an unquestionable, external accountability mechanism: we spend the client’s money, so we show how the resources are used. But what about other communications products? Isn’t the design, production,... Continue Reading →

/writing/ A Blank Intimidation

FACED WITH IMPENDING deadlines, demanding clients, and public scrutiny, it seems a blank screen is the most intimidating. Produce something. The desire from within is there, or perhaps it’s pressure from an outside source. But the cursor blinks back at us, alone, with no prospects of company. Self-doubt and desperation become dangerous bedfellows. It was... Continue Reading →

/writing/ The Mighty Monthly

IN THE MOST mundane, boring moments of your communications work, you might ask yourself questions like: what’s the most important donor reporting document? Since apparently I’m in a similarly slow period of my work, I’ll go ahead and offer an answer: It’s the monthly report. The monthly report is the bridge between weekly implementation of... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Let’s Do Better

DESIGNING AND MANAGING communications strategies in the development setting is hard. It’s a process loaded with challenges. There are the technical elements like editing a documentary, or writing a radio drama script, or drafting a legislative brief. As well the more abstract considerations, like different cultures, languages, and security that impact the work. But no... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Watching It Send

I SIT, WATCHING an email being processed. Attached is a large donor report that’s worth a substantial amount of money. A slow connection offers me time to reflect. It’s been a typical reporting process: intermittent, often unreliable information from the program teams; an ever-changing structure that can’t find its legs; last minute data corrections that... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Working Through It

WE ARE A few months into the experiment that is intuitiveBLU and intuitive Civil Society. No, our servers aren’t overloaded with traffic. No, clients aren’t flooding our inboxes with opportunities. We haven’t made any money yet. Our analytics page is searching for other opportunities. It’s…been a slow process. But that’s fine. We always knew it... Continue Reading →

/writing/ The Tension Mounts

WE HAD WRITTEN, reviewed, re-written, re-formatted. We had navigated the in-between, and now it sat in front of us as a final draft. Ready for its time under scrutiny. But was it genuinely ready? We never really know. There had been feedback internally, some of it good, most of it bad. We had verified the figures and refined the narrative. It’s even been approved by senior management.

/writing/ Valuing Internal Communications

INTERNAL ORGANIZATIONAL COMMUNICATIONS. We often forget about it. Don’t. Invest in establishing clear objectives for internal communications that addresses a core problem. Invest in establishing clear and consistent channels of communications and products for your staff and close partners. Invest in continuing to build and refine the policies, products, and channels over time to ensure... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Educate To Persuade

MANY OF OUR organizational communications products focus on educating our audience. We develop a brochure to help a prospective donor orient themselves with our work. We launch a radio PSA campaign so that a population understands how basic health practices can improve their lives. We as an audience don’t like what we don’t understand. And... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Aligning Our Reporting

DONOR REPORT WRITING. It’s part of our work and it can be a painful process – let’s jump into at least one aspect of it: structural alignment. It seems logical that we’d structure a reporting system in which weekly data easily feeds into a monthly format, monthly into quarterly, and so on. It seems logical... Continue Reading →

/writing/ A New Year

IT’S TIME. RESOLUTIONS. Commitments to become a better person. These can be fun, though rarely all that effective. It’s so easy to forget. We lose focus and encouragement over time. A classic tale. It seems to me that June or July is the best time to set resolutions. Then you get a nice bump of... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Working Towards Complexity

EVER STOOD OUTSIDE a door, frantically searching for a key, only for a friend to casually stroll up and open the door? Your frustration turns to embarrassment – the door had been unlocked the entire time. Your friend wears a condescending smirk across his face. It happens in many forms. My wireless computer mouse stopped... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Resist The Manipulation

COMMUNICATIONS IS INHERENTLY an exercise in implicitly accepted manipulation. We painstakingly develop a product to direct thought; to reinforce a pre-scripted story. If it’s done well, the audience embraces the misdirection. They may even take action. But how effective are we as communications professionals if we buy into our own manipulation? Perspective is compromised. Our... Continue Reading →

/writing/ So It Began

MY SISTER AND I dangled our feet in the water. The world was peaceful. We talked about nothing, and everything, as siblings do. There appeared something on the surface of the water. Above, the moon. Below, a turtle; moving in its own direction, unconcerned with the incoming tide. Looking forward, unrestricted. We laughed and appreciated.... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Walking, Working Backwards

WALKING BACKWARDS MAY not have much use. But there might just be something to working backwards. Communications works focuses on producing a finalized product. A known quantity: a brochure, a video PSA, a donor quarterly report. Start from the end, the final product. What does it take to get there? Timing, content, sources of information,... Continue Reading →

/writing/ Strain Our Seeds

EVER BITTEN INTO a lemon seed while eating a dish? Me too. It’s bitter. It ruins the meal, immediately. Ever seen an egregious editing error in a communications piece? Me too. It’s a distraction. The message is lost. Immediately. Let’s strain our seeds. Let’s edit our work. Relentlessly. Thanks for reading.

/writing/ Just Keep Writing

IN TALKING ABOUT strategic communications, we tend to focus our attention on the final outputs and ultimate consumers of the content: a report to our donor; a radio spot for a group of farmers; a fact sheet to a government official. But there is a lot of intermediary work that goes into producing these final... Continue Reading →

/writing/ An Inevitable Absence

TIME OFF WORK, it is a beautiful thing. But as a manager it often seems the benefits of a holiday are off-set by the stresses of returning to unfinished work. Managing a team is difficult enough when present, and even more so when you aren’t. It’s also true that absences are as inevitable as they... Continue Reading →

/writing/ The Big Question

KNOW YOUR VALUE. It’s a simple and sometimes overused adage. Though, it is important to consider. I was recently reminded of this concept when on a job search. Interviewers ask a lot of questions about yourself and how you work. I encountered deceptively simple questions like, tell us about yourself, with less time than it... Continue Reading →

/writing/ The Block Mover

IN A PREVIOUS life, I was a construction worker. I helped build homes, sort of. Void of any real construction skills, my duties consisted of moving heavy objects around the job site. Every morning it was the same set of orders – See that unorganized pile of concrete blocks over there? We need them moved... Continue Reading →

/writing/ The In-Between

ART DOESN’T JUST happen. It’s a dirty little secret that most artists don’t want you to know. But it’s true. I was fortunate to learn this lesson from my father, an artist. Some artists like to create the illusion of creative brilliance that is free from the constraints of the world around them – my... Continue Reading →

/writing/ An intuitive Welcome

I RECALL IT vividly. I sat in front of a communications team for a very large government agency. My own team sat by my side; excited, proud of their work. We had just submitted nearly two years-worth of media work on behalf of the agency, documenting their successes in some very inaccessible locations. They continued –... Continue Reading →

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