by Ashley Frost, senior policy analyst
In June 2010, 16 individuals who are leading the way in Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) programs in East Africa gathered in Nairobi to participate in one of PRB’s highly acclaimed policy communications workshops. Through this training, participants learned how to better communicate information about effective PHE interventions and advocate for policy change that promotes PHE linkages and integrated approaches to policymakers in their home countries.
Since 2005, PRB has partnered with the National Coordinating Agency for Population (NCAPD) based in Nairobi, to facilitate these workshops. While the workshop provided participants with a number of take-home messages, three of the main principles of the workshop were: know your audience, use empirical evidence to support your message, and provide specific recommendations that encourage policymakers to act. Workshop activities showed participants how to implement these principles in written formats, when communicating in person, and when providing formal presentations. It was an intensive week-long experience; participants attended panel sessions and group meetings during the day and worked on individual exercises at night.
This year’s workshop, not unlike workshops in years past, brought together a remarkable group of professionals. The participants were from Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda and they worked on a diverse range of PHE issues, including public health and endangered wildlife, HIV/AIDS and environmental linkages, and reproductive health advocacy as a conservation strategy. Given the incredible resumes and experience of our participants, I was curious to see how they would respond to the workshop activities. Would the experience meet participants’ diverse needs? Would it be challenging to even the most seasoned professionals? And lastly, would it leave participants more confident in their abilities and energized to reach out to decisionmakers?
The answer to all of these questions was yes. Despite the numerous qualifications and years of experience that participants possessed, the workshop still provided a unique opportunity to spend a concentrated period of time thinking about and practicing communication techniques with constant feedback from policy communication experts and their peers in the field. They learned new skills, built new connections, and reinvigorated their enthusiasm to share evidence and findings with decisionmakers.
On the last day of the workshop, each participant gave a formal presentation to the group. Despite the level of comfort that comes from spending a week together, for some participants, the presentation was still nerve-wracking. The presentations were filmed so that participants could see their own strengths and weaknesses as communicators, and the feedback from the group was honest. Still, every participant rose well beyond the challenge, proving that policy communications is a critical skill that can be cultivated, and that good mentoring, peer support, and hard work pay off. The participants also demonstrated that the process of growing as a communicator is never done. We all can continue to challenge ourselves to be strong policy communicators, and learn new techniques to improve the success of our messages, regardless of where we are in our careers.
Two participants share their thoughts on the workshop: