So many amazing, equity-centered data projects trip at the finish line. We take the carefully collected, analyzed, and interpreted data – centered around creating meaning for the people from whom we collected the data – and report it in a way that prioritizes someone else.
We generate reports that are designed for academics, for our funders, for our bosses, or for the media, etc. I get why we do this; those kinds of target audiences can be crucial to the success of our projects. We want to get re-funded. We want to share knowledge in expert circles. We want to generate attention and awareness beyond our immediate project community.
However, when we only create one product – one way to communicate our information – we often do a disservice to the people that matter most to us.
Frankly, I see a lot of cases where a project team claims to be prioritizing the community they are engaging with, but when it comes down to it, if they only make one report with only one goal, it’s usually designed and written to be best appreciated by people above them in the power structure, not below them.
I often get asked how to create an “equitable and universal” report. This happens when I ask a team of researchers what their most important target audience is, and they say “everyone”.
One type of communication will never be equally effective across different people, cultures, perspectives, languages, etc. The academic might want precise, highly technical language and an interactive data repository that they can dig into. Perhaps the community members want a clear narrative with a tone, medium, and design that respects how they understand the world and isn’t dull to boot. Maybe your funders want a no-nonsense, bottom-line one-pager they can get through in 10 minutes. Perhaps they want a glossy picture-packed package that boosts prestige and credibility for their organization.
In a perfect world, we would all have infinite time and resources to tailor a communication package uniquely appropriate to each member of each community we are trying to reach. In the actual world, I’ve found it amazingly hard even to get people to consider my go-to recommendation to begin addressing this issue:
JUST MAKE TWO.
Budgeting for two types of communication allows you to prioritize two target audiences at the end of your project.
Typically, I encourage teams to make one target audience the community members or “data providing stakeholders” that they are trying to center in the analysis (even better if you want to call them your primary audience!). The second one is the “must-have-for-practical-reasons” report that goes to whomever else needs the information, whether required for funding, legal, academic, or PR reasons.
Tips for the 2 Report Strategy:
Make them as different in medium, content, and access as possible.
This allows your two communications to cover way more ground, as well as to work in tandem for people who want to engage with both.
Plan for them at the beginning of your project.
If you know you are going to make two types of communication, you won’t accidentally default to only communicating with the people with the most power in your projects.
Test them with members of your target audiences.
Allowing time to make meaningful improvements to your communication is always worth it
Provide both communications to both audiences.
There totally might be people in your general community who want to dig into academic-ish metadata, and we’ve had multiple experiences where the funders greatly preferred more interactive, culturally specific (even if not their culture) videos or posters to the dry annual reports in their inbox.
When you design your two communications, even if they are both relatively similar mediums (say that for expertise or resource reasons, you are limited to making two basic print reports) there are so many areas to consider when specializing your communications to best fit the two audiences you want to prioritize.
I’ve attached some essential choices that we address in more detail in our courses and consultancy:
Brainstorm, consult, and test how major and minor differences in design across these checklists could allow you to create two reports; two great reports that align with your equity goals, prioritize both who you want to prioritize and who you have to prioritize (unfortunately, not always the same thing). All this while covering more ground, reaching more people. You’ll get two reports that are more interesting and more sharply focused by virtue of their juxtaposition. When you make two reports for two different audiences, choices about how to best communicate for each become easier.
And don’t let me stop you there. If you have ten key audiences, why not use a 10-report strategy… 🙂