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8.2.2 Convincing and strategic communication

Communication is always important, but campaigning, advocacy and lobbying need a strategy that can attract the attention of the targeted persons. Plans should be made for internal (within the organisation or network) and external (with allies and opponents) communication. In any case, the strategy must reflect who you are communicating with, when, about what, and how.

Who? – The Target Audience

Communication is always two-sided. Messages must be formulated according to the audience. Therefore the target audience must be correctly analysed and identified. The target audience is not a homogeneous block, as other stakeholders can also influence members of this grouping. It is essential to know who one’s opponents and allies are, and to remember that the whole system is dynamic and may change at any moment.

More information

Tool: Audience Analysis Form

When? - Timing

The right timing of a strategic communication approach is important. It is a good idea to align advocacy or lobby activities with other important dates, e.g. before elections politicians are more open to the civil society, while disability is already in everyone’s minds on the 3rd of December (the International Day of Disabled Persons). Conversely, bad timing can be disastrous: for example, it will be very difficult to force a politician to change his or her position after he or she has already officially announced it to the media.

More information

List of official UN special days, which are useful news pegs:

What? – Messages

It is essential to send clear messages, despite the fact that the issues are necessarily complex and multidimensional. To convince decision-makers and win public support, it is important to formulate clearly what you want. Outsiders do not want to spend (or cannot afford to spend) much time in understanding an issue or to listen for too long, and nor do they want to have to read long texts. Messages must be formulated in a way that gets the audience’s attention, and should be immediately understandable.

A clear message consists of the following elements, and could look something like this:

Element  Message
1 - Statement Few disabled children receive formal education.
2 - Evidence Only 2% of disabled children are enrolled in school.
3 - Example 10-year-old John from Kenya has difficulties in walking: he never attended school, because the next school is 2 km away from his home and his parents cannot pay for the bus.
4 - Invitation to action (this is optional and depends on what you want to achieve) Reduction of transportation costs or a financial support system would help this family. 


How? - Ways of Communication

In all methods of communication it is necessary to find the right tone, according to the target audience. For example, World Bank staff or members of the Ministry of Finance may prefer a primarily economic argument based on data and figures.  

Below you'll find a brief introduction to the following communication methods:

  1. Writing
  2. Visits and meetings
  3. Presentations to a group and public speaking, hosting events
  4. Committee hearings and other events in the political sphere
  5. Individual meetings with politicians and other decision-makers

1. Writing

Writing letters, emails, faxes, memos or position papers are all useful ways of clearly and effectively presenting an issue or a position. The advantage of these written forms is that they offer effective communication with a target audience that could be difficult to meet personally. The same paper can moreover be sent to several persons at the same time, spreading a position widely. Written communication is also highly transparent, in the sense that anybody can read it. However, one key danger is that opponents (or the media) can read your statements and distort them to use against you.

The preferred mode of communication must be selected according to the target audience: for example, sometimes sending a letter is more official than an email. However, an email usually reaches your target faster, costs much less, and may be sent to an infinite number of persons.

In the long run, it is worth building one general or several specific target address lists of people/organisations that you can send your message to. It is essential to continually update these lists. This activity enables you to build an efficient network of target stakeholders.

As organisations dealing with the issue of disability, it is vital to take accessibility issues into account. Texts in “only text” format, and hierarchically structured texts (using hierarchic formats) are preferable to PDF documents. When distributing PDFs, text format should also be available. If possible, you should also offer alternative formats, such as large print, Braille, and publish this information in your texts.

Example: Written statements

In Honduras, Bangladesh and Sierra Leone, Handicap International and its partners wrote several position papers on the contents of the draft PRSPs. These papers were very helpful, as they clearly stated the writers’ opinions and influenced the final PRSPs. These position papers were also useful in defining and pursuing a joint strategy within the whole disability movement. Finally, they raised awareness among other stakeholders – besides the government – and contributed to disability issues in general (see case studies, chapter 4).

2. Visits and Meetings

Knowing other people is important when trying to influence policies. Events like seminars, conferences or workshops offer the possibility to get to know other participants. Working groups, breaks and other occasions give ample space to establish new contacts or to deepen existing ones.

Meetings offer a good chance to present a position. Many countries have meetings, workshops or consultations on PRSP issues. These events are very often huge, with hundreds of participants. It is helpful to build alliances in advance and agree with others on a joint position, as in such cases a group will be more likely to get the possibility to speak up than an individual.

Any kind of meeting needs:

  • Ample preparation and information about the discussed issue(s).
  • Confirmation of the agenda, not only to fix general issues, but also the details to be discussed.
  • If possible, a professional, independent facilitator who structures the discussion .
  • The right people to attend: lower-level civil servants are often more involved in a specific topic than ministers. Despite their lower rank, they have significant influence, and are often able to attend much longer than the minister him/herself.
  • An atmosphere which enables fruitful discussions, i.e. non-confrontational, friendly and polite.
  • A follow-up of the results of the meeting (e.g. minutes or another form of written summary).

3. Presentation to a group and public speaking, hosting events

One way of presenting a position or situation in meetings or conferences is by giving a speech. This needs extensive preparation, as it is difficult to attract and keep the interest of an audience. A speech or presentation should have a clear structure, and the speaker should endeavour to speak as entertainingly as possible. It might be helpful to illustrate the talk with visual elements such as diagrams, graphs or slides. When campaigning in public, it is also helpful to have visual eye-catching elements such as posters or pamphlets to attract passers-by.

Please note that it is always important to offer alternatives to visual information for blind or visually impaired persons. When presenting a diagram, for example, make sure you explain it verbally, and do not leave out any key aspects. If you are organising the event, make sure other presenters follow this rule, too.

More information

Checklist: Presentations

4. Committee hearings and other events in the political sphere

In many countries, parliamentary committees arrange hearings in the legislative process in order to receive advice from experts and special interest groups. These hearings often deal with very specific issues. Even if you are not invited as an expert, it is often possible to distribute informative material or a written statement on the topic. If a hearing is public and if the issue is important, it might be worth attending and making new contacts with politicians specialising in the topic and with other experts in the field. Sometimes, parliamentary groups organise events on disability-related topics, which naturally represent excellent networking opportunities.

5. Individual meetings with politicians and other decision-makers

Sometimes, it is helpful to meet decision-makers personally. This leaves a more lasting impression than just a letter or an email. It is important to choose the right person for your question and to be well-prepared. The aim of the meeting should be considered, and prepared accordingly. Most decision-makers do not have a lot of time, so it is important to use the time available as effectively as possible. Often, it is helpful to draw a basic schedule of topics. If the topic is very complex, it might be helpful to take a specific expert or another ally with you. It is always helpful to bring along some printed information material, so the decision-maker can re-read the information or pass it on to others.

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