BD Giving Notes – #16 ‘Co-creating Communications with local people’

This week’s Note is written by our communications consultant, Louise Kavanagh. It covers what we learned while planning and delivering communications with and for the local people that make up the Community Steering Group (CSG).

Originally the ideas in this blog were intended to guide new colleagues who are taking on communications responsibilities. That guide has been shared with the team now, so we thought why not share it more widely? That’s how they work at BD Giving. 

The communication strategy

When the Endowment was transferred by the council to BD Giving, we aimed to use communications to ensure the opportunity to participate reached and was accessible to local people and to guide the CSG so they could contribute to the design and management of the Endowment.

We’d never done this before, so we didn’t know what was possible. It turned out that we could achieve what we needed but only with input from the CSG themselves. 

The CSG are the group of local people who’ve learnt about social investment, taken on decision-making responsibilities, and got to launch their Investment Policy in Parliament this June. They also happen to be busy, working people, entrepreneurs, creatives, parents, community activists. You get the idea.

So, what did I learn about communicating with and for the CSG?

Reach beyond the usual suspects

We wanted to ensure the opportunity to participate was visible and accessible to anyone who has a stake in the borough. Even well-connected organisations like BD Giving can find reaching a new audience a challenge so we drew on all of BD Giving’s network to advertise the opportunity on our behalf. 

We also invested some time and money in social media advertising to reach a new audience of B&D residents that weren’t connected to BD Giving or our partners. 

Most importantly, Geraud and Cameron got out and spoke to people. That brought the opportunity to life for people who, let’s face it, may not have been especially excited about the idea of giving up their evenings to talk about investment portfolios.

The lesson? In an increasingly digital world, don’t forget that ‘face to face’ is a valuable communications channel!

Language is key

That sounds obvious coming from a comm’s professional. But there it is. 

At our very first meeting about the Endowment, we were challenged by attendees on the use of the phrase “What does Barking & Dagenham look like when we give power to the people?”. 

We were asked to consider if it was even possible to give power, that power is inherent to each of us, and it sometimes just needs the right platform to express or manifest itself.

This pushed me to think harder about the way we talked about the Fund. We ensured to acknowledge the CSG as experts, in their own right, alongside the people who are more traditionally considered experts.

We also ensured that all technical language and ideas were simplified. We got rid of or explained all the jargon in a glossary on the website.

Whatever you’re communicating about it’s important to test your language with your target audiences before sharing it – and adapt if it’s not landing right.

Ask for input but don't ask for too much

It wouldn’t be a BD Giving blog if I didn’t talk about participation, would it? 

I wanted to ensure that anything we communicated genuinely reflected the groups experience and ideas, which meant they had to be involved in communications activity. After discussions with four members of the CSG who expressed an interest in working with me, it was clear I had to make it easy for them to contribute in a way that both felt meaningful and suited their lifestyle. 

Each month I made bite size requests that nobody was obliged to respond to. Sometimes a CSG member took the reins, like this video by Wunmi, but most often I floated a communication idea with the group before developing it, and sharing it with them for comments before I published it.

The act of asking and including the group was important, even if sometimes they didn’t have the time to engage. It was important to remind myself that no feedback is not a negative.

One CSG member, Almu commented at the House of Commons launch event that they could “do as much or as little as we want, even in the marketing”. That made me felt like we’d got it right.

What next?

We had a solid plan for what we needed to share, when and with whom but inevitably that didn’t always work out quite as planned. When does it? 

So now, as more people are starting to engage with BD Giving’s community-led investment approach, I hope that content like this investment decisions quiz or this animation about the CSG will help more people to understand the truly inspiring work that’s happening in the borough.

It’s been a pleasure working with the BD Giving team and the CSG to plan and co-create fun, educational content. 

I’m excited about what they’ll do next, and I’ll be celebrating along with them when they make their first investments.

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