Communicate in the audience’s style.
Within organisations, norms often develop around language, style, methods of communicating, and use of pictures and diagrams. Such norms make communication more fluid and understandable within a culture but can impede communication and understanding when working across cultures.
As a result, when we want to share something with people from another organisation, the degree to which they will readily understand and value what we are sharing depends on how much we can present it using the communication norms of their organisational culture rather than our own. The goal is not just to contextualise the information, but to also use your audience’s organisational language, mimic their use of colour and images, structure diagrams the way they would, and deliver the information using the mechanisms they normally use.
How this principle was used in AdaptNRM
While each NRM group has its own internal culture, we used qualitative data as well as our Personality Portfolio to identify elements of shared culture among NRM groups. We then used that information to tailor not just the content of our modules but also the detailed language, graphic design, delivery mechanisms, and ways of engaging with our key contacts. For example:
- The generalised planning framework in The NRM Adaptation Checklist builds on the broad language and structure of most approaches to planning
- Weeds and Climate Change was organised around developing a ‘vision’ and ‘strategy’ – and thus the level of planning that most NRM groups have the greatest carriage of
- Helping Biodiversity Adapt shared the Biodiversity Adaptation Toolbox using the common NRM language of strategic goals and actions, and was presented using a hierarchical diagram which is a common communication tool among NRM groups
- Project finances were redirected to enable as much face-to-face and personal communication as possible since that is the method of acquiring information preferred by most NRM groups
Ideas for how you can apply this principle
Current trends in applied science organisations, governments, and even practitioner groups like Australia’s regional NRM groups may often work against this principle. For example, the increasing diversity of stakeholders that are involved as well as trends toward stronger organisational ‘branding’, producing products that have a consistent look and feel, may actually drive groups to communicate in ways that align with their own organisational culture rather than in ways that align with the stakeholders they wish to engage.
Taking the extra time to develop multiple communication products for the same material may seem inefficient but actually prove very fruitful. At the very least, consider developing different summaries geared toward different audiences, including the design and style of the materials as well as the content. Using the audience’s own preferences for design principles and methods of delivery may make it easier to capture their attention and help gain shared understanding. For example, as NRM groups continue to seek greater interaction with local councils, the techniques used in AdaptNRM to learn and apply someone else’s communication culture may prove fruitful.
NRM groups can also be more conscious of sharing their organisational cultures with their own information and research providers, and explicitly asking for information to be contextualised to their own cultures of communication rather than those of the research providers.