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Communication & Engagement

Compilation Output Experimental Gardens: Constructive Communication & Representation

Over the past few months, there have been 3 Experimental Gardens on the topic of constructive communication & reperesentation on development cooperation. What were the results of these? What lessons were learned? And how will we take the next steps?

20 June 2019

Look back at Experimental Garden (in Dutch)
Experimental Garden #1 Review Strategy & Target Groups
Experimental Garden #2 Review Framing, Storytelling & Content
Experimental Garden #3 Review Effective Campaigns

Some outlines that followed from the presentations and discussions:

Strategic communication & connecting with your target audience

  • By understanding your core values and putting your own strengths at the centre, you can position yourself and communicate strategically with your target audience.
  • Be different -> be relevant -> or culture -> true (see image). Intrinsic motivation should fit the organisation’s identity, be yourself, seek the connection, make the conversation lively and be honest. Your actions cannot lag behind what you say (who you are and what you stand for).
  • Try to transmit less and engage more with your target audience: what is relevant to them? Where do their interests lie, and how does that connect to your own activities and goals? Then find the ‘hook’ from which you can start a conversation.
  • Let people speak for themselves. Don’t talk about or for them. A personal narrator (really showing the ‘personality’) makes the story.


  • Several frames are used in the sector. These fall into the categories of ‘justice frame’, ‘victim frame’, ‘global village frame’, ‘our debt frame’ & progress frame. Read more here about these frames.
  • Show more of your impact. The ‘Tone of voice’ is often negative. This applies not only to the victim frame but to much of the communication in the sector. It is mainly about what is not going well at the moment and what still needs to be done. Little is said about what has been successful in the past.
  • Research has shown that the public is not really aware of the progress made in recent years. This has left people despondent and reduced support for development cooperation.

Behaviour change

  • People often do not react rationally. Emotion plays a big role in behaviour change and is, in a way, ‘intangible’. This is not to say that factual information does not play a role in behaviour change. If the (negative) consequences of an action are not known, information must be provided.
  • B = MAT. Behaviour change can be created when the Motivation, Ability & Trigger coincide at the same time.
  • Behaviour change is possible when there is a mix of the following elements: emotion is addressed, the right information is available, change is easy, and urgency is genuinely felt.
  • You can use the pyramid of engagement. At the bottom is simply liking of campaign posts. At the top is ownership or co-decision and participation. In between are several more steps in increasing engagement.

Surveys around perceptions of development cooperation and the effectiveness of campaigns
The following studies caught our eye:
1. Bond – How can we best deal with our challenges?

What can we still improve to achieve structural change? Some tips from Bond, the UK’s umbrella organisation for development cooperation:

  • Develop shared campaigns – Each organisation has its own speciality, but many issues affect us all. Therefore, we need to work more together to provide structural solutions to poverty, inequality and climate change.
  • Strengthen civil society – Large development cooperation organisations are often accused of oppressing local organisations too much. How can we support people so they can make changes themselves instead of asking them to support our campaigns?
  • Promote answers – don’t just criticise what is wrong, but look for possible answers and communicate them as clearly as possible.

The entire report can be found here.

2. International Civil Society Centre – Responses to populism in the digital age.

The International Civil Society Centre has written a report into what organisations can do to make civil society as strong as possible. The report focuses on where legitimacy comes from. Which narratives work best? And how can we deal with attacks on civil society?
The whole report can be found here.

3. Oxfam GB – Which strategies most often lead to policy change?
Oxfam conducted a quantitative study on which methods most often led to successful policy change. Some conclusions from that report:

  • Make use of a window of oppertunity. There is often only a limited set of moments when decision-makers listen to you, so make use of the right moment and learn to recognise it.
  • Most campaigns were successful when a insider strategy (talk directly to policymakers) as well as an outsider strategy (mobilise your supporters to increase pressure) were implemented simultaneously.
  • In the global south, campaigns worked more often when northern partners played a supportive and less prominent role.

The entire report can be found here.

4. Thomas Coombes – Hope-based communications
Thomas Coombes developed a communication strategy that he based on hope. In this day and age, hope can be a powerful counterforce to a sense of despair, fatalism or cynicism. With the following 5 ways, you can use the idea of hope in your communication:

  • When documenting a problem, also provide direction for solutions.
  • Present opportunities rather than threats.
  • Celebrate what you stand for instead of criticising what you are against.
  • Tell stories where people feature positively and are not portrayed as victims.
  • Actively think about what emotions you want people to feel.

You can find the whole report here. By the way, Thomas is also coming to the Partos Innovation Festival on 11 October! You can find more information about what he will be talking about there here.

5. More than Words – Global Dialogue
‘Narrative change’, ‘framing’ and ‘strategic communication’ are concepts that are doing well in our sector. However, we find that the sharing of lessons and insights on these topics has been quite ad hoc. To fill this gap, this report by Alice Sachrajda and Lena Baumgartner was created. The report looks at how we as a sector can be more positive, forward-looking and collaborative in our communications.
Read more here.

Call for members for a Community of Practice focused on communication & image OS
Partos would like to start a Community of Practice for members. Would you like to discuss your own case together with colleagues from different organisations? It is the perfect way to learn together, but especially from each other. Are you interested in joining the Community of Practice? Then send an email to Sera Koolmees (communications) at

Follow-up trajectory
We are also exploring how to set up a robust trajectory on constructive imaging and narratives for development cooperation together with Wilde Ganzen. We are thinking of a project in which we conduct research in the Netherlands, collect best practices and working methods and feed these back into a publication and an event next year. Again, if you are interested in thinking along with us, please let us know. Please send an email to Sera Koolmees at