Over the next two months, we are to write three communication strategies. Three potential wastelands of letters meant to form the backbone of the communication work. They are supposed to be shaped and aligned as castles on the sea. Castles of communication that take into account water and shells, for which we need elaborate equipment like shovels and buckets. Castles that may collapse over time and be rebuilt because Elon is crashing Twitter. In this Reading List, I write about the importance of a strong communication strategy in the context of knowledge projects.
Communication is not that complex. In principle – and most advisors agree on this – it is about conveying a message that is as consistent as possible to people who are affected in different ways. Communication should be uniform, coherent and free of contradictions. Most people – and this applies to science projects as much as to other contexts – do not need to know everything. They may not even want to know everything. Often they do not have the necessary resources. They are also interested in completely different topics. Maybe communication is not that simple after all. To achieve our goals, we need comprehensibility and brevity. We need to arouse curiosity and be prepared to leave our supposed comfort zone again and again. We have already written about all this. But so far without a strategy.
Strategy; a term from warfare
The concept of strategy is a military one. Strategies are well thought out and well planned. They have clear objectives and are based on experience and data. In a relevant blog post for the workflow organiser Asana, Sarah Laoyan refers to Sun Tzu’s The Art of War. The concept of strategy, according to Tzu, is opposed to that of tactics. It refers to individual measures that become necessary in order to achieve goals. Writing 12 SEO-optimised articles, generating 10 high-quality backlinks, and conducting a website audit to fix SEO errors. For Jesse Sumrak of Foundr, these are tactics, not strategies. For ethnographer and Marxist Michel de Certeau, strategies and tactics are linked to power, place and sovereignty. In The Practice of Everyday Life, de Certeau writes:
I call a strategy the calculation (or manipulation) of power
relationships that becomes possible as soon as a subject with will and power can be isolated. It postulates a place that can be delimited as its own and serve as the base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats can be managed.
By contrast with a strategy, a tactic is a calculated action determined by the absence of a proper locus. No delimitation of an exteriority, then, provides it with the condition necessary for autonomy. The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power.de Certeau, Michel. 2005. “The Practice of Everyday Life. ‘Making do’: uses and tactics.”, In: Spiegel, Gabrielle, M. “Practicing History. New Directions in Historical Writing and the Linguisitc Turn”, pp. 218-219.
Wenn wir de Certreau ernst nehmen, dann bedeutet das, sich der eigenen Mittel und Hoheit bewusst zu werden und zu sein.
A comprehensive and good communication strategy embraces this. It knows the resources we have; it understands when the beach commissioner is coming with the excavator. It includes a message, target groups, channels, and methods for evaluating and gathering feedback. Because all intentions, as well as contingencies, come together in the communication strategy, and because decisions are made in a strategy at the very beginning of a project, Roger L. Martin in the Harvard Business Review refuses to write about an implementation decoupled from strategy. For him strategy is implementation. And implementation starts with enabling all those involved to participate in the communication. We are back to de Certeau. It is about hosting those places of communication over which we have and could have sovereignty. And it is about asking the dredging beach commissioner to reprieve our sandcastle.
Back to the letters and the sand by the sea. A communication strategy built too close to the water and too close to the entrances to the beach is likelier to collapse. It is a matter of finding or even creating a place that allows us to react even when the unexpected happens. It is about developing tactics we can use when the situation demands it. And it’s about giving communication a shared identity that stays with us for months and years. That is what a successful communication strategy does.