Exchanging important information and ideas in ways that are mutually beneficial and understood by the parties involved is a big part of effective communication and engagement. To raise awareness, inform, and guide stakeholders and key decisionmakers in understanding, building, and supporting a sustainable comprehensive early childhood development system, CCDF Administrators must first develop a plan to communicate with stakeholders. Effective communication is well planned and sensitive to the needs of parents, providers, funders, key decisionmakers, staff members, and other organizations that are interested in the systems building effort. One helpful way to hold oneself and others accountable for communication may be achieved through a written communication or engagement plan that is responsive to the needs of stakeholders who are part of your early childhood development systems building efforts.
Planning is Crucial
Do not underestimate the importance and the time it takes to define your purpose and what you want to achieve. This important step lays the critical foundation for the engagement process and is often overlooked, leading to problems later in the process.
The ability to communicate effectively and engage all stakeholders is an important part of the CCDF Administrator’s job. Whether the collaborative group agrees to communicate formally or informally, a written communication plan or protocol to encourage open and frequent communication helps build mutual respect, understanding, and trust. The communication plan or protocol generally defines the key communicators; the timing and content of communication; and the means of sharing information among leaders, stakeholders, and the broader community. Communication plans and protocols also often address the following focus areas: individual communication styles, team building, decisionmaking, how to prevent and resolve conflict, when to use outside experts, meeting guidelines and ground rules, when to use broader media for public information and engagement, and how to identify key audiences, messages, and media. Knowledge about each of the communication focus areas and the ability to demonstrate them in relevant and appropriate contexts will help engage stakeholders and promote effective communication.
To form an effective communications and/or engagement plan, consider the use of these guiding questions:
Goal. What is your goal? What is the purpose of the communication and engagement? What do you want to achieve at the end of the process (for example, outcomes such as seeking local knowledge or obtaining buy-in from stakeholders)? Are there tangible products you want to produce from the stakeholder engagement process (for example, outputs such as recommendations, research, or reports)?
Stakeholders. Who are the stakeholders? Did you consider all stakeholders who are necessary to achieve your goal?
Level of engagement. What level of engagement is required? Do you want to inform, consult, involve, collaborate, or empower? What would the stakeholders consider to be appropriate engagement to achieve the goal?
Proposed method of engagement. What methods of engagement will you use, such as workshops, forums, webinars, or social media? How does the method of engagement relate to the level of engagement you are working to achieve and the overall goal? Do your methods of engagement take into account adult learning styles and principles? Do your methods of engagement account for the full diversity of the stakeholders, including cultural, racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity?
Timing. What are the timing issues or requirements? Is this about establishing ongoing communications for developing the systems of engagement as a whole around a particular policy (for example, revisions to the state quality rating and improvement system or child care assistance program) or plan (for example, state strategic plan, CCDF Plan)?
Resources. What resources will you need to conduct the engagement process? Do you have the right people? Are they fully trained and supported for the engagement? Are consultants necessary for added support? Do you need resources for travel, meeting space, etc.? Are you able to engage the full range of stakeholders, taking into account the cultural, racial, ethnic, and linguistic diversity of the state?
Responsibility. Who is responsible for designing and carrying out the plan? Have you clearly identified the various roles and responsibilities?
Key messages to communicate. What are the key messages? Have they been developed with the stakeholders in mind? Are the messages properly vetted with all necessary colleagues and staff within the state? Do you have the appropriate formats for delivering these key messages?
Managing risk. What are the risks associated with the engagement? How will they be addressed? Consider the seven C’s to manage the risk factor. Make sure the communication is clear, concise, concrete, correct, coherent, complete, and courteous.