In praise of villagey companies and villagey marketers

Did I just invent those phrases? I suspect “villagey” is more often used as an insult, but I’m a bit in love with businesses that have a whiff of Good Life about them and dance to a different (Archers) tune.

I recently moved from a lively seaside new city, to a large gentle village that is trying very hard not to become a town. Nearly all of the shops are independent and closed on a Sunday. Things happen a bit more slowly and kindly. The people behind the counter take time to chat even if you don’t buy anything. They often bend the rules to keep customers happy, sometimes to the extent that I worry they’ll go out of business (at least once I’ve found myself offering to pay more than I’ve been asked for). But then I realise that they won’t, of course, because I go back, and I tell people and I spend more with them than I would if I drove to the nearest big town. And so it goes.

I’ve travelled just 28.2 miles but sometimes it feels I’ve gone at least 50 years back in marketing time, and the village effect is starting to rub off on me. Three months ago I began drafting a slightly snarky, clever post about the use of metaphor in the development sector: moan moan, useful observation, provocative question, etc. But the village has got to me and I can’t bring myself to publish it.

Instead I’ve decided to start a series of posts that celebrate good villagey marketing. Businesses large and small that treat customers, staff and suppliers, like members of their local community. As though these might be people they’ll need to ask for help from one day. Businesses that make life nicer for their customers without having to refer to instructions for how to do that. That make (some) money, because what they’re doing is kind, clever and useful.

I’m starting with someone who last week taught me how to make lots of dough. 

There’s lots to love about Anna’s Kitchen

Last Friday I took part in a workshop learning to make Scandinavian bread at Anna’s Kitchen. Where is it? In Anna’s kitchen of course. Four students, lots of flour and yeast and spices and fun. What do I love about the marketing of Anna’s Kitchen? The branding is authentic and memorable. It’s tied to a person which means if you like Anna (and her kitchen!), then you’ll probably like an Anna’s Kitchen workshop. Anna loves bread and she really seems to love helping people learn how to make it. She’s a kind teacher too – while we tried our hands at three types of bread, she made and baked a spare batch of each so anyone who had a baking disaster wouldn’t go home empty-handed (we didn’t – yay us!).

For any marketing students reading, Anna demonstrates excellent integrated marketing – all 7 Ps are present and correct and work together beautifully (resisting puns about ingredients and recipes there…). I’m sure there are things the business could do to try to increase profit margins but I suspect these would be at the cost of the joy and value the participants get from the workshops, and the resulting effusive positive word-of-mouth. How did I hear about Anna’s Kitchen? A friend told me. And now I’m telling my friends.

How do you share learning when you’re busy doing?

That title’s not (just) a blogger’s ruse to give me the opportunity to tell you what I think the answer is. I’d really like to know how people who are busy doing interesting things make sure they share what they’ve learned with other people? How do you turn what you’ve learned into something that other people can use? Do you do a little bit regularly? Or save it all up for a big learning retreat? If you’re in a team, do you work by yourselves (‘self-learn and share’) or does someone facilitate learning sessions, and help you publish and promote what you come up with?

Is this the solution to my knowledge-sharing problem?

I have just finished working with GDNet to help them to produce a set of end-of-phase learning publications and am starting work on a Learning and Dissemination Plan for a new four-year programme, so this is a good time for me to reflect on what I have found helps, and to scout about for inspiration from other people.

GDNet was a programme run by a small team, most of whom were based in Cairo. It aimed to increase the uptake of Southern research, mainly through an online database of Southern research and capacity building activities for Southern researchers. GDNet’s last phase of funding from DFID ended on Monday this week (June 30th) and I worked with the team in the last six months to coordinate how they documented and shared what they had learned about being a knowledge-broker and capacity-builder in and for the South. GDNet had a goal of producing and disseminating four short publications about the main areas of GDNet’s work, plus a ‘legacy document‘. We did it, on time (the last publication went online about lunchtime on the last day!) and in my utterly subjective opinion, they’re a pretty nice looking useful bunch of documents.

While I still have some residual knowledge-sharing energy left, I thought I’d reflect on what it is we did that worked and what it is important to remember to do in the future:

1) Make it important. GDNet’s logframe for 2010-2014 for DFID dedicated a whole Output area to sharing lessons learned, and learning from others. Rather than being something that was on the ‘wish list’, learning and dissemination was on a short ‘must be done list’. Anyone who has been involved in the final months of a programme knows that there is so much to do, that documenting institutional knowledge can easily be neglected. Having it built into the programme from the start is a really effective way to make sure it happens.

2) Make it measurable. Because it was an Output area, there were indicators and milestones attached which meant it was reported on and evaluated and the team could track their progress. For the future, I would add more short-term milestones as producing a publication can be a long process. An interim step, such as a blog post of early findings, for example, could help maintain motivation and momentum.

3) Use interviews for source material. Partly as an experiment, partly based on how the MK4D programme generated its lessons, I interviewed members of the GDNet team using Skype (with freeware MP3 Skype Recorder) or my laptop (with Audacity, free, excellent audio recording and editing software) for face-to-face interviews. I sent the questions in advance and suggested they read certain internal documents to refresh their memory beforehand. For two of the publications (on social media, and on capacity building), the authors used the transcripts as the starting point for their articles. Another one, which looked at two perspectives on monitoring and evaluating a Southern-focused knowledge service, two separate interviews were written up as a single feature which I think worked nicely. Tip: don’t use a headset with only one headphone when you listen to a Skype recording – you will only hear one half of the conversation and panic that your recording didn’t work!

4) Let the publication evolve. We started out with a complicated project management Gantt chart and quite fixed ideas of what the publications should cover and how long they should be. In the process of writing and editing, and getting feedback from some ‘Critical Friends’ (other members of the GDNet team, DFID, peers) who asked ‘Why? What? How?’ questions, the publications all ended up different lengths (the right ones?). We also discovered that some of the things GDNet knew about were more interesting to other people than we thought. The Capacity Building publication, for example, ended up twice the original length to include new content, especially details of the monitoring and evaluation of the workshops, which tools GDNet used and how, what worked and didn’t, etc. and the publication is all the better for it.

5) See what worked for other people. Before we started I browsed other people’s legacy documents and learning publications to pick up ideas for tools and publication designs. The Cornwall County Council Public Health Legacy Document, has a nice  timeline in its introduction which prompted me to include one for GDNet. When I worked at IDS, I was introduced to the River of Life tool which I suggested the GDNet team use to help them to trace their programme’s journey and identify places where learning had happened.

6) Take lots of photos during the programme. Luckily GDNet had a stack of photos on their Flickr account which gave me a headstart in finding images for the publications. However, I wasn’t able to find all the photos I would have liked to have used. In the new programmes I am involved in, I will make sure we have photos of every member of the team ‘in action’ and look for opportunities to add images that illustrate terms and messages that are likely to come up in learning publications – anything to avoid using clipart!

I’ll end by having a go at answering my own questions, but then I’d love to know what you think.

How do people make time to share what they’ve learned with other people? Make it important, assume it will take longer than you think (it will still be less time than you expect!), make sure you have an audience for what you’re going to share before you start so you have an incentive to publish.

How do you turn what you’ve learned into something that other people can use? Do you do a little bit regularly? Or save it all up for a big learning retreat? If you’re in a team, do you ‘self-learn and share’ or does someone facilitate learning sessions, document it and send it out?  I hope we managed that with GDNet, in which case the answer is to give readers enough information so they are not left with lots of questions, signpost to other sources, come up with a template that looks attractive (including a style guide), and get feedback on what you’ve produced while there’s time to improve it.

Do you do a little bit regularly? Or save it all up for a big learning retreat? If you’re in a team, do you ‘self-learn and share’ or does someone facilitate learning sessions, document it and send it out? GDNet had been taking part in reflective activities, participating in networks and disseminating its learning throughout the phase but for this last activity we produced our publications over a six month period with steady, small bursts of effort at the start and then a lot of work at the end. We used a team retreat, individual learning logs, interviews, the ‘River of Life’, analysis of internal documents, collaborative writing using Google Drive and Skype calls. I think it helped having someone coordinate the process, to keep it on-track and come up with a standard design and style for the publications. However, the team already had a culture of individual reflection, thanks to their monitoring and evaluation framework, and were used to blogging their ideas and observations as part of their regular work. This meant that they had no trouble coming up with ‘lessons learned’ when they were interviewed and were keen to get as much of their learning documented and ‘out there’ before the programme ended.


Tips for doing stakeholder research online

I’m a professional body-builder, an Assemblymember for California’s 47th District, a university-level French teacher and an Associate Director of African and African American Studies. It’s a wonder I have any time for blogging!

Who hasn’t Googled a person (themselves?) and then been a bit overwhelmed by the stack of results they have to filter through to find the relevant information? Last month I shared some ideas for how you might try to understand who has influence over your stakeholders in response to an IDS Stakeholder Engagement guide about which I have previously blogged. I’ve also been planning for a while to share some of the tips for searching Google that Siobhan Duvigneau and I wrote about in our guide: ‘Using Google™ to track and improve your research impact’. So this post takes some of that advice and applies it to doing online research about your stakeholders. By the way, Google has since made changes, again, to its site design which means a couple of the screengrabs are out-of-date, for example, the Blogs tab has moved.

Keeping up with AtlantisAID

Let’s say that one of my stakeholders is the fictional donor, AtlantisAID. I want to understand more about them, their interests, their drivers and critically, who influences them. Where to start?

1. Use the “site:” command to Google their website

The search box on the AtlantisAID website is too simple for my tastes and the results are really unhelpful. So I’m going to search their website using Google. I put into Google and start exploring. Ooh let’s try adding the word priorities or research strategy. In fact, I’ll search on “research strategy” as a phrase by putting it between speechmarks. But there’s too many results here so I need to…

2. Filter down to a relevant time period

If I click “Search Tools” under the Google search box, on my results page, I can click on Any Time and then choose the time period I want to filter down to. I think I’ll go for Past Year for now. But if I want to keep tabs on AtlantisAID I can set a shorter time period so I only hear about the more recently updated webpages. If I do this for “priorities” for the donor-agency-formally-known-as-AusAID, for example, my first hit is their post-2015 donor priorities. For DFID, this gets me quickly to the Publications page where their Business Plan is signposted. And for USAID, I had to filter down to the Past Month, and find their newly-updated factsheet. But this is what they had to say about themselves, how about we see…

3. What other people say about them

The News tab, under the Google box on the search results page will help me uncover what the media is saying about my fictional donor. What search terms to use though? I’m looking for where my donor has been contacted by a journalist or made an official statement, so I’ll try putting in AtlantisAID and spokesperson. Try this at home with the donor agency name of your choice. You’ll soon see what the media interest is in their work (and the influence they have) and understand some of the political pressures the donor agency is under.

Bonus #1: When I search in News, for the Past Month, I can also filter down to just see what the bloggers are saying, by clicking on Search Tools, All News, Blogs.

Bonus #2: At the bottom of my search results in News is the option to set up a Google Alert based on my search so I can get updates by email. I recommend you set up an Outlook Rule for these to go into a separate folder.

In the next post, I’ll look at some of the searches you can construct that will dig deeper into the world of your stakeholders. Meanwhile, please do share your own tips.

What can social marketing bring to the Capacity Development table?

I recently had the pleasure of working with Robbie Gregorowski and Mel Punton at development consultancy, Itad, and two fellow Itad associates, Pete Cranston and Isabel Vogel. We were tasked with briefing the Global Environment Facility on the latest thinking in capacity development and our research led us to develop a conceptual framework which we call the CD2 framework, for short.

Robbie has just posted a summary of the CD2 framework on the Itad blog and we’re hoping that people working in capacity development will share their views on what we have presented as the core components of CD2.  But in this post, I want to reflect briefly on the relationship between social marketing and capacity development.

In our desk-based research we looked at what capacity, and capacity development mean, and a central idea for our team was that capacity involves the ability of a society or sector to continue to develop necessary skills, behaviours, networks and institutions that enable communities to adapt and self-renew into the future.

Random image to illustrate self-renewal: the BMI-1 protein – essential for self-renewal and also very pretty.

Our team believes that a “CD1 approach” to capacity development focuses on building the skills that are needed so that something can be done to meet today’s requirements: collect data, write a report, manage a project, produce a strategy, etc. If we take a CD2 approach then we’re still aiming to build skills but also support new attitudes and behaviours, and work upstream to shift institutional relationships so that these behaviours can be sustained.

My social marketing radar starts to bleep whenever the word “behaviours” is in range and in my experience, capacity development activities (in a development context) haven’t paid sufficient attention to behavioural theories. In future posts on the Itad blog, our team is going to look at the implications of putting the CD2 framework into practice. I’m going to stick my oar in now and say that one major implication is that all programmes aimed at building capacity need to be underpinned by behavioural theory if they’re going to have a decent chance of being successful beyond the immediate skills-building effects. A NICE (sorry!) place to start for ideas is the guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence.

How to get engaged (with your stakeholders)

What better day than 14th February to think about getting engaged? Last week I came across the kind of document I love to see: a short, snappy, practical summary of some tools for analysing stakeholders from IDS. The authors explain four key tools; some are pretty familiar to marketing folk e.g. Alignment Interest Matrix (AIM), while others are less commonly seen outside of development, such as Participatory Impact Pathways Analysis.

It got me thinking about some of the ways people working in fields such as marketing, organisational change, etc. look at stakeholders and whether these might be of relevance to people wanting to engage research stakeholders.

One tool that I think is under-used is Peter Block’s matrix which positions stakeholders in term of level of Trust and Agreement with you. It takes the AIM tool a step further to factor in relationships between people and I’ve found it really helpful when I’m in situations where how much people like me is my only source of power. I often use it when I’m teaching project management (given that project managers often have to cajole people to contribute when they have no hierarchical mandate). I imagine it could be useful for think tanks who are trying to influence stakeholders with whom they have some level of existing relationships (negative or positive).

The Block matrix is explained nicely by the TeamSTAR Project with some advice on how to work with each group e.g. with Opponents (where there’s trust but disagreement) are people you can have a constructive discussion with because you already have an established relationship and may end up reviewing your viewpoint or reframing it. Sticking with Peter Block and the power of personal connections (this post is fast becoming a Valentine’s card to his work…) his “six conversations” methodology for civic engagement is really worth a read.

Finally, a shameless plug for something I wrote for IDS. The Organisational Decision Making Unit (or the buying centre) is a nifty piece of marketing thinking that people working in research uptake might consider to identify who your stakeholders might be influenced by. I’ve tried to find a development-friendly summary online but am stumped (please tell me if you find one) so meanwhile check out p.17 of Who Are We Aiming To Reach?


Research “consumers”, know your rights!

I’m not claiming to be the first person to spot some problems with applying models of supply and demand, and consumption and production to research. But I wonder if I’m the most obsessed?

I’ll admit, part of it is personal. I’m a Chartered Marketer working in development and I’ve observed (and experienced) some quite aggressive reactions to suggestions of applying marketing theories or business thinking to encouraging development research to be used more. The unethical marketing behaviour of certain large companies is no doubt partly to blame for this. But I’m a bit bemused to see how avidly the language of manufacturing and selling has been adopted by people working in research communication, without any interrogation.

I love a good metaphor as much as the next woman, especially if it helps me make sense of something intangible. But in this case, it doesn’t work. Using the notions of “research consumers” and “research producers”, of a research supply chain complete with intermediaries, and of stimulating research demand, creates many more problems than it solves. Here’s just a few:

1) the words already mean something and these meanings are different to the way they’re often used in the context of research. For example, a consumer is an individual who gives to the seller something the seller values, in exchange for a product or service for their own personal use, or as a gift to someone else. And it stops there. Strictly speaking, this means if I’m a research consumer, I’m someone who commissions someone to do (produce) some research for me. It doesn’t mean I read anything they write. “Organisational customer of research” would be a closer approximation to what I think is the intent behind the phrase “research consumer” but I don’t think that’s going to catch on.

2) the notion of research producers and research consumers suggests two different types of people – often consumers are seen as policymakers, and producers as researchers. But really these are behaviours which the same person can display or roles they can take up and drop as needed. Based on the way the term is used in research communication, aren’t researchers, research consumers? (I just made myself dizzy thinking about academics subscribed to the Journal of Consumer Research; are they consumer research consumer research producers?!).

3) the language of demand, supply, intermediaries, push, pull and products (linear) is often used within writing about complexity, systems, non-linear thinking and all things wiggly and swirly. The two sets of ideas are at loggerheads.

I sense some more posts in the pipeline – on intermediaries, for example. But for now, I’d like to propose (with only half my tongue in cheek) that research consumers be given the same legal protection that consumers in the UK enjoy. This means that anyone “selling” research has to follow the same rules as other producers and sellers, such as:

  • not using a shocking claim or image merely to attract attention (CAP Codes).
  • not providing material information “in a manner which is unclear, unintelligible, ambiguous or untimely” i.e. writing in Plain English (Unfair Trading Regulations, 2008).
  • only providing research that is of satisfactory quality and fit for purpose (Sale of Goods Act, 1979).
  • making consumers aware of how much it will cost them to “purchase” the research over the internet (e.g. downloading).
  • not promoting research by email to people who haven’t said they want to hear about it.

Research consumers, stand up for your rights!

What is it I do again? How to talk to strangers about our work.

As Charlie used to say, you should “never go anywhere with men and ladies that you don’t know” and that’s good advice. But sometimes we do have to talk to strangers about our work, often at short notice and even answer the dreaded question “so what’s your project all about?”. What’s the wise thing to do in those situations?

I recently ran a workshop with some of the lovely folk at the British Library for Development Studies where we shared our experiences of talking about what we do or want to do, to people who we want to get to know better (donors, potential partners, people who might be able to help us with our work).

We quickly ditched the idea of developing an “elevator pitch”, those short speeches we’re meant to deliver to a captive audience. Of course it’s handy to have a standard statement or two and there’s lots of advice out there on how to develop them. But it’s not very considerate of the person riding in the elevator with you (or stuck in the queue for the coffee or loo). We were looking for some good advice on how to get conversations going with people, who we don’t know well, and get them interested in our work while still being ourselves.

Learning a pitch parrot-fashion is not going to make you any friends.

Learning a pitch parrot-fashion is not going to make you any friends.

Turns out that between us we had quite a few ideas including:

Ask questions – the anti-elevator pitch approach is to get to know the person as quickly as possible, and then explain your idea or project or odd-sounding job title in a way that speaks to what you’ve found out about them.

Have something in common – look for a connection between the two of you, where you are, who you know, what you’re wearing.

Use examples and stories – especially if your work involves a lot of jargon or theory, remember to bring in real people and situations to make it accessible.

Be rigorous – you don’t need a prepared speech, but it is worth learning some facts that support what you’re saying; maybe something an expert has said in a recent publication, or some firm numbers from evaluations that back up your case.

Be a lovely person – you’re talking to another person, who might be tired, away from home, fed up with being pitched at. If it’s your style, by all means be charming, or cheeky, or funny, but try to make them feel better for having spent time talking to you.

Have no more than three messages – those core points to get across which could be your values, objectives, what you’re doing that’s different. If you work in a team then you need to establish these together. They’re the things you’d like the other person to go away associating with you and your work but how you communicate them is up to you.

Make sure you can contact them – ask for their card, or their email and send them something useful and relevant afterwards (maybe a link to that expert’s paper you were talking about or the name of a great B&B in NYC).

Knowing all this is great, and pinning down the facts and messages in advance is better, but best of all is practising it. For which I have two recommendations: get into the habit of practising scenarios with your colleagues (with another team member around to give feedback and support if needed), and go speed-dating.