How to effectively share information with stakeholders

How to effectively share information with stakeholders

In 2007 I was working at the BBC as an Audience Research Executive. I was on a team responsible for conducting research, gathering data and drawing insights to share across the organisation. This was mainly concerned with programming in Wales on television and radio.

I would check RAJAR (Radio Joint Audience Research) data for the number of listeners to radio programming plus where they listened (if they listened to the radio in a shop for more than a few minutes it had to be recorded in their paper diaries!). I’d get deep into BARB (Broadcasters’ Audience Research Board) data to understand the reach and share of specific television shows. I also used to do the overnights a couple of days a week too. I’d look at the viewing figures for the previous day's programming and identify key stories and headlines in the data. Examples would be reporting on viewing figures and related insights for:

  • major events like the Olympics, award shows or fundraisers and spikes in viewing on specific days/events
  • the first episode of a newly anticipated series, and finales
  • comparisons across channels such as news coverage for a significant event on the BBC versus ITV, or one soap opera against another
  • performance of localised programming

We had to find the relevant stories in the data and get those across the business. I absolutely loved it. It wouldn't have worked to give all stakeholders the same information in the same way.

That act of effectively sharing information was one of the most useful things I learnt at the BBC. Internally the term we used was dissemination but that’s not exactly the most clear language to describe the process. It was about sharing relevant information in meaningful and usable ways for the internal audiences. The purpose being that they could then use the information to inform programme making, scheduling and commissioning.

Knowing an audience versus understanding an audience

Understanding the audience that content was being created for was an essential requirement for informing future content. But in my role I also needed to understand the internal audiences too - key stakeholders. The internal audiences often wanted the same information but at different levels of detail and presented in different ways.

With the overnights, the headline stats for flagship shows and events were sent to the entire organisation. They were the top level stats such as, for example, 12 million people watched Doctor Who or the BBC had 35% share for coverage of the Rugby World Cup. People could quickly see what performed well and what didn’t, though there was little context here so that made those stats quite subjective in isolation of further analysis.

Then those involved in scheduling wanted more detail on how that episode compared to others from past series of the same show or a different show in the same time and date slot. They wanted to make comparisons to have confidence they were scheduling the right programmes at the right time.

The programme makers and producers for the show in question wanted more detailed information which moved from knowing there were 12 million viewers to understanding who made up that 12 million in terms of their demographic information, their feedback on the programme and comparisons with other shows. There was lots of comparing.

Insights that provided the understanding are what made the data actionable and useful. In the context of digital content, we may know that we have 5000 unique visitors to a website each month but we need to know what they visited for, did they get what they need, what flow did they follow, what content did they interact with and so on. We want to be in a place where we know there were 5000 visitors and we understand their motivations, actions and outcomes.

Sharing information in relevant ways for your internal audiences

Sharing is easy, sharing effectively is harder. To be effective you will have to narrow in on more specific groups within the wider internal audience and target them by presenting information and data in a way that is meaningful to them.

There are plenty of formats available when sharing information:

  • slide decks
  • long form written reports
  • headlines in emails
  • summary sheets
  • in-person presentations
  • video recordings
  • printed materials

These could be shared via email, on an intranet, at company roadshows, lunch and learns or town hall events. The format and the method are equally as important.

As a team we had to know what formats would be most suitable for the different groups of stakeholders. Some people wanted quick headlines in an email with a follow-up sometime later with more detail. Others arranged for us to present our findings in person to the entire programming team. Some people digest information more easily by reading reports at their own pace and making notes. Others find it easier to learn from more visual communication like video, graphics and slide decks. As with many things when it comes to content - it depends and there is no one size fits all approach.

One of our larger audience research projects was based around audiences segmented by age ranges which was a significant criteria for programme making. The outcome was a set of four Profile books and also a series of posters. We also presented this information in person and the insights within the Profiles was also included in various other write-ups and research work too. This meant one set of data was repurposed to meet varying needs.

Asking stakeholders how they wanted information to be shared and how much detail they needed was worthwhile. It saved time going back and forth filling in gaps and answering follow-up questions. There’s also a lot to be said for making people feel listened to - if you take the time to understand their needs it builds a more solid foundation for conversation, collaboration and accountability.

Problems avoided by effective information sharing

If you involve stakeholders before they receive your slide deck or invite to a meeting, there's a greater chance they will be engaged with your process. This is why asking them what they need, when and how, can help both them and you.

Effective information sharing also means you can avoid situations where you may hear comments like:

  • I didn't get the information/data
  • nobody explained it to me
  • I didn't understand what it meant
  • there were things missing
  • there was so much I couldn't find what I needed

You may have stakeholders who want everything even when they only really need part of the information. You may have some who don't really want the information because they believe they already understand their audience and you won't tell them anything new. Even if your research doesn't reveal new insights (which I think will be very unlikely) at least it has turned assumptions into knowledge.

Effective and clear communication is always necessary whether that be for getting people to use a style guide, updating an organisation on work done by a small group in Alpha or through regular reporting on content performance.

It's a difficult task sharing the right amount of information to be helpful and to include people, but also to make sure you're not oversharing. There will be control issues, power play, egos flaring up - content problems are people problems after all. Always have rationale to support your decisions and keep focusing on the information others truly need, regardless of what they say they want.

Understanding your internal audience of stakeholders

In order to share information in the most appropriate format for stakeholders, the very minimum we needed to understand was:

  1. what information they needed
  2. why they needed it
  3. how they wanted it (formats and also via email, in person etc)

More specifically, other key areas we tried to understand that helped with data analysis, research write-ups and presentation of insights included:

  • who they are and what they do
  • how much detail they really need (some want it all even when they don't need it)
  • what formats they’re used to or prefer
  • how they want the data to be presented and if any follow-up is required
  • if they have any specific questions to be answered which you could lead with
  • if they’ll be sharing with others themselves and if so can you support them with that
  • feedback for future dissemination
  • how often they need the information

It comes back to answering the question of why different individuals or groups across the organisation need the information. It usually came down three core needs:

  • make informed decisions
  • understand how something performed
  • make comparisons

We treated the internal stakeholders and colleagues like we would an external audience in terms of identifying their needs. The same practices applied. By investing in a deep level of understanding we could better serve them through our research, data and write-ups.

Making the most of your research

It takes a lot of effort (and time and money in some cases) to plan, conduct, analyse and share research. Without effective sharing all of the hard work getting the data in the first place can be wasted. What good are the insights if they don’t reach the people who need them in a way that means they can learn and take appropriate actions?

This is where many organisations fall down. They focus on getting the data and doing the research, but then don’t give the analysis and sharing of information the time that it needs too. This is when research isn’t really respected and is seen as a box ticking exercise.

A related scenario I see a lot of is the focus being on content creation and not on distribution, measurement and governance of that content. Stakeholders conflate publishing with progress.

Whether you’re working on a large one-off research project, something more long term like a Beta or you conduct research on an on-going basis, allow time to think about how the insights will be shared with the rest of the organisation. It’s also worth considering how you will gather feedback on the insights and what that communication cycle looks like for those involved.

A strategy for sharing information

In the same way you might write a brief for your content or a project plan, think about your dissemination strategy. Use the questions in this article as a starting point to understand the objective, your audiences, formats for presenting information, methods for sharing and the timescales. It’s also worthwhile thinking about how you will gather feedback and when and how you will follow up with stakeholders.

Make time to find out how the information you shared was used, if it met their needs and was useful and was there anything missing. Whilst your role may require the heavy lifting in terms of doing the research, finding the insights and sharing the information, dissemination is a collaborative process that needs to be refined to ensure your work is respected and the needs of your stakeholders are met.

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