Is there ANY way to engage people with human rights communication?

November 10, 2015

Yes there is!” according to True Heroes Films (THF)THF_SIMPLE

A recent assessment of the communication practice of Geneva-based human rights organisations carried out by THF showed that many of them face the same challenges.

In a newsletter (see link at the bottom of this post) and in the below guidelines, THF summarizes these challenges and the solutions identified together with communicators from the organisations assessed. There are some nice cartoons by © Hani Abbas.

The guidelines are by necessity of a general nature and are based on the experience of NGOs in the Geneva area, but they they may help also others in thinking about their communications problems:

CHALLENGE 1: Organisations lack strong positioning and branding- Few organisations communicate a clear recognisable identity (brand) leading to lack of differentiation in the minds of audiences.- Messages and behaviours were rarely coordinated within organisations.- Little exchange between communicators from different organisations- Few joint communication actions and feelings of isolation from some communicators.

THE POINT IS:– The more people know you, the more they trust you and what you say.- It is crucial for your audiences to understand who you are and where you are coming from.

CHALLENGE 2: Communication is seen as subsidiary within the organisation- Most of the work of HR organisations is transmitting messages to target audiences. Thus all staff are communicators, not only the Communication Department.- Holistic planning is limited. There is little coordination between departments on target audiences, messages, tools and channels used to reach them.- Communicators are often only involved once a project has started or at the end of it to communicate about the activities; rarely are they involved in the planning or reflection about the audiences, tools and messaging from the start.

THE POINT IS:– Nearly all your work is communication; so plan with that in mind and ensure all staff are aware of how and to whom they are communicating.- This doesn’t mean communicators should control everything, but be involved from the start on projects, and support or enable other staff to communicate.

CHALLENGE 3: Content Fails to Engage Audiences- Communications is often about activities of the organisation, not the effect it has on people: the stories.- Technical language or jargon is used, so audiences disengage.- Visual materials used are often of low quality, or uninteresting (pictures of a conference or people at a table, scripted to-camera interviews of directors, films of entire events, etc).- Audiovisual material tries to pack in ALL information from research or reports, rather than be a teaser to interest people in the topic.- Communicators have difficulties accessing internally the information required to create strong stories.

THE POINT IS:- Tell stories in a surprising, sincere and people-centred way.- Focus on quality of your communication over quantity of communication.- One story that engages people is worth 1000 that don’t.- Experts are people too: they like a story and get bored of acronyms!

CHALLENGE 4: Impact of Communications is not monitored – Communicators feel overwhelmed by work and are constantly “active”, but do not feel they are necessarily being “effective”: reaching their target audiences and achieving the desired objectives.- Strategies, objectives and target groups are often too vague to give priorities to communicators.- Communication tools are used without clear purpose or because of internal pressures (“we decided to send post 3 times a week on Facebook”) rather than observations of the external context.- Management and donors do not provide the resources for monitoring the impact of communication, thus making it difficult for communicators to know whether they are succeeding.

THE POINT IS:– If you don’t know who your audiences are, and what they need and how they think; it will be difficult to a) reach them and b) know if you had any impact on them – The more you know that you are having an impact, the better you feel and the more your beneficiaries, team, management and funders will support you.

GUIDING QUESTIONS: Positioning and Branding– What is the character of your organisation?- What image do you want people to receive when they hear your organisation’s name?- How can you translate this into your graphic identity?- How are you different and how do you relate to other organisations?

SOLUTIONS IDENTIFIED:– Communicators to meet & share more often. Possible avenues:

  • Swiss NGO Communicators Club (contact
  • Geneva Communicators Network (
  • Organisations to launch joint campaigns, pooling resources and ideas to have more impact.

GUIDING QUESTIONS: Positioning and Branding – Does every member of your organisation know and agree on who they are communicating to? Why? What messages, channels and tools to use to reach them? Whether they are indeed reaching them? – Is your communication team coordinating this messaging amongst different tools and actions to ensure consistency? – Are they enabling and supporting their colleagues by advising on what relevant external factors to consider with regards to timing, messaging and tools to use? – Are the comms team involved in projects from the start?

* Have a meeting of directors of organisations to discuss the position and understanding of communication within their organisations.
* Share experience amongst communicators (and bringing in relevant experts) on best practices to organise communication within an organisation.

GUIDING QUESTIONS: Content & Storytelling – Are you creating a story or a character that will stay in your audience’s mind? – Are you creating a world for your audience to understand? – Does your story have rhythm? Is it something you would want to read if you saw it on Facebook? – Could you guess what the next line or quote would be, or is it surprising and different? – Are you talking about your activities or the changes (if possible in people’s lives) that occurred thanks to these activities? – Are you using language appropriate to your audience?

– Joint trainings on content collection, story telling, and communications for “on-the-ground” practitioners (incl. filming, photography).
– Workshop on simplifying human rights language (“vulgariser” in french) to reach “non-specialists”.

GUIDING QUESTIONS: Monitoring Impact of Communication – Have you planned carefully? Have you analysed the situation, defined objectives, target audiences, messages, tools and channels to address this situation? – Have you decided what and how you will measure? Have you kept it simple and will you only measure what matters? – Have you found the time and budget to monitor and evaluate? Are you closer to spending 10% of your time on  strategy, 80% on implementation and 10% on evaluation? – Have you decided how you will analyse and with whom you will share your results?

– Set up joint monitoring of the impact communications about human rights from Geneva.
– Share insights about external environment amongst communicators to better inform decisions on messaging, channels and tools.

Source: “Is there ANY way to engage people with our human rights communication?” – New Guidelines to support you!

2 Responses to “Is there ANY way to engage people with human rights communication?”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: