The REACHOUT series of interviews aims at collecting more personal views from colleagues developing and applying climate services for urban adaptation and resilient development, get more insight on the state of knowledge, the main ongoing discourse, and get a more concrete view of what their work encompasses. A sneak peek, so to say, behind the jargon and throbbing sentences used in policy documents and research proposals. Throughout the project, team members will complete a round of interviews. One colleague will interview another, and the interviewed colleague then conducts the following interview of the next team member and so on. As each member interviews and gets interviewed in this manner, all topics will be covered over the duration of this project.
Read our latest interview featuring REACHOUT’s Communication Team Chiara Mazzetti (Ecologic Institute, Strategic Communication and Dissemination reporting REACHOUT), Isabel Cristina Parra Giraldo, India Lucesoli Labelle (Rcities, Social Media and communication campaign leads REACHOUT) and Joletta de Man (Deltares, Lead communication activities and webcontent REACHOUT) interviewed by our CMCC partner Jaroslav Mysiak.
1. Thanks to your excellent work, REACHOUT has a comprehensive communication strategy and has effectively executed a range of dissemination and exploitation activities. The project has certainly lived up to the expectations implied by its acronym. What do you think was key in developing the strategy?
Chiara: ‘The REACHOUT Strategy emerged from collaborative work between the Communication Team and the consortium partners. We held brainstorming sessions with each Work Package leader and explored the ambitions guiding each project module. These sessions helped us pinpoint the content, format, and target group of the envisioned outputs and define the most suitable channels and actions to generate high impact. The process and the communications strategy both reflect how each of the partners of REACHOUT bring value to the joint mission.
We opted for a multi-channel approach that includes online and offline communication for a comprehensive implementation. The REACHOUT website is the main information hub about the project. From there, key highlights and project outputs are promoted via Social Media and direct email, and also placed on existing relevant newsletters. Events play a crucial role in fostering a two-way dialogue, engaging our audience in co-creating climate services tailored to their needs. Our communication products span from policy briefs to brochures, to audiovisual materials. These latter – in particular – have also proven to be the the most effective approach to engage the city’s general public. These considerations shaped our REACHOUT communication strategy and our plan for Communication, Dissemination, and Exploitation. This living document includes actions and tools continually tracked and adjusted to align with our project’s goals.’
2. As we engage with seven city hubs with different languages and cultures, what poses the most formidable challenges when it comes to designing appropriate communication materials?
Joletta: ‘Each city has different needs and requires a different approach. The use of the national language for broader reach is one of them. In designing our website for example, we translated some parts to cater for visitors coming in from different European cities. The need of clear process and regular communication is another challenge. When creating different communication materials or campaigns we need to consider that agendas, resources and internal approval procedures in each city hub are different and require both flexibility and customization. Planning and communication is also critical. Meeting each other online or at the General Assemblies is very helpful to discuss how to better meet the expectations of the city hubs and develop pertinent communication material. Let’s take the “Climate Stories” or “Training Modules” which have been presented at the latest General Assembly. It is super inspiring for all of us – working across countries, cities and topics – to see how the different climate stories come to life and are received by their target audience, for example on social media or during the events that promote the REACHOUT project in the different city hubs.’
India: ‘Agreed. Cities come in all shapes and sizes, with differing political agendas and resources. For our work to take place we need to be flexible and responsive to the cities’ needs and profiles. We strive to make our work local, adding cultural references to the content and tagging key profiles for each city hub.’
Isabel: ‘Another big challenge is ensuring our campaigns resonate within each city. This requires securing approval from the mayor’s communications department and engaging them to actively spread our message. The same applies for all consortium members, it’s vital that all communications departments share our collective efforts, broadening our reach and impact.’
3. REACHOUT’s communication strategy relies significantly on digital social networks. What challenges can you pinpoint for our message to reach audiences?
Isabel: ‘REACHOUT’s reliance on digital social networks for its communication strategy offers immense potential for audience engagement, it also faces a significant challenge: standing out in an overcrowded online space. Yes, our audience is bombarded with messages from various EU programs and service providers, making ‘winning the algorithm’ a crucial task. This means not only creating content that resonates with them but also navigating social media algorithms effectively to ensure visibility. Our strategy focuses on producing engaging, high-quality content tailored to our audience’s interests, leveraging our partners’ social profiles and analytics for better targeting, and adapting to the ever changing social media landscape to enhance our message’s reach and impact. On top of that, we cannot forget that measuring digital strategy impact is important to adjust our strategy along the ways. This necessitates the management of sophisticated analytics tools and expertise to collect and interpret platform data. Last but not least, data privacy considerations have also become paramount in the digital landscape, requiring strict adherence to privacy standards.’
4. Digital communication and dissemination platforms flourished during the lockdowns imposed to counteract the pandemic. Now that these restrictions have been lifted, do you observe a significant return to previous practices, or are there early indications of a lasting shift in how we plan and execute dissemination events?
Joletta: ‘I would say that digital events are here to stay! In our case, they work very well across the teams and are very sustainable! Meeting in person offers a significant advantage in fostering deeper connections and understanding… So, the hybrid combination seems most ideal in all fields.’
Chiara: ‘I can only second that, Joletta. The pandemic lockdowns pushed digital communication to the forefront. Even though things are getting back to normal, we can still see changes in how events are organised and shared rather than a complete return to previous practices. Many organizations continue to embrace digital events for engagement, as they proved to be effective and to reach broader audiences beyond geographical constraints. In particular, hybrid approaches, combining digital tools with in-person events, are also becoming an established trend that provides flexibility and boosts engagement by meeting diverse audience preferences.’
India: ‘Today, communications is more than sending out information. It’s the process of co-creating engagement with diverse audiences, how we engage audiences is not measured by how many people we reach but how many we inspire to participate and react. The challenges of diverse platforms and diverse content creators means that tailored approaches are required to engage the differing demographics of platforms. REACHOUT must strive to create content that will stand the test of time. That will demonstrate to our audiences and our funders the value of our work and the ways in which we help cities adapt to climate change.’
5. My final question refers to the challenges associated with conveying the importance of adapting to climate change, developing a shared vision for resilience-building, and establishing supportive conditions for climate services. What are your key take-home messages about communication on these issues?
Joletta: ‘The goal of REACHOUT is to leave our results, deliverables and the Triple-A Toolkit behind as our legacy. Connecting with sister projects and seeking synergies are also very important to keep the topic on the radar.’
India: ‘When we talk about conveying the importance of climate change, we are not talking to policy makers & politicians who are residents of the 7 city hubs. Despite extensive explanations in newspapers, online platforms and social media, a large portion of the population still lacks awareness of their role in adapting to climate change. When we establish supportive conditions for climate services and develop urban resilience, we are communicating. Effective adaptation includes residents as primary advocates for climate services at a city level. Climate stories serve as tools that explain and explore complex topics in relatable ways, helping local government workers in garnering public support. By anchoring climate change in the lived experiences of the residents in our 7 city hubs, we acknowledge and reflect their stories. Instead of simply providing information, we engage them as climate witnesses, leveraging their experience to develop a shared vision. The gateway to continuing this work after the end of REACHOUT lies in framing and empowering policy makers, politicians & residents as integral to the continuation of this work in their cities.’
Isabel: ‘Communication is indeed the starting point for developing a shared vision for resilience-building and overcoming the silo effect in municipalities for dealing with complex issues like climate change adaptation. How we communicate within the consortium and with cities needs to be strategic and inclusive to create common ground among various stakeholders, including municipal departments, residents, and other urban actors.’
Thank you very much for this interview. Can you tell us who will be the next person to interview and what would you like to find out?
Yes! Next we would like to hear from our partner Thijs Endendijk, PhD candidate at the Institute for Environmental Studies at VU Amsterdam.
Short summary: A story about Jan and Maria during extreme precipitation.
End user: Citizens
Link to the story: under construction