Blogpost: Communicating with a Purpose

By Amy Puffenberger

One might say that the very mission of the National Forum, The National Forum on Higher Education for the Public Good will significantly increase awareness, understanding, commitment, and action relative to the public service role of higher education in the United States, is rooted in communications. Much of the mission’s key components are also referred to in our Dialogic Model of Change, representing what we often refer to as a “four part process of organizational change.” It goes something like this:

  1. First, we must create awareness of the issue
  2. Next, once we (an audience) become(s) aware of the issue, we must inform ourselves about the issue.
  3. After we’ve reached a level of awareness and understanding, we commit ourselves to the task (or issue) at hand.
  4. Finally, we take action to change the task or issue.

This model is designed to be cyclical in nature, meaning that there is no beginning and no end. That is, no matter what audience you are in or where you are in your level of understanding, you will always have more ways in which to be engaged, whether on a different issue, or in a different manner. In essence, this model is also a method of communication, of awareness-building, or as some marketing gurus may attest to, a strategy for marketing and customer building and retention.

Here at the National Forum, we regularly make use of this model to not only guide our theory of change, but also in thinking about our communications strategies, and how best to make our research actionable. We think about where our audiences and key partners are along this continuum of dialogic change, and we construct our messages accordingly. When we work to disseminate the findings of a research report, we think about the ways in which our target audience(s) will use these findings, and where they are along this path of understanding and commitment. For example, if one key partner were to be in the Awareness stage, we may place greater emphasis on including language that explains who we are at the National Forum and what our research represents, as well as key background information on the topic at hand. For partners that are further along in their path to action, say at the Commitment stage, we may provide information that is more action-oriented or easily put into practice because they have a different orientation to our work at that given moment.

As you work through our newly designed website, you’ll notice a similar structure to the ways in which our various content is displayed. Each heading, or tab, is designed to lead the user from a broader overview of the work, into specifics of our research, and ultimately, ways in which they may take action.  I consider this communicating with a purpose. We, as individuals on a day-to-day basis, communicate in a myriad of ways, but when we take time to think about the end goal, or actionable outcome from our communications, from the very beginning of constructing our communication channels and messages, we are communicating with a specific purpose in mind. Our purpose here is simple: promote greater awareness, understanding, commitment and action of the ways in which higher education contributes to the overall public good.



One Comment

  1. Nov 14, 2012
    12:57 pm

    Dan Parrish, C.S.C.

    Thanks for the insights, Amy! The Forum’s communication strategy is certainly much bigger than just how we get the word out the door to partners–as you note, it informs all that we do, even if implicitly. Thanks for shedding light on this important aspect of our work.

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