Managing the Network
NRN Communication Plan
The facilitation of knowledge sharing via various communication tools is one of the most important basic tasks for all national rural networks (NRNs). This function will be further strengthened for 2014-2020 since in accordance with Article 54(3) of Regulation 1305/2013 [PDF ] all NRNs are obliged to set-up a communication plan as a part of their Action Plan.
The expectations for the 2014-2020 rural development programmes (RDPs) are ambitious and network support units (NSUs) are expected to have the capacity to implement (in agreement with their Managing Authority) a comprehensive communication plan which as a minimum delivers:
- a) publicity and information concerning the full range of opportunities for potential beneficiaries in accordance with the selected priorities and measures in the RDP, and;
- b) information and communication activities aimed at the broader public. (The targeting of communication activities at the broader public is a new and very specific task for the NSUs and reflects the evolution of rural development policy towards an even more results-oriented policy, with more focus on common EU objectives and shared targets with other EU funds.)
Managing Authorities (MAs) have the responsibility to lead the overall RDP communication process and to involve the NRN in ensuring publicity for the programme (see Article 66 of Regulation 1305/2013 [PDF ]). MAs are recommended to develop a communication strategy together with the NRN as basis for the general information and communication actions around the RDP and for the NRN's communication plan. According to the needs of each Member State, the communication strategy would also help in setting i) the division of labour between the MA and network support unit (NSU), and ii) the degree of integration of actions, products, messages etc.
A good communication plan includes links to the wider policy objectives, task description with clear division of those responsible and timeline, and clear definition of target groups of different actions. Communication objectives, tools and style should be diversified and adapted to the different target groups (potential beneficiaries or broader public).
The preparation and implementation of communication plan ensures there is a consistent and coordinated approach to getting the right messages out, to the right people, in the right way, at the right time. A total of 6 key steps can be identified for any communication plan:
Step 1: Clearly set your objectives
Step 2: Identify your target audience
Step 3: Choose your message
Step 4: Choose your mix of tools
Step 5: Identify and manage your resources
Step 6: Monitor progress and evaluate impact.
Communication is defined as an activity “to conveying meaningful information” - communication is therefore more than just information, communication establishes a relationship and initiates a dialogue. Communication does not "just happen" - effective communication requires an effective strategy, commitment and management support. Communication requires a participatory approach, which taps into human resources, which listens, which builds trust and encourages sharing. It is not just about telling stories, but listening to stories and relaying them effectively.
The facilitation of knowledge sharing via various communication tools is one of the most important tasks for any NRN. Efficient and effective communication is a huge topic in rural networking and will become even more significant in the 2014-2020 programming period with the expanded and strengthened role of the NRNs.
There are two main dimensions to communication in rural networking, namely:
- A VERTICAL dimension – often functioning from the top-down with dissemination of RDP and other technical information through the network to targeted stakeholders groups and wider public interest groups, but also increasingly bottom-up with the opening of consultation procedures and other mechanisms for creating more dialogue with, and direct feedback from, grass-roots practitioners.
- A HORIZONTAL dimension that links rural stakeholders and actors directly – these communication processes are fundamental to the concept of networking, but involve interactions and information flows which need to be facilitated and organised in a very different way to those communication processes working in the vertical dimension.
There is communication which is one-way involving LINEAR flows of ideas, knowledge and experience using more classical information actions and advisory / training models. And there are complex INTERACTIVE flows based upon cooperation and dialogue leading to the mutual sharing of knowledge and the incubation and fostering of innovation via the inter-connection of stakeholders and cross-fertilisation of new ideas.