Beyond the Journal: The science of communication

Loose ends and new beginnings

04 Dec 2019
As well as clearing our inboxes at the end of the calendar year, now is a good time to prepare for the next.

By Ruth Francis

Toward the end of the year a juggling act can take place between clearing the decks, tying up loose ends and thinking ahead to what the next year will bring. Is it possible to forward plan at the same time as finishing things up?

I believe it is both possible and worthwhile, and it doesn’t have to be rocket science. Even just summing up the current situation and thinking about the successes you could build on in 2020 will stand you in good stead for the new year.

Strategy should start with an analysis of the present situation. We’ve talked here about evaluation -- knowing what you’ve done well and what needs work requires self-reflection. If you haven’t done a thorough evaluation exercise and are busy in December, quickly jot down your 2019 highlights and thoughts on what could have gone better. Looking back across the whole year will jog your memory so you are not simply focusing on recent results.

Looking forward, what are your objectives in communications? Does your organisation have a strategy or objectives you can align to? Think about who your target audiences are; this could be demographically or geographically decided, but consider who you need to communicate with to achieve your objectives.

Are there particular messages you want to get across or any that you think could do with strengthening? Different channels reach different people and you could sit and map messages across those groups. I recommend broadening your focus beyond traditional media and social media and considering your own platforms. Web stories can have a far reach and give academics a chance to practice talking about their research in a safe space. Consider how you want to develop your voice and your channels in 2020.

Finally, but crucially, how will you measure success as you work? It is well and good to set yourself a strategy, even a loose one, but it is important to clarify how you’ll know if it’s working. Think about what you want to achieve and how to benchmark it as you go.

Work with your team and ensure everyone contributes to the forward planning. Understanding expectations of the team, what motivates them, and any areas they feel need support, will give you a better chance of success.

Making sure you are aligned with management and your team will give you an edge come the new year. Plus, if you are lucky enough to have a break for the holidays, you can leave the office knowing what to expect on your return. In the meantime, good luck with the end-of-year loose ends!

Ruth Francis is a communications expert with 20 years of experience working in academia and publishing, including Springer Nature, BioMed Central, Cancer Research UK and King's College London.