Dissemination Toolkit: Project Communication Plan

communication plan iconIt is important to start thinking early about how to communicate about your project and prepare to sustain your work and projects following the completion of your project. Using the dissemination section of your proposal as a guide, think about how you want to portray your project and its work. 

The guiding questions below will help you plan your approach and timeline for communicating about your work.

Guiding Questions

What is the overall goal of your project’s communication? 
Why are you communicating about your project? Is it to recruit study participants, promote products, build a network or community, spread the word about your work to acquire more funding for a second phase, or meet your funder’s requirements? Is it a combination of reasons?
Tip: It may be helpful to think about the mission of your project and then reflect on the role that communication could play in supporting that mission. 

Who is the audience of your project’s overall work? 
Who should know about your project? Teachers and administrators? Other researchers? NSF? Other funders? Policymakers? Try to pinpoint your main audience. Then make a list of secondary audiences. 
Tip: Consider the audience when determining tone, messaging, method, and style of communication. 

How is your work relevant to those audiences?
The best way to attract attention to your work is to determine how your work might interest different audiences. Why should each audience be interested in your project or products? 

What resources, events, milestones and/or findings are you expecting to have during your project’s lifetime?
Using your proposal, create a list of potential opportunities for communications based on the resources you plan to create, events you plan to hold, milestones planned, and findings anticipated.
Tip: You may have relevant resources developed through prior work that augment and/or support your current work. Keep those resources in mind in case there are opportunities to promote those products again and/or use those resources to make new products more valuable.

What methods can you use to spread the word about your project?
Will you create a project website? A Facebook page? A newsletter? Think about different ways to showcase your project’s work so that you reach your audience effectively. Be creative if you have the time and money.

Who are potential dissemination partners?
Identify connections (journalists, networks, organizations, colleagues, friends of friends) who might be interested in sharing your work.

Who on your team is responsible for communicating about the project?
This may be one person or it may be a team of people, depending on what and how you are disseminating. If there is more than one person, it is helpful to determine who is responsible for making sure each piece is done in a timely manner.

When are you communicating?
Creating a timeline for project communications is important. It will help you avoid bottlenecks in your work, and will make your communications more effective if they are planned out to build off one another. If you have committed to presenting at conferences, or submitting a paper to a journal, be sure to include those specific deadlines and the steps to meet those deadlines. If you don’t know specifics yet, try to make a general quarterly plan for the life of the project, and then be as specific as possible for the upcoming months/quarter.

How will you know if your dissemination is working?
Setting targeted outreach goals will help you evaluate your success. Set specific goals, e.g., 50% more Twitter Followers in Year 2, or a 5% increase in open and click percentages from your Fall to Winter newsletter. For these metrics, you can use analytics to gauge your success. You can also set up interviews and focus groups with members of the audience you are trying to reach to get qualitative data about your outreach.
Tip: See the Analytics section of our toolkit.

How will your communication and dissemination plan change following the completion of your project?
What project outputs will you have to disseminate? Will the audience for and/or use of those outputs change? What resources (financial, technical, and operational) will you need to sustain dissemination and support use of those outputs?
Tip: See these sustainability resources: From Pilots to Products and Research and Product Dissemination and Sustainability: Approaches and Considerations

In Summary

Ideally, your project communication plan should be developed in the first few months of your project. If you are planning to develop a website or social media presence, you will want to start this process right away. 

Your plan should include the following:

  • WHY: Determine what you hope to accomplish by telling people about your project’s work. Set your project’s communication goal(s).
  • WHAT: Create a list of what you want to disseminate (including general information about your project and/or specific products).
  • TO WHOM: Identify the audience(s) for general project communications as well as for specific products. 
  • BY WHOM: Decide who is doing the work (both developing and communicating) and who will review or need to approve the work.
  • HOW: Brainstorm ideas on how you plan to disseminate information about your project and its products (e.g., specific journals, a Facebook page, a website).
  • WHEN: Decide how often and when you want to communicate about your project. Decide when each product should be completed and disseminated. Use proposed conference or proposal deadlines to determine timing.

Will this plan change over time? Of course! The further along in your project, the more you will be able to fill in answers to the above questions. However, planning at the beginning of the project and revising your project’s communication plan and timeline over the life of your project ensures that you are not scrambling at the end of the project (or after) to disseminate your work. Your dissemination will be far more effective if it is planned out over time.

To plan your strategy for dissemination a specific product, visit our 12 Steps for a Product-Driven Dissemination Strategy section of the toolkit.

Don't Forget!

In any and all communications about NSF-funded work, give NSF credit for their support and make it clear that the material does not necessarily reflect the views of NSF. Sample language:

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. XXXXXXX. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.