Partnerships have become increasingly popular in the policy world.
Many research- and policy-focused organisations have begun to realise that sometimes, to make some real noise, it helps to use someone else’s microphone. Or better yet, combine multiple voices to reach a larger audience.
One under-explored area is the benefit of collaborations between policy organisations and content creators.
Both parties are in the business of influence
A content creator is someone who creates material to be shared through a medium or channel to an end user who may benefit from it. You may know them as ‘influencers’. While relatively unheard of ten years ago, today, content creators are as popular and as accepted as musicians, actors or any other type of entertainer.
Most content creators produce entertaining or educational content. They may sometimes earn revenue by endorsing a product or service offered by a third party. So, content creation has become a profession embraced by many – beauticians, cooks, travel enthusiasts, writers, even pet-owners.
Any institution that produces research and analysis for public consumption may have fights they cannot fight or lines they cannot cross. These same lines will not apply to content creators.
Meanwhile, research and policy organisations – like think tanks, research institutes, NGOs – typically use their own platforms to disseminate content to their audiences. While traditional communication methods such as television and print media are still used widely, digital media is becoming the most widely used medium for policy organisations to reach the public.
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In this sense, content creators and policy organisations are not that different. The content they create and their reason for creating it may differ, sometimes vastly. Yet both parties aim to share their point of view on a particular topic, and influence the thoughts and actions of others.
So, when these two parties come together, the result can be greater than the sum of their parts.
Together they can be greater than the sum of their parts
Take, for example, a collaboration I worked on. It saw inter-disciplinary think tank Verité Research partner with popular comedy duo Blok & Dino to explain the reasons for Sri Lanka’s economic downfall.
The resulting video, released through the Blok & Dino YouTube channel, featured Verité Research as an “information partner”. It plugged-in important data and analysis produced by the think tank – including explanations on the government’s unfavorable policy decisions, debt restructuring, and the need for an IMF bailout to save the economy.
The video gained over one million views, and was praised by the public for being a unique approach to unpack the complexities of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis.
Collaborations such as this one can help organisations optimise and amplify their reach and impact. The idea might sound unconventional to some organisations with more traditional approaches. But, if done strategically, it can help reach a wider audience and inform public discourse on important topics. Here’s why:
Three reasons it’s a win-win collaboration
Policy organisations get to communicate in an informal voice
By collaborating with content creators, policy organisations can package their research into friendlier, more accessible formats.
Usually, research exist in formats such as reports and policy briefs, which may seem a little intimidating to someone who’s just looking to learn something new. Content creators will use a more informal approach, often scripting their messages with humour and banter, or simply a personal connection to the topic.
Such content may be more effective in capturing an audience as well, creating a better access-point to convey important messages.
Policy organisations can scale-up their reach
In most countries, content creators have a larger audience base compared to think tanks and academic institutions. Therefore, partnering with creators allows researchers to access an audience-base that is beyond their own scale.
The partnership can also be mutually beneficial. Policy organisations can access new types of audiences. Meanwhile, creators can share important information with their ‘fans’ and subsequently be praised for providing an important public service.
Creators can help push the message further
Any institution that produces research and analysis for public consumption may have fights they cannot fight or lines they cannot cross.
These same lines will not apply to content creators. In fact, they can use their creative license to deliver a message in an unconventional and bold way. Audiences expect them to say things that others cannot – a freedom not granted to other social commentators.
Harness the power of ‘edutainment’
While bringing entertainment into research is a relatively new concept, this model of communication has been successfully used by others.
For decades, the development sector has used the education-entertainment model – including outputs such as films, radio and community theatre – to communicate important messages to their beneficiaries. This ‘edutainment’ aims to change behavior by intentionally weaving important social issues into powerful storytelling.
Looking at how this model is used in development, it is not hard to imagine how a similar approach can be adopted by research-based institutions to disseminate research.
Your policy organisation may be looking to change policy, change behavior, or change a public conversation. Whatever your destination, collaborations with content creators offer an additional route to reach it. What’s more, they can offer a layer of entertainment that will no doubt help the message stick.
Chalani Ranwala is a communication specialist and writer with over eight years of experience in research communication, management and public relations. She has held leadership positions as the Head of Communications at Verité Research, a leading inter-disciplinary think tank in Sri Lanka, and the Strategic Communications Lead at Adfactors PR Lanka, a subsidiary of India’s largest PR consultancy.
Currently, Chalani works as an independent consultant, offering advice, training and creative input on communication strategy and content development to local and international organisations. She holds a B.A. in International Communication Studies from the University of Nottingham and a MSc. in Media, Communication and Development from the London School of Economics and Political Science.