The Evaluation and Learning Research Center's Connectional Approach to Communication
Wilella Burgess, Evaluation and Learning Research Center/Purdue University
The communication strategy for the ELRC can best be described as connectional. We know we need a good communication plan and good communication tools, but more pressing issues and deadlines always seem to push this important work down the "to do" list. Although we lack lovely communication materials and our Center webpage is in desperate need of a refresh (this is slated for summer 2018), other aspects of our Center communication are effective. The most effective communication tools for the ELRC have been the result of networking and personal connections, both within and outside our institution.
Within the University, ELRC keeps in regular contact with the proposal coordination staff in our Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR). We typically schedule an annual meeting with OVPR staff to share ELRC capabilities and expertise – usually through a series of slides and informal conversation. At the request of the OVPR, ELRC created a series of evaluation planning tools that help researchers craft more competitive grant proposals. These tools and connections bring many researchers to the Center.
ELRC staff have also developed close working relationships with faculty across all Colleges at the University. These faculty, who appreciate the value ELRC brings to their projects, serve as powerful ambassadors for the Center. Many new Center projects come through extensions of prior work or referrals from current or prior collaborators.
Center staff purposefully seek out opportunities to serve on campus level committees. While time consuming, this service is effective in building connections across campus, increasing Center visibility, and forging relationships.
Likewise, ELRC has a number of ongoing collaborations outside the University. ELRC staff purposefully participate in meetings, workshops, and conferences that give us an opportunity to showcase our work and meet with other people who have similar interests. Several ELRC staff members are involved in national collaborations that serve to extend our network and increase Center visibility. Center staff are regular presenters at national meetings and publish regularly. The Center Director serves on the Catalyst Board for a new journal that is experimenting with emergence and collective transformation. These scholarly activities increase Center recognition and reach and help us build a network of external colleagues and partners. We find that one connection often leads to another, as partners ask us to participate in new projects or refer colleagues to the Center.
ELRC uses networking and personal communication as powerful and effective tools for transmitting our mission and vision to potential collaborators. However, this approach is not always appropriate. The Center has developed slide sets, posters, and a series of narrative pieces that communicate our mission, vision, and approach to a wide variety of stakeholders. Building on this foundation, the Center aims to work with the College of Education Communication Team to create a holistic communication plan.