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Learn how to develop communication and reporting processes that keep the community informed and involved, and provide accountability for the effort.

 

  • What do we mean by formal public reporting processes?

  • Why create formal public reporting processes?

  • Who should be involved in creating formal public reporting processes?

  • When should you create formal public reporting processes?

  • How do you create formal public reporting processes?

Community efforts are just that – they work best when a large part of the community is involved in some way. Not everyone can be on a planning or oversight committee, or take part in implementation, however. So how do you keep the community involved and supportive?

One obvious way is to assure that individuals/community members are informed about priority community issues, about efforts to address them, and about the final/end result. This section will help you develop communication and reporting processes that keep the community informed and involved, and provide accountability for the effort.

What do we mean by formal public reporting processes?

Reporting can just be a matter of telling people something. You might bump into a friend and report to her about a meeting you attended or a class you took. These types of occurrences represent informal reporting.

However, a formal reporting process generally has specific characteristics:

  • Formal reports must be routinely delivered. Recipients should expect to receive regularly scheduled status updates, such as quarterly and/or annual progress reports. Reporting must be based on consistent measures, which may be quantitative (number-based), qualitative (narrative, interviews, or other elements that cannot easily be translated into numbers), or both. It should be noted that these methods should be consistent throughout each respective report to ensure that it is possible to conduct comparative analyses.
  • Formal reports must offer suggestions for adjustment and change and continue throughout the life of the effort.

Why create formal public reporting processes?

  • To involve the community and garner support. Formal reporting processes keep the community informed and invite community members to join the effort, making it possible for them to feel ownership of and responsibility for the effort. In addition, involving community members in devising these processes further ties them to the effort.
  • To bring the issue to the fore and raise the profile of the effort. Advertisement may prove fruitful when marketing the effort and engaging those who were previously unaware or unfamiliar with the initiative.
  • To hold the effort accountable. It is important to not only publicize the effort’s achievements throughout the community, but to also recognize and communicate adjustments that must be made in order to improve the initiative’s effectiveness for positive outcomes.
  • To keep track of progress. Routine reporting is essential so that both the public and those involved in implementation have a clear understanding of the initiative’s work and accomplishments.
  • To collect new ideas for the effort. Community meetings and other means of disseminating information about the effort allow for public feedback, which may be extremely useful in adjusting the work to make it more effective.
  • To be open and transparent. Openness about the effort’s process, successes, and problems can aid in convincing the community that its best interests are being served, thereby sustaining community support.

Who should be involved in creating formal public reporting processes?

Formal reporting is only useful if it informs community members about the effort. Therefore, those who would benefit from the effort and the reporting process, as well as those who can contribute, should be involved. These individuals will impart their current level of awareness about the effort, become more informed, and suggest their opinions in regard to reporting and transparency.

Some of the individuals you might involve include:

  • Those who are most affected by the issue and would stand to benefit from a successful effort
  • Local and other relevant officials
  • The business community
  • Community activists, particularly those who have been involved with the issue at hand
  • Those who might see changes in their work if the effort gains momentum (for example, police might need further training in handling domestic violence)
  • Those who will actually implement the effort

When should you create a formal public reporting process?

A formal reporting process should be created when an organization or effort begins implementation, so that the community understands its work and can see its progress over time. If, however, this has not happened, there are other times when creating a reporting process might be appropriate.

  • When community support is needed. If community pressure, financial resources, or other community contributions are necessary for the continued functioning of the effort, it is important that the community has been informed of the benefits and rewards of investing in the effort.
  • When there are questions about the effort. Issues may arise regarding the necessity of the effort, its cost, or other concerns. A reporting process can reveal the reality and invite the community into the discussion by presenting facts, rather than hearsay.
  • When the issue the effort addresses has reached, or threatens to reach, dangerous proportions. This could be a special case of needing community support, or reporting may simply be needed to inform the community of the problem and how it will be remedied.
  • To alert the community to one or more issues that have been recognized and are being addressed.

How do you create formal public reporting processes?

Assemble a group to plan the reporting process

The group should include representatives of all stakeholder groups as well as advocates. It might be helpful to also include members versed in communication, such as media professionals. The group should reflect the target audiences, and be familiar with their preferred ways of receiving information. The task of this planning group is to devise a reporting process that can reach, inform, and influence both key audiences and the general public.

Define the aim of the reporting process

In consultation with stakeholders, decide what you want to accomplish.

Some possibilities include:

  • To comply with funders’ or government agencies’ reporting requirements
  • To inform the public about the issue and your work
  • To make sure that the effort gathers and analyzes the appropriate data so that the work, progress, and outcomes of the effort are accurately recorded and that you monitor progress and continually adjust its implementation
  • To hold the effort accountable
  • To gain public and/or policy support
  • To raise funds

Consult with and collect information from stakeholders

Remember that stakeholders should include those who would benefit from and/or could contribute to the public reporting process.

There are a number of purposes for consulting with these individuals:

  • To find out how much they know about the issue
  • To find out what they know about the effort and/or the organization/ institution/coalition
  • To find out the process and progress information that would be of interest
  • To receive feedback about community needs and to inquire if there are modifications that need to be put into place
  • To find out their opinions about what they see as the benefits of reporting, and what, if any, challenges they may see
  • To enlist them, where appropriate, in becoming part of the reporting process
  • To involve the community in a way that makes them feel ownership of the effort
  • To be as fair, open, and accountable to the community as possible

To accomplish these purposes, you can conduct individual and group interviews, public forums, and informal meetings with key stakeholders and others.

Identify and prioritize the various audiences you want to reach

It is important to know who you are trying to reach, and what types of messages and information is most useful for each audience. Community audiences vary not only by their level of interest and their susceptibility to the issue, but also by their preferred channels of information, their understanding of and interest in different aspects of the issue and the effort, their level – or lack – of support, their political power, the language they speak, etc.

Some of the audiences that are likely to be targeted include:

  • Populations affected by the issue
  • Members of particular language groups
  • Political officials and policymakers
  • Others recognized as community leaders (CEOs of major businesses, heads of large institutions, community members respected for their integrity and/or influence)
  • The general public
  • Funders, public and private, which may include national or international foundations or development organizations

You may decide to prioritize your audiences depending on your goals for the reporting.

Understand the interests and preferred communication methods of the target population

Your reporting may need to convey a different message to each of these groups; for example, awareness of the issue for those affected by it, or the need for policy change for public officials. You may also need to frame and deliver the message differently for each population.

Another important consideration is the way in which different audiences prefer to receive information. Some may get most of their information from TV or radio, others from newspapers, others from the Web, still others from trusted community sources (clergy, health workers, teachers, etc.) In rural areas of the developing world, you might have to hold village meetings. You should deliver information to your audience through the appropriate medium of communication.

Timing is also important here. When can you attract the greatest attention and spread for your reports? Timing them to coincide with festivals, work holidays, special news broadcasts, ends or beginnings of legislative sessions or other specific periods might provide more exposure than end-of-the-quarter releases.

Tailor your reporting to each audience

Once you have decided on the priority audiences and have the information about their interests, preferences, and needs for receiving information, you can design messages that specifically target those audiences. This means couching the message in terms – and in a language – that members of that audience understand, using references to their own experience and concerns, and delivering it in a way that they are both likely to be exposed and in which they feel comfortable.

For example, a report on the progress of an immunization program that is aimed at Hispanic parents in a neighborhood of a large American city might be delivered in Spanish on a Spanish-language radio station. A report on a similar program in rural Nigeria might be delivered in the local language (even though English is the official language, most rural people do not converse in it) – at a village meeting or market.

Plan an ongoing communications campaign that includes annual reports

The reporting process should be part of an overall communication campaign that includes:

  • Memorable messages about the issue and the effort
  • Stories of people affected and their success in overcoming adversity
  • Requests for help with the effort (advocacy, volunteers, cash and in-kind contributions)
  • Regular periodic progress reports about the effort
  • An annual comprehensive report on the state of the effort and the issue, with suggestions for adjustments to be made in the next year

All of these campaign elements should be communicated through a number of channels in a number of ways, in order to reach all the target audiences. They should employ as spokespersons trusted and respected figures – clergy, community leaders, media figures, athletes, etc.

Test your communications and public reports with the intended audiences

This is a three-step process:

  •  Introduce them at focus groups and solicit feedback from target audiences
  • Adjust the messages for greater effectiveness and accessibility based on feedback
  • Adjust the overall communication plan, paying attention not only to feedback, but to cost as well

Assess and address public opinion about the effort

Based on your testing, determine what community members know and think about your effort. Do they have adequate and accurate information? Are they informed about the relevant issues, and whether or not they are affected by them? Do they see the value of the effort? Surveys, public forums, focus groups, and further interviews can expand on the perspectives you have received from piloting your messages.

Once you understand the state of public thinking about the effort, try to address the gaps in information and any negative feelings. Use public education programs, public meetings and forums, presentations to community groups, websites, and list servs to correct mistaken impressions, spread accurate information, and answer objections and any opposition arguments.

If any negative feelings, objections, or opposition arguments are legitimate – if there are gaps in the effort that could be bridged or aspects of implementation that need to be modified – you should acknowledge and remedy them. Nothing is gained by trying to defend elements of the effort that are in fact not well planned or not likely to work.
 
A particularly important strategy here is to develop a relationship with and use the media to help publicize information about the effort and requests to the community.

Educate public officials about the issues and the effort

Legislators and policy makers can be extremely helpful in publicizing and legitimizing the effort, and in helping to secure public support and funding. In addition, and more importantly, they can influence policy around the issue, leading to permanent positive change.

  • Find a legislative or policy champion. The ideal champion for your effort is an elected official who is already sympathetic to your issue. If you can find a legislator who has had direct personal experience with the issue your effort addresses, it is likely that he or she will be willing to be a standard bearer in your campaign.
  • Educate policy makers about the issue and your effort. Your champion can help by contacting friends and colleagues and adding legitimacy to your voice. A legislative insider can arrange for you to make a presentation to the legislative body, distribute your literature, and otherwise raise your profile among those who determine policy.
  • Mobilize your local partners – particularly those affected by the issue at hand and those with influence, such as business leaders – to contact legislators and policy makers. Elected officials, particularly, respond to the voice of the public; the louder that voice is – and the more influential those who are speaking – the more quickly officials respond.

Implement the communication and reporting campaign

Develop action plans for the campaign, dividing responsibility among members, and determining whom they will work with, what the timeline is, and what the results are intended to be. Then, use your tested communication and reporting format to report on the progress and results of the effort, explaining what the results mean and their implications for future work.

Encourage your intended audiences to use the reports to carry the effort further

Use the reports in sessions with key groups to reflect on and explain results, and to discuss what those results mean for further work. What adjustments do they imply, and why? Why do we think those adjustments will achieve particular results?

Use accessible language and explain everything in terms that are easily understood. Ask for feedback on how to improve the effort. And if you ask for feedback, be sure to take it into account. Either implement the suggested modifications – and communicate this to the community – or explain why you have chosen another route. Ultimately, the goal here is to use the information you obtain from the report and the feedback you receive from the community to make adjustments that render the effort more effective.

Continue the reporting and communications campaign

A public reporting process is not a one-time process. It has to continue over the long term in order to retain community involvement and support, both of which are necessary to the success of the effort.

In Summary

In the course of any community effort, it is important to establish and maintain communication with stakeholders and the community at large. This will include bidirectional information shared between members of the effort and the community.

Another aspect of communication , although informational as well, is more specific: reporting on the state and progress of the effort, on what has been learned from work so far, and on what kinds of changes need to be made in order to improve effectiveness. When community members are invited to give feedback which is then implemented in adjusting the effort, the community gains a sense of ownership and responsibility, leading to support for the effort. All of that, in turn, makes for a more successful effort and for a well-informed community that will be ready to tackle the next issue when it arises.

Contributor 
Phil Rabinowitz

Online Resources

The purpose of the Best Practices in Public Reporting series is to provide practical approaches to designing public reports that make health care performance information clear, meaningful, and usable by consumers. Report 1: How to Effectively Present Health Care Performance Data to Consumers focuses on the presentation of comparative health care performance data. Report 2: Maximizing Consumer Understanding of Public Comparative Quality Reports: Effective Use of Explanatory Information focuses on the explanatory information in public reports, beyond the performance data itself, that helps to accurately communicate quality ratings to consumers and motivate them to use the ratings in making informed health care decisions. Report 3: How to Maximize Public Awareness and Use of Comparative Quality Reports through Effective Promotion and Dissemination Strategies applies social marketing and other principles to explore how to target reports to specific audiences, develop messages to promote the report with key audiences, engage consumer advocacy and community groups in promoting reports and helping people use them, disseminate reports through trusted channels, and ensure that consumers see and use comparative quality reports.

Print Resources

Association for Community Health Improvement. Step 6: Planning for Action and Monitoring Progress. Community Health Assessment Toolkit.

Catholic Health Association (March 2011 Draft). Developing an Implementation Strategy, Steps 1-8. Assessing and Addressing Community Health Needs. (85-107).

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Action Step 1: Assemble the Community Team. Community health Assessment and Group Evaluation (CHANGE) Action Guide: Building a Foundation of Knowledge to Prioritize Community Needs (8-10). Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

HRSA Maternal and Child Health Needs Assessment Guide: Design Programs and Allocate Resources.

National Association of County and City Health Officials. (2001). Phase 6: Action Cycle. Mobilizing for Action through Planning and Partnerships: Web-based Framework Tool. Washington, DC: National Association of County and City Health Officials.

National Association of County and City Health Officials. (2008). Task 13: Evaluate progress and plan for the future. Protocol for Assessing Community Excellence in Environmental Health (64-65).

Voluntary Hospitals of America (1994). Phase VI: Action and Evaluation. Community Health Assessment: A Process for Positive Change (77-80). Texas: Voluntary Hospitals of America, Inc.