The first thing for any IT service department to consider when developing communications is that your university and college will already have policies, guidelines, best practices, tools and branding for you to make use of.
You’ll often find allies within your institution’s central marketing department, who as well as being able to offer advice on how to communicate what your department is doing, will be able to help ensure that the tone, style and content of your communications fits with your university’s or college’s wider brand.
A communications strategy sets out why you want to communicate with your stakeholders at a strategic level. (See Why communicate for more about communications strategies). When you are ready to communicate with your audience you need to consider how a communication plan brings the strategy to life.
The driver for developing a communications plan really depends upon the breadth of communications issues you need to address.
Large projects will need a detailed plan to define what communication is needed throughout the project lifecycle including how it will be communicated, to whom, and at what frequency. These communication plans should also include details of how you will capture feedback, and consider how stakeholders can ask questions or get further involved.
Of course, not all IT departments have sufficient resource to deliver extensive communication plans for each project or activity. If this is the case for you, as well as reviewing the examples in the Resources section, we suggest you also take a look at how University of York managed their move from having an embedded IT Communications team to sharing a central resource.
If a specialist service is being taken off line as part of a planned maintenance activity, it may be sufficient to simply email key stakeholders in advance rather than developing whole communication plan.
CREATING COMMUNICATION PLANS
Having a plan helps to:
- make sure you achieve the outcome you want from the communication;
- make the best use of all the communication channels you have available;
- agree responsibilities;
- avoid mistakes and/or last minute panicking.
Keeping these five key questions in mind will enable you to communicate effectively, whether you are dealing with a small number of system owners or an institution - wide project (such as a Windows 10 roll-out):
- Why? – What’s the purpose of your message. Are you simply providing information, or do you require action from the audience?
- Who? – Think about ALL the people you need to communicate with (your stakeholders). Don’t forget about colleagues within IT Services too!
- What? – Think about what messages you want to say to each of your stakeholder groups. For a large project there are likely to be general communications such as project launch messages and regular updates, or communications targeted at specific groups who will be directly affected.
- When? – Regular updates or time-bound messages linked to actions / milestones in the project.
- How? – What communications channels do you have available for each of your stakeholder groups? Which are the most appropriate for the particular audience?