When the trust account is high, communication is easy, instant, and effective. -Steven R. Covey

Communication with stakeholders—both within and outside of the collaboration—is crucial when you’re planning and taking action for community change. Through thoughtful and planned engagement, we can better understand the perspective of diverse partners, lessen the potential for misunderstanding, and harness collective motivation for change.

Collaborations working to build effective local early childhood systems often struggle with how to communicate their work in a way that resonates with diverse partners. Connecting the state’s vision for children to the shared interests and values of stakeholder is key.

Just as businesses “segment” marketing, early childhood collaborations should also think about the different audiences in their community. To boost outreach and engagement for early learning partnerships, segments may include faith-based leaders, local business owners, parents, elected officials, leaders in childcare, as well as members of the medical community and other non-profit partners.

Stakeholder mapping is a tool to map out needs, interests, and values of the different segments. The tool is also helpful for mapping unique characteristics of each audience before you establish a connection. Is their organization structure hierarchical or flat? Do they prefer to be addressed with a formal title? Is there a protocol you should know before you call? Have they been working in the field for many years, or are they new? What is their relative power and influence in the community?

Some stakeholders are already on board with your message, while others may require more information. It’s important to be aware of a specific stakeholder group’s knowledge level at the outset. Does the stakeholder group understand the value of early childhood education? Do they understand the menu of options available to at-risk children through public programs? For each stakeholder, you must understand exactly what you’ll be asking each to do.

Here are some additional stakeholder mapping resources:

At the heart of strategic communication is the idea of matching your message with the stakeholder’s interests. In other words: What you say is as important as who you are saying it to. When you’re developing messages, consider the language, the target audience, and the effect that the collaboration hopes to achieve through the messages it delivers. Some questions to consider:

    • How much does your audience know already?
    • What motivates your audience?
    • What resistance will you face?
    • What are you asking your audience to do?
    • What’s their length of attention?
Kellogg School of Management provides a helpful walkthrough of how to develop a strategic communication plan and includes several exercises.

When planning your strategic communication, remember to include the voice of parents. They are important stakeholders in any early childhood collaboration as they understand the experience of the system. Explore Parent Engagement from Preschool Through Grade 3: A Guide for Policymakers to learn about successful models and strategies for policymakers to foster parent engagement.

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