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Six insights from our roundtable on communicating complexities

By Amanda Powell-Smith

1. Positive change comes from progress not perfection.

The social and environmental challenges that we want to solve are complex and multi-stranded – we have to focus on progress, not wait for perfection, and keep moving forward. The reality is that change is messy and with so many unknowns – particularly in how we translate net zero targets to reality – we are all working in a state of ambiguity. We need to get used to feeling uncomfortable.

2. Lasting solutions are created by those with direct experience.

Trying to address a complex issue through a single viewpoint is unlikely to generate viable solutions. Organisations need to listen to and work with the individuals who are directly involved in the problem they are trying to solve. By joining up insights and experiences from every perspective, we can create solutions that will last.

3. Fear of talking about what hasn’t worked is stifling progress.

There is an inherent difficulty in being genuinely transparent; organisations must share detail on what hasn’t worked or went wrong so they are not hiding information but they are lambasted for failure or wasting money when they do so. A fear of negative response – from senior leaders as well as media commentators – is forcing issues underground. We urgently need a culture that supports learning and recognises that identifying problems early can allow us to leapfrog to positive solutions.

4. Leaders need permission to think differently.

We have to tell home truths to leaders if we want to enable change. This means taking them out of their comfort zone to show what’s really going on through evidence or experiences, and framing strategic questions in a different way. Sometimes a sense of shock is needed to give permission to think differently. Information about the impact of decisions on people can help switch process-focused mindsets and make change personal.

5. Successful collaboration demands flexibility from all parties.

Most sectors spend a lot of time talking to others within their sector – sticking within their own echo chamber and limiting the opportunity for new ideas or broader systems change. Collaboration has been happening for a while but is often based on fixed power structures or existing delivery modes. We need a different level of connection between sectors, where knowledge and ideas are respected rather than budgets or value of resources held by individuals, with openness and flexibility at their core.

6. Communicating complexity requires a layered approach.

From audience planning to matching the message to the channel, one size does not fit all when communicating complex issues. Social media has no nuance; short form or quick grab content can only add long term value if there is in depth information and support sitting behind it. Advocates who can share their experiences are crucial to creating understanding as well as empathy, and in today’s media environment they are often complemented by celebrity voices who are able to grab attention and force a debate.

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