How to communicate with members of a movement

Written by Jade Maina, Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH), Kenya

Please describe a situation when your organisation or project has faced difficulties due to multiple relationships and/or communication breakdowns between movement members.

As a young movement, there have naturally been communication challenges and  mixed expectations from members when they first join. Many people expect a lot more support, both in terms of time and resources. Sometimes it can also be very discouraging when you call for a meeting and members do not turn up. For the Sub-Saharan continent there are are often problems with connections, due to power and internet and so people cannot always commit to meetings. Frustrations can then build on both ends, from the coordinating team and from the members, if they feel that they are not connected to what is happening. For our project, communications also need to be secure due to the sensitive nature of our work.

How did you work on this problem and what changes did you make?

We are developing a communication guide, which will try to ensure security and help members of the movement to feel connected. There are secure communication platforms available online that have been developed by activists and these can be helpful, but if they are new they often have connection problems. Having a communication guide helps to clarify how often members are expected to communicate, and what the preferred communication channels are, so that members can plan, practise and get familiar with such channels in advance.

What did you achieve?

We have employed new strategies in the build up to meetings and have seen an increase in members’ engagement. Each of these strategies has given members an increased ownership and responsibility for meetings, and in turn, strengthened their commitment to the movement. Examples of these strategies:

  • Sharing the agenda and having movement members feed into it in advance
  • Delegating different people to present within meetings

Towards the end of 2018 only 2 out of 11 members showed up for meetings, whereas since changing and using many strategies including these above, there has never been less than 8 people attending a meeting.

What did you learn from this experience?

One of the things we have learnt is to ensure there is clear communication prior to meetings, stating when meetings will regularly occur, e.g. third Thursday of every month. Members can then plan around it and be aware that even if they miss the meeting, they will know when the next one will be. Even with this approach it is still important to send out reminders beforehand. Remember that some people will still not be able to attend, so use platforms through which you can record the meeting, or allow participation prior or after the meeting as well. It is also helpful to set tasks and clarify where feedback is wanted, and make sure it is clear how to do this even without having been in the meeting.

What are your top tips for someone facing the same or similar issues?

  1. Think through what you want to communicate and how often, and then make it clear to the members how this will happen in order to manage expectations.
  2. Be aware of time zones and language barriers and therefore which modes of communication are best.
  3. If you are working on sensitive issues always be aware of using secure platforms.
  4. Clearly communicate the values that guide the movement from the start and continue articulating this throughout the journey to avoid conflict. We developed a manifesto to articulate the ethos we aspire to live and work by.

Jade Maina,Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH), Kenya

Jade Maina is the Executive Director at TICAH. Her role includes resource mobilisation, organisational strategic planning and direction and staff growth. She has over ten years of experience as an activist, programme manager and organiser concerning sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Visit Trust for Indigenous Culture and Health (TICAH) for more information.