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‘Open, ready and agile’: Developing a communications strategy for the Research on Open Educational Resources for Development (ROER4D) in the Global South

Sukaina Walji

University of Cape Town

One of the key objectives of the ROER4D project is to communicate research. Funded by the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), the Open Society Foundation and the Development (DFID), the Research on Open Educational Resources for Development (ROER4D) project was launched in August 2013 with the intention of undertaking empirical research to better understand the use and impact of OER in countries in the Global South. With 12 research projects currently underway in 16 countries located across 18 time zones and undertaken by 39 researchers who speak at least 14 different languages the communications function of the project is particularly important.

Funders are increasingly concerned with the dissemination and currency of research and are focussing on the methods and efficacy of communications so that research projects, processes and findings are communicated effectively and timeously to targeted stakeholders and to those for whom the research is deemed useful. Additionally new developments in communication channels heralded by the advent of social media and Web 2.0 technologies has given further impetus and tools to communicators. Underpinning all of this is ‘openness’ whereby there is an expectation that communications for an Open Development or Open Education programme will be ‘open’, yet there are differing interpretations of what this might mean, both for when and how to communicate within the particular context of the global South. With all these considerations, pressures and opportunities, communications strategies and implementation approaches become more complex requiring new skills, approaches and attitudes. In the case of the ROER4D project, at the time of the grant’s awarding, the IDRC stipulated that the project’s communications function could be facilitated and supported by the Developing Evaluation & Communication Capacity in Information Society Research project (DECI-2). The DECI-2 project, an IDRC funded research project, offers a structured approach to developing a Research Communications strategy, involving working through a series of specific processes.

This paper discusses the development of a communications strategy for the ROER4D programme and in particular focusses on three aspects that could be seen to be innovative in their approach. First, the presentation will consider the notion of ‘readiness’ whereby a range of factors can be ascertained to show whether and how a communications resource or team can be ready to conceptualise, develop and deliver a communications strategy that meets the programme’s core objectives. This will draw upon the observations and experience of the communications advisor on the project as well as the type of mentoring provided by the DECI-2 project. Next, the presentation will consider the concept of ‘agile’, which has underpinned the communications approach and which uses the opportunities and characteristics of social media and ready access to digital and open networked communications tools. Through the exploration of examples, some of the successes and pitfalls of an agile approach to communications will be explored both generally – especially regarding presence and vulnerability – and in specific context of an OER research project across multiple countries, institutions and languages in the Global South. Lastly, the presentation considers the notion of ‘open’ within and open communications. An ‘open communications’ approach can be seen as a commitment to transparency with a full range of stakeholders and a commitment to communicate broadly from the project inception. The paper will conclude that open communications is only possible if there is the commitment and practice of ‘open research’ whereby the research programme and its (lead) researchers make a commitment to share not only the products/outputs but the process of researching openly. Methods and strategies for delivering and formatively evaluating effective open communications will be explored, including the relationships and tensions between a structured methodology to Research Communications and the opportunities for an agile and open approach.

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‘Open, ready and agile’: Developing a communications strategy for the Research on Open Educational Resources for Development (ROER4D) in the Global South from Open Education Consortium