3 mins

Communication in time of pandemics - INTERACT experience

Kevin Fulcher

When COVID-19 arrived in Europe, our main challenge in communicating the Interact programme came from fundamental changes to the way we work.Interact offers training and knowledge sharing for Interreg programmes and others. One of our principal service delivery methods was events, bringing people together from across Europe to exchange and learn from each other.

Usually, these in-person events have long lead times. We book venues months ahead of the event being delivered, as our target audience needs time to ensure time out of the office can be managed, make travel arrangements, etc.

With a purely digital offer, our service delivery lead time has reduced to mere weeks from concept to delivery. These lead times were our main communication window, so they have almost disappeared. In this new reality, ensuring the right information reaches the right people quickly is more important than ever. We now rely even more on the networks and informal working groups than ever before.

“With a purely digital offer, our service delivery lead time has reduced to mere weeks from concept to delivery”

More specifically in communication terms, our events page is now more focused on helping people find the right information quickly. More events can be viewed at one time, and more information is available without clicking. Our primary outreach method (Newsflash email) is now monthly, responding to the shorter notice period and the ease with which people can now join events much later than would be possible for physical meetings.

Our in-person events were also our chance to exchange with programmes and to network. They helped Interact stay up to date with what problems programmes were facing, and helped us maintain our relationship with our key audiences. In losing this, we are now even more dependent on more intensive one-to-one discussions and programmes reaching out to us. The short coffee breaks at events were a chance to reset for the next session, and for us to spend 5 minutes with colleagues from INTERREG to understand their work, and any needs or challenges.

With the ease and confidence we now all have in communicating by video, better communication with programmes is helping us to deliver better services. We are also aware we need to fundamentally rethink the way knowledge and services are signposted. With so many meetings, having information readily and easily available is more important than ever.

In a way, a benefit of having the new programme period so close is that Interact will be able to take these lessons forward into the next period and build our new communication environment around this reality. While it is easy to envisage a rush of in-person events as soon as the epidemiological situation (and green passports or similar) allows, the benefits of short online meetings have established themselves.

Whereas our online learning portal, established in 2018, was an experiment for us, and a niche service for those willing to learn online, it is now a more standard service model. The number of courses added in the past 12 months reflects a greater movement to hybrid learning. Asynchronous learning and presentations, which enable more focused use of time when everyone does come together, have become a standard approach for many events.

In addition to the new approaches, new skills in communicating will also stay with us - confidence and competence in video recordings and online engagement is a norm, not an exception. The flexibility to rapidly deploy interventions, rather than requiring 2 months to schedule something, will also likely mean that Interact is better able than ever before to respond to urgent programme needs as we all face the new regulatory environment.

Kevin Fulcher is the Interact Communication Manager

This article appears in Rural areas: an eye to the future

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