Getting your message across

Getting your message across

Regular readers will have seen our blogs about Cyberevolution, the European conference for Chief Information Security Officers. We held workshops and panel discussions on the future of digital life and cybersecurity, using the SAFIRE scenarios we at SAMI built for the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research and Innovation.

Our previous blog focussed on the use of the SAFIRE scenarios in new contexts – and how published scenarios can be a useful base to kick-start thinking on different or novel challenges.

We’re now writing up the scenarios for a White Paper in conjunction with the cybersecurity experts KuppingerCole, and the process is throwing up more thoughts about the perennial question – how do futurists get their message across to people who have to use their outputs? This is a subject that comes up whenever we prepare work for our clients; it is a regular question at our continuing development Cohort programme; and a frequent point of discussion whenever two or more futurists are gathered together.

We’ve had some other real learned experience here, as we wrote the new Futures Toolkit for the Government Office for Science. Here it’s been about how we get sometimes complex methodology across in as clear, useful, attractive ways as possible. And while we’ve been running Use Cases for a further project, this time for the Cabinet Office, each Use Case has ended with the questions “How do we ensure our work has impact? How do we engage with our decision-makers and get them to use it?”

So as we’re writing the White Paper, it’s a good time to think about how those experiences and questions inform our approach. Firstly, for the Cyberevolution work, we produced short introductory videos (currently only available behind a firewall, alas) for each of the four scenarios. One minute each, consisting of a carefully worked script – narrated in this case by an AI – and evocative images, the videos introduced each scenario quickly and memorably. They helped us position the scenarios quickly in the minds of audiences unfamiliar with scenario work – and equally importantly, in a way which meant they did not have to read the full scenario descriptions, which in SAFIRE’s case, stretch to many pages each (almost no-one ever reads the paperwork until they get on the train to a conference – and even then, they will probably only scan through them).

The scenario workshops themselves were, gloriously, in person. Two preparatory workshops with different interest groups had been virtual and gathered a lot of data, but the in-person workshops proved the value of simply gathering warm bodies around tables – in terms of energy, cross-fertilisation of ideas and thinking, and the serendipity of ideas sparking one to another.

And there are results. Proper, significant ones which will form the basis of valuable and useful recommendations, advice and actions for the sector.

So how to get that across?

In this case, we’re going for a White Paper – a document setting out our recommendations, reasoning, and the work underlying them. Which could be the same as many White Papers – interesting, but ultimately for background, not for action. Our approach attempts to understand the different constituencies in our target readership:

  • Board level people with limited time and attention spans, who need to know what to do
  • Their reports, who need to understand what to do and why, and
  • Their staff, who need to understand what to do, why, and how on earth we got there.

Those three constituencies have different needs from the documents, and we need to meet those needs if we are to have impact. So we’re structuring the paper in the following way.

A maximum of 8 recommendations – brief, punchy, using simple iconography and graphics to get the message across. Ideally, that’s no more than a couple of pages, and is the thing the Board members need for their next meeting – or to instruct actions to their teams.

The reports to the Board members need to understand more about those recommendations – so we’ll follow up the one pager with the detailed reasoning for each recommendation. Working in conjunction with our cybersecurity colleagues, we are embedding the recommendations in the underlying logic – the “why” element which will enable them to understand context, but also be confident that the recommendations are supported by clear industry need.

And finally, there’s a comprehensive set of appendices. These set out every stage in the process, all the results, people who participated, and a slew of references. This is the staff level, designed to help those who actually have to carry out Board decisions by bringing them up to speed with the full depth of the process and allowing them to follow the decision chains which led to the final recommendations. This is also the stage where further, sub-recommendations are contained – so that not only do people know what to do and why, but also what else needs to happen.

And we’ll probably do another video or two, leveraging both people and AI, to produce simple, attractive, engaging introductions to the recommendations.

We hope that by making each level of the output appropriate to the respective audiences, we’ll make it easy, logical, and practical for them to act.

As futurists, we know that our clients are time poor and overwhelmed by information. Our job is to make it as easy as possible for them to act on the work we do. This may be one way of making it happen – both for them, to benefit from our work – and for us, in seeing that work have real business impact. We look forward to sharing the White Paper soon, and asking whether we achieved what I have described.

Written by Jonathan Blanchard Smith, SAMI Fellow and Director

The views expressed are those of the author(s) and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

Future-prepared firms outperform the average by 33% higher profitability and 200% higher growth. SAMI Consulting brings 30 years of experience delivering foresight, futures and scenario planning – enabling companies and organisations make “robust decisions in uncertain times”. Find out more

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One Comment
  1. What a brilliantly written piece. Succinct and to the point. SAMI seems to be going from strength to strength.

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