Successful forest-related communication requires clear messages that counter misconceptions

©FAO/Marco Perri26, October 2018, Turrialba, Costa Rica -  Successful communication requires carefully developed messaging that ‘speaks’ directly to important target audiences and addresses any misconceptions about forest management, specialists in forest-related outreach explained during a training workshop for the Latin America and the Caribbean Forest Communicators Network.

Twenty participants from 14 countries participated in this interactive workshop organized by FAO and the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center (CATIE) in Turrialba, Costa Rica, with generous financial support from Austria and Finland. The workshop, ‘Getting the message across: Communication strategies for the digital age’, was designed to boost regional learning and to encourage knowledge sharing while providing state-of-the-art training in forest communications.

The workshop included a field trip into a tropical rain forest near the village of Corinto, in the district of Guápiles in Limón province, to demonstrate to communicators the value of providing the media with first-hand experience of relevant subject matter. During the field trip, communicators learned that the forest they were visiting had been harvested using sustainable forest management planning to preserve its biodiversity. This kind of positive message is important and communicators can use such information to change perceptions around forest management, said Roger Villalobos, a researcher with the Forests, Biodiversity and Climate Change programme of CATIE.

“Such field trips can be very effective in giving journalists a genuine experience with issues of sustainable forest management while influencing and changing misconceptions,” said Maria De Cristofaro, Forestry Officer, Outreach and Capacity Building at FAO. “Field trips also provide communicators with an opportunity to build better relationships with journalists, which can help to maintain an open dialogue. Keeping messages simple and direct also helps the media to better understand forest issues and accurately convey these to their audiences.”

In the workshop, other sorts of hands-on training sessions allowed participants to practice new skills in effective communication, including break-out groups that asked participants to develop interview questions and answers based on forestry-related scenarios.

Kai Lintunen, Head of International Communications for the Finnish Forest Association and Leader of the UNECE-FAO Forest Communicators Network, told the workshop that messaging should be positive, credible, relevant, clear and brief and expressed in language accessible to the audience. That approach can be especially important in reaching new audiences outside the forest sector, he added. Lintunen also recommended communicators to aim to offer solutions rather than focusing on identifying problems.

He advised communicators to target not only decision-makers, but to also identify and then influence opinion leaders and champions who are trusted in their communities, in order to effectively spread messaging. Other speakers, meanwhile, emphasized the value of ensuring that gender is taken into account when formulating communication strategies, explaining that gender equality needs to be addressed at the early stages in order to maximize outreach.

last updated:  Tuesday, October 30, 2018