How do you disseminate your information?

The means of delivery is a key part of the strategy for better information. The dissemination of the information can take up as much as half of the total cost of an information project, so it must be planned in from the start.

The key to effective dissemination is to match the means to the message and needs of the audience. There are lots of ways to deliver information, from a slogan on a t-shirt to a video on YouTube. The key is to adopt a method that will work for the target audience and for the type of content you have to deliver.

Traditional methods of delivering legal information by paper leaflet still have many advantages, but the internet is increasingly being used. Its availability 24/7 means it is there when people need it. But despite its popularity, there will always be some groups who can not, or choose not to, use it.

Video is a very effective means of delivery, particularly to engage interest in an issue and to tell people’s stories. Video can be expensive, but the availability of cheap digital video cameras and popularity of YouTube has opened up a new opportunity for delivering rights information. There are already large numbers of instructional videos on topics as diverse as how to iron a shirt or how to put on a condom, and there is clear potential to use this format as a way of delivering rights information.

The mass media is often overlooked as a way of reaching a wide audience - but it is where most people get their information. The press, radio, and television are an effective way of reaching a wide audience - particularly with an awareness-raising message. Most stories won’t make it on to national television, but local press and radio are always on the look out for a story - especially where there is a local connection.

The LivingTogether campaign 9 run by Advice Services Alliance’s Advicenow project (ASA Advicenow) set out to challenge the myth of common law marriage through a combination of website information and a media campaign. The campaign produced information on the different aspects of cohabiting - housing, children, wills, etc and used a PR company (Amazon PR) to sell each issue into newspapers, magazines, radio, and television.

This resulted in very widespread coverage in the mass media, including breakfast television, local radio phone-ins, national and local press, magazines, and leaflets. The campaign was even able to influence the story line on Emmerdale to include the split up of a cohabiting couple.

The campaign's approach was to get a simple message into the media, wherever possible with a case study, with a clear link on to more detailed information on the campaign website. By working closely with journalists, the campaign was able to ensure that coverage was legally accurate. Coverage in the media was significant, with nearly 600 items during the first three years of the project.

‘Information comes best wrapped in a person’

There is evidence that people take more notice of information if they are given it by a person. Studies10 have found that NHS patients are more likely to act on a piece of information if they are given it by their doctor or another member of staff, than if they pick it up from a rack in a waiting room.

The National Disability Information Project11 concluded that 'Information comes best wrapped in a person'. The project used a variety of methods of delivery, but concluded that for many people the best source of information was a person who could respond to their specific needs and provide the information, support, and reassurance they require.

Many professionals get asked about rights and legal issues in the course of their work - health visitors, probation officers, faith leaders, youth workers, registrars, trade union shop stewards - the list is endless. These people, variously described as 'intermediaries', 'problem noticers' or 'informal advisers', are in a very good position to pass on accurate information to their clients, particularly in the early stages of a problem.

Intermediaries provide an excellent way of getting information to people early and of targeting specific groups. There’s a need to be realistic: intermediaries have their own job to do and aren’t going to become unpaid legal advisers. But where information resources meet their needs and strengthen their service they can be excellent partners in delivering information. This method of delivery can also develop and maximise relationships with individuals and organisations in the community.

Distribution as part of a service

Information works best if it is distributed as a part of, or in conjunction with, a user-facing service. These can be advice services, helplines, and other types of community-based organisations or campaigns.

These services provide a ready-made route to reach intended users and will often provide an effective way of targeting a specific audience. The information materials will have the added benefit of strengthening these services and maximising return on the investment. This means building and sustaining links with organisations who can also provide early warning or evidence of need, and a mechanism for feedback and assistance in evaluation.

Information is a tool to be used: it works best as a part of broader human interaction. Some people will access information directly from a leaflet or a website, but others will gain knowledge through word of mouth or through interaction with a variety of intermediaries.

The HandyVan service

Help the Aged run a fleet of 35 HandyVans which visit older people’s homes around the UK to fit smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and security equipment to help protect the home from burglary. On board the HandyVan they keep a stock of Help the Aged’s information leaflets so that they can provide older people there and then with relevant information if they have a problem.

9LivingTogether - Advicenow guides .
10Review of evidence, DH (E). Quoted in Better information, better choices, better health: Putting information at the centre of health. Department of Health.
11Access to Information: a Review of the Provision of Disability Information - Nick Moore. Policy Studies Institute 1995.

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