Monday, 11 February 2013

Communication and access to information

For information to be useful it has to be
  • Received by the person(s) that you want to communicate with;
  • In a medium that works for them; 
  • In an accessible format; and
  • In a timely fashion.

Finding out about Unitarianism and local congregations/communities

We need to understand how people receive information if we are going to ensure that as many people as possible hear about us. People will find information at a variety of places. The issue here for us is whether we decide to target our promotional material at specific groups. Having a website works well but what about those without access to the Internet? This may be older people or it may be people who have few resources or it may be people who do not like technology.

We can place posters at libraries but this again will only reach those people who go to those places and will be unavailable to large numbers of other people. This is not to say that information should not be at libraries but that it should be available in other places and in other formats as well as the written word. 

It might be useful to talk with your friends to find out how they find out about things and what works well and what might be a waste of time, effort and finance.

Who are you trying to communicate with

There are a group of people that you wish to communicate with - your congregation or a broader group of people who are somehow connected with your local community. Do we know how everyone connected with our local community wishes to receive information? Email works well for many of us but not all of us. Email works for some of us all the time but for others it may only work for monthly updates but urgent communication needs to be done via phone. Or perhaps newsletters are preferred in paper format. 

Is there a list of everyone with their contact details and their preferred means of receiving information? The larger the group the more difficult this becomes. My main issue is with new email addresses when for some reason I cannot get Outlook to get rid of the old ones - so I have to keep a separate file which has all the email addresses identifying the new email address and when it was changed.

Many of provide notices at the beginning of services. Are we sure that people remember these? Do we also need to follow this up with written information - email and in paper format?

Accessible written information

Once people have access to information there is the issue of its accessibility. Up to 20% of the population have literacy difficulties. The reasons for this range from having a visual impairment, having a learning difficulty, having dyslexia, not having English as a first language (this includes profoundly Deaf people whose first language is British Sign Language) and not having learnt to read. It is not possible to give simple guidelines here. The way that information is provided will depend upon its purpose.

However, there are some simple guidelines for written information which can be adhered to. Key ideas are around avoiding the use of jargon; language being simple, concise and clear; the size of font being large enough for the majority of people to read (14 recommended as a minimum); the avoidance of shiny paper (it reflects under light and people with sight difficulties often need a light to help with reading); the use of certain colours - in particular having text and paper colour such that the text is easy to read; not having watermarks or images under text; and a clear lay-out.

See the UK Association for Accessible Formats for further information


There are also standards for helping to make websites accessible - see

Other ways of communicating

The written word (on paper or electronic) works for many of us but not all the time. Many local communities now do podcasts and the NUF sends out audio CDs of its publications. Others produce audio versions of newsletters and some also create videos.

Many of us use social networking - Facebook and/or Twitter.

The telephone works well - either texting or speech. If you want to communicate something urgently it is useful to have a phone tree - the first person rings two or three people and then they do the same. This helps to take the pressure off one person.


Sometimes we are trying to communicate with people that we know and sometimes it's with people that we hope we will know in the future. In our diverse world there are many ways to communicate. To do this effectively we need to understand what suits people - it may be different for different occasions. We are usually fairly small groups with volunteers who do an awful lot. This is not about making life difficult for us all but about giving us pointers about the direction we could be moving in.

Further information can be found at


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