Why Collaborative Communications Matter

Why Collaborative Communications Matter

By Emily Irish


This is the first post in our blog series discussing the value of communications across multiple Willamette Partnership projects by our Partner in Communication, Emily Irish.

For many of us, including Willamette Partnership, communications have typically come as an organizational afterthought. How will our report be produced? Who will we tell about this research? Where will we share this product? 

The WP team in the Fall of 2021 at a socially distant gathering.

In the three years I’ve been with the Partnership, we’ve been working to move our organization away from traditional communication thinking and more toward a holistic approach that considers communications at every phase of our work.

When I started in conservation, I knew I wanted to be a part of the process that was reaching key audiences, the audiences that would connect with the content and take action. When I got my degree in design, I saw a niche in its value as a key communications tool. How an infographic can convey big datasets; how a process design can simplify a project timeline; or how imagery can have a strong visual impact. So, I thought, how could my love of design push an environmental agenda forward?

Over the last three years, everyone at the Partnership has come to the conclusion that effective communication really begins in the conceptual phase of a project. It’s when you’re thinking of your budget in a grant proposal, designing a project timeline, or even when thinking through the facilitation style for a collaborative convening. 

Our Collaborative Leadership Model helps guide our partners from shared intention to joint action. We see communications as a key principle of this model.

My role as our Partner in Communications has evolved to a strategic-level of thinking. When I sit down with our staff it’s my job, and theirs, to talk through those big communication questions. By using the tools we’ve developed as a part of our approach, we brainstorm strategic communication needs for projects, frameworks, and process designs that will allow us to reach our conservation goals more effectively.  

Building effective communications into our work is intended to create trust with partners. It shows our intentions, creates credible reliability, and clarifies intended outcomes. How many times have you left a meeting thinking it had one outcome, only to find out your project partners took away a different message? Making sure everyone is on the same page is critical to moving a project forward. This is one of the reasons why Willamette Partnership has turned to communication tools to help guide our processes every step of the way. And it’s why communications is a core principle of our collaborative leadership model, a guide that helps our partners move from shared intention to joint action.

Over the course of the next few months, we’ll be publishing a series of blog posts on effective communications we’ve seen in collaborative projects, all within different phases of the collaborative model. Whether it’s a statewide multi-partner project, a local grassroots effort, or a private landowner initiative, these project examples have all used effective communications tools to reach their goals. 


Stay tuned for the next blog on the Oregon Water Futures project.

Emily Irish believes that in order to be good collaborators, we have to be good communicators. With this in mind, she brings technical graphic design and visual storytelling to Willamette Partnership's outreach and engagement. Managing the Partnership's digital and print content including the website, e-newsletter, Counting on the Environment Blog, social media, and design content.


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