It can be tempting to jump straight into developing communication campaigns on suicide prevention. However, it is important for your group to first agree on a shared vision, strategy, and goals for suicide prevention in your community (including whether a campaign will achieve your prevention goals). Developing this shared understanding is an ongoing process. You can strengthen the understanding through strategic planning and strong partnership development and collaboration. Visit the Planning element and Unity element to learn more.
The next step is for the group to develop a shared message about suicide prevention and/or your efforts. This process includes communicating clearly and consistently with all internal partners and having them agree to share consistent, safe suicide prevention messages with the larger community. Be sure to refer to best practices for communication in developing your message, including safe messaging practices. See Key Area 2: Ensuring Safe Suicide Prevention Messaging. Plan to regularly reinforce the messages your group has developed as well as respond to news, events, and public discussions related to suicide prevention. Finally, make sure to check on your communication processes and how well they are working.
To carry out this work, form a work group of community partners with expertise in various forms of communication (e.g., verbal, written, news, social media). This work group will make sure your coalition has the time, capacity, and resources to communicate effectively.
If you do not yet have a suicide prevention coalition in place, go to the Unity webpage and begin by developing community partnerships key to suicide prevention. You will need these partnerships in place before working on communication. As part of your coalition orientation, train all members in safe messaging best practices.
Before you begin communicating with external community members about your group’s suicide prevention efforts, make sure that you have strong internal communication in place. This should include figuring out your coalition’s internal communication needs, gaps, strengths, and opportunities. The communication work group can lead or support this discussion. The following questions can help:
The answers to the questions in Step 2: Identify how partners prefer to communicate, should directly determine your internal communication processes. Clarify how each form of communication will add value to your work. For example, a monthly newsletter might help members working on different projects quickly learn about one another’s efforts. Bimonthly meetings might be important because the group needs to stay current on the progress, challenges, and successes of implementing your local suicide prevention plan. Emails to individuals or an email list could facilitate communication in between the newsletters and meetings.
Identify who will oversee the different parts of your group’s internal communication. For example, the coalition secretary might be responsible for sending out e-newsletters, while the communication work group drafts the newsletters’ content.
For additional ideas on strengthening internal coalition communication, visit KateHead.org.
Use the coalition’s strategic plan to come up with a shared external message. The communication work group can decide what key messages the coalition should promote collectively and individually. To develop these messages, use the needs and goals your group set during your previous data analysis and strategic planning activities. Then agree on how to communicate those messages to the larger community. Keep in mind best practices for communications in this process.
Over time, coalition partners will have different chances to promote suicide prevention messages. These opportunities may be through media appearances, staff education at their organizations, public presentations, one-on-one conversations, and written publications. A key task of the communication work group is to develop resources to guide coalition members’ external discussions on suicide prevention. These key resources can include the following:
By taking the time to create communication messages, guidance, and templates, the work group will help all coalition members promote a common message.
As you develop and share your communication messages, be sure to talk about your strategic plan and your suicide prevention policies, practices, and programs. Share positive outcomes, lessons learned, progress being made, and supports needed for further impact with internal and external partners, as well as funders (see Sustainability Key Area 1: Maintaining Sustained Partner Commitment). Coalition members, funders, the media, and the wider community will all want to see evidence that efforts are working. If you monitor and evaluate your efforts, you will be better able to share what is working. Seeing the successes will encourage everyone to continue supporting your efforts.
In the Strategic Planning Worksheet, Section 3, Column 4, note how and how often you will share your progress and impact with partners and key audiences.
As your coalition and its efforts grow, so will its communication needs. Those needs will also change as members come and go. So, the communication work group should occasionally seek feedback on its ways of communicating. For example, coalitions can include short surveys in each newsletter or set aside a time twice a year during meetings to revisit how the communication process is working among members. Check on the usefulness, frequency, effectiveness, and cultural appropriateness of communication methods and content. For example, are people getting the information you hoped they’d get? Do you need to provide updates in both text and audio formats to support different learning styles? Do you need to provide information in multiple languages?