Communication is key to scale up

“Communication is key. Scientific papers are seldom read. Where are the simpler forms of communication?”


- Dr Babar Sheikh, Health Director, Aga Khan Foundation

Having worked in research communications for over 7 years, I couldn’t agree more.

Rigorous research is vital to ensuring that innovations are evidence-based and credible. But if you want to get your across message to a crucial partner for scale up, you will need to communicate your messages quickly, clearly, and concretely, and telling stories is one of the best ways to do it.

The vision of the Family Networks Programme, led by Professor Atif Rahman and Dr Usman Hamdani at the Human Development Research Foundation (HDRF), is to provide evidence-based care to the 6 million children and adolescents with developmental delays in Pakistan, a context where there is currently a near 100% treatment gap. How will they do it? By identifying, organising, empowering and training family members who have children with developmental delays using technology and task sharing. But to scale up nationally, the Family Networks team can’t do it alone. They need partnerships with key stakeholders.

And that’s what MHIN’s visit is about. Myself, Dr Dan Chisholm from WHO, and our colleague, Josephine Tsui from the Overseas Development Institute, visited Pakistan to deliver a workshop for the programme team on developing stakeholder engagement strategies and using entrepreneurship skills to ultimately scale up the Family Networks to more families and their children.

Partners' ask: Tell us about your work

On the third day of MHIN’s workshop with the Family Networks Programme in Pakistan, Dr Babar sits on a panel with the Programme’s key stakeholders. The Family Network team are already excellent entrepreneurs—they have assembled a powerful panel of partners together for the MHIN policy workshop. Dr Usman, HDRF Deputy Director, tells the panel that the Family Network Programme is not just a research project; the Programme is an innovation that empowers and gives hope to families and children with developmental delays. The panellists are engaged and interested, but they have a clear message for the Family Networks team to work on: Keep us engaged, tell us about your work.

Scale up and storytelling

The Family Networks team already understand this need for communicating their innovative work in order to scale up.

“Our next big goal is to work on different communication strategies to convey our message effectively to policy makers, stakeholders as well as local communities.”


- Dr Usman Hamdani, HDRF Deputy Director

One powerful way of communicating ideas is through storytelling. The Family Networks Programme has plenty such stories to tell, as we found out when MHIN met some of the family members trained in evidence-based care for their child during a field visit:

  • Nousheen told us how the training helped her care for her eight-year-old son, Qasim, who has hyperactive disorder. Instead of running around after him, she now spends time teaching him how to get dressed, eat and go to the toilet on his own.
  • Hina explained how she trained her younger brother with a mild developmental delay to help her look after her two older brothers, both of whom have severe developmental delays
  • A group of mothers discussed their campaign for a classroom at the local school to be run by a teacher trained in specialist care for children with development delays.

Packaging these stories into concise communications products can feel uncomfortable—even arrogant—for analytical researchers. But scaling up a programme requires partnerships, and in order to build those partnerships, we need to share evidence of what works using true stories of progress. When we communicate our research, we do so for the betterment of people’s lives.

Policy engagement in action

On our last day, MHIN and the Family Networks team visit Ms Marvi Memon, Minister of State and Chairperson of the Pakistani Government’s Benazir Income Support Programme (BISP). Although the visit from MHIN has spurred the team on, it has taken years of hard work – from the scientific pilot study to navigating the policy landscape – to get this meeting. We are 15 minutes early. As the clock ticks, we are all running through the key messages and stories we want to get across in our heads.

Eventually, we are called into her office. We drink chai (tea) and tell our stories. She questions us. The team answers. She says she wants to come and see how the programme is serving her people – the people BISP provides with social protection support. This is exactly the first step the Programme needs. BISP has the social support network, and the Family Networks Programme has the tools to deliver much needed care to children with developmental delays.

As we leave the whirlwind of a meeting, Dr Usman checks Twitter:

Our visit to Marvi Memon’s office summarised in 140 characters! How’s that for concise communication?

Special thanks: MHIN would like to thank the Family Networks team for their hospitality during our visit.

Children and adolescents
Families and carers
Policy and legislation
Training, education and capacity building
Child behavioural and developmental disorders
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