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Above: Pictures, videos and blogs help us tell the whole Akvo story. Photo: Paul Burt.
At Akvo, everyone plays an important and active role in telling the organisation’s story. 

We in the Communications team aim to support our colleagues to tell the stories of the work they and our partners do on the ground, as it happens. We do this by helping to improve their communications skills. We also provide practical help, so they are confident, active and positive voices for Akvo. 

Back in January we wrote a blog about how we do comms and marketing at Akvo which describes the essence of how we approach communications. 

The ‘You as content creator’ survey
We recently did an internal survey to map the content creation skills of our staff. The results were
insightful. 

We asked our colleagues how comfortable they felt creating different types of content. For every question, the scale went from one (Very uncomfortable) to six (Very comfortable).  

Each answer would fall under one of three group categories:

  • Group A: 5-6 – Very comfortable
  • Group B: 3-4 – comfortable
  • Group C: 1-2 – Very uncomfortable
So if you rated yourself as a five in a particular category, e.g. writing blogs, you would be in Group A for that activity. If you saw yourself as 4, you would be in Group B and if you assessed yourself as 2, you would be in Group C.

We were very happy with the level of participation. This time 100% of the staff responded to the survey, as opposed to last year, when only 50% did. The answers allow us to gather important insights on various things, such as:

  • Each person’s strengths and confidence in different areas like writing, speaking, presenting, and talking in public.
  • Their interests and expertise, which will help us to map our content creation onto people’s knowledge. 
  • The areas people would like help to improve and where we should put our focus as an organisation to reinforce our team’s skills. 
We have recently welcomed Maaike van der Velden on board as our talent growth professional at Akvo. She’ll be working on creating some training programmes for our staff and we’ll be collaborating with her on improving people’s comms skills. We are sure that many of these insights will be helpful for her as well.

Overall results 
It was incredible to see that in each area, over 60% of staff are either comfortable or very comfortable. In some cases it’s as high as 90%. 
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About resistance
There is an enemy. There is an intelligent, active, malign force working against us. Step one is to recognise it. It’s called mental resistance. This recognition alone is enormously powerful as it allows us to look into it and find ways to work around it. Could your own thoughts be getting in your way of producing great work? Have you started a blog but never finished it? Would you like to produce videos and interviews that matters but don’t know where to start? 

When asked about the reasons that prevented people from generating content more often, the responses were:

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This gives us a lot of insight. Lack of time seems to be a constant everywhere nowadays. We know everyone is busy. Although we cannot create extra time in the day, our team has multiple skills and tools to at least help Akvo staff create some head space to approach great content creation. Confidence and lack of experience are also barriers which are exacerbated by time pressures and which can contribute to a feeling that a task is too time consuming or hard to attempt. So we will focus on continuously improving our support to help people across our organisation feel confident to express themselves and be active, positive voices. 

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Above: A colleague tweeting during our last company wide ‘Team Week‘. Photo: Paul Burt.

The power of the Akvo staff list
“Every Akvo employee is on Twitter? Really? And you let them post whatever they want? And you also show the staff twitter feed on the website?” This is more or less the conversation I had with Mark Charmer over four years ago at an Akvo Track Day. In 2012, this wasn’t normal. 

Currently, Akvo staff have 23,046 Twitter followers collectively. These are not all separate people mind you; a large number follow several Akvo employees. Yet, looking at this number, I started to wonder how to measure the value of such outreach. Imagine the multiple ramifications, the messages coming towards you from diverse people in the organisation, the possibility to tell the Akvo story, from the ground, through multiple different nodes and angles. In Mark’s words: “An incredible tool for people to feel closer together, to share humour, to express ideas, to project character – and most of all, to build understanding.”

I still find it amazing and super progressive. 

What’s next?
After gathering these insights, the Comms team is planning to focus on three things:

  1. Anticipate and steer content creation according to everybody’s interests and expertise, as well as the interests of our audiences.
  2. A series of activities to continue building on the strengths of our team and move those in Group B up to Group A.
  3. Focus on people’s top wants and needs to enhance their skills: writing blogs (62,5%); speaking at events (45,8%); making, editing and uploading video (41,7%).
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Tell me what you read and I’ll tell you…
We asked people to name their favourite websites, blogs, writers and forums that they follow in the context of their work. Here’s an alphabetical list of information sources which reveals a very diverse group of people reading about many diverse topics such as technology, environment, communications and politics, amongst many others. I was pleased to find some interesting websites I was unaware of, offering new perspectives. Eventually, it would be great to categorise this and give some hint of why these sites are important. It would also complement the Akvo Reads profile we created a while ago to share book recommendations in a digital organisational library. 

I think initiatives like this could really be of value for new people joining Akvo, as they give insights into who we are and what makes us tick. 

Keep in touch
I really like working in an organisation that runs progressive communications. Almost ten years since its inception, Akvo still maintains an open and transparent working environment both internally and externally. We try to openly share the journey of our own work via various platforms and channels including our blog, TwitterAkvo.tv and GitHub. Everyone is part of the storytelling. In fact, we rely on and support every member of staff to participate in this communications process.

Alvaro de Salvo is communications executive at Akvo, based in Amsterdam. You can follow him on Twitter @aj_desalvo.