Communication strategies for the dissemination of information on Andean forests

Submitted by Natalia Ruiz-Guevara | published 6th Oct 2021 | last updated 2nd Nov 2021

SDC Climate Change & Environment (CC&E) Annotation

The following article presents insights and learning from the SDC-funded Andean Forest Programme.

An example of a video developed for the Andean Forest Program: Introducing Programa Bosques Andinos
Infographic about the Andean Forest Program

Introduction

The Andean Forests Program (PBA) was implemented in five countries of the Andean region (Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile and Bolivia) between 2014 and 2021. The program, in its two phases, consolidated the results of previous projects and initiatives, such as ECOBONA and PROBONA, sponsored by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The intervention strategy focused on generating knowledge, through the validation of Andean forests management practices, and the consolidation of enabling conditions for its replication and scaling, with emphasis on three learning sites: the Northwest of Pichincha (Ecuador) in the territory of the Mancomunidad del Chocó Andino, the Apurímac region (Peru), and the department of Antioquia (Colombia).

As part of its actions and to sensitize and involve both specialized and non-specialized key actors, the PBA has worked intensively on the dissemination of knowledge, key messages and lessons learned to different target audiences. For this, the Program has an official website that hosts the information generated by its actions. However, three digital communication strategies have been key to facilitating access to this content for different types of public: the development of different types of communication products, the use of online social networks and the implementation of specialized digital platforms.

This article describes these three digital communication strategies. The documents and links under Further Resources provide more detailed information and showcase these strategies in practice.

Communication products development

The Andean Forest Program (PBA) constantly generated communication materials of diverse formats, friendly to different audiences and with content related to key topics such as biodiversity, governance, restoration, protected areas, dynamics of socio-ecological systems, among others. A recent systematization of the results of PBA’s phase II for the period 2019-2021 (currently in final layout), identified that web notes, graphic (illustrated) pieces and videos were the main types of communication products.

The webpages hosted on the sites of the Program, and of the partners of the implementing consortium Helvetas-CONDESAN, have made it possible to share knowledge products, relevant news, and the occurrence of key milestones within the framework of the Program's lines of work. The graphic pieces have been elaborated to spread key messages accompanied by attractive graphic elements (e.g., photos, illustrations) that catch the public attention by explicitly transmitting the scenic beauty and the diversity of life forms in Andean forests and ecosystems.

The production of videos (thematic, interviews, experiences, among others) has had a special impact since the beginning of the Program, when the animated video "Andean Forests Program" (shown above) was created and shared to illustrate the importance of these ecosystems and the main goal of the PBA. Notably, the documentary video "In each leaf of the Forest" (see below) had a high impact, showing various aspects of the Andean forests of Pichincha and Apurímac, the effects of climate change and the rich landscape from the experience of people (park rangers, reserve owners) living in those two landscapes of Peru and Ecuador. With a duration of 22 minutes, the documentary is available online, free of charge. Other videos that stand out are: "It's time for the Andean forests", "What is the relationship between Andean forests and water?", "Antioquia Forest Observatory", "The heritage trees of Quito", "Mancomunidad Saywite Choquequirao”, among others.

En cada Hoja del Bosque (Documental) from Invisible Producciones on Vimeo.

Use of online social networks

To expand the reach of key information to civil society and the general public, the PBA opted for the dissemination of communication materials through its institutional online accounts on the social networks Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. The free nature of these platforms, their high popularity among different population groups and the growing general access to internet services has allowed the PBA and its contents to be positioned among its target audience.

Since the creation of these accounts in 2015, the Program has reached more than 40 thousand followers, mostly in the 25 to 45 age range. Approximately 52% of this audience are women and 48% men, from different countries in Latin America and Europe. More than 75% of these followers are from Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.

One of the main advantages of these social networks is that they facilitate the redirection of user access to other online interfaces, such as websites of interest to strategic allies and the Program itself. They are also of great importance for indefinitely hosting graphic communication products such as infographics, posters, videos and events organized by the PBA.

The Andean Forests platform

The Andean Forests platform is a virtual reality platform promoted by the PBA, in collaboration with the Association Conversations du Monde and the financial support of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The main elements of the platform are panoramic photographs, aerial videos captured by drones, photographs of fauna and flora, as well as testimonies from the forest rangers. It disseminates information on Andean forests in an innovative way, while also providing a space for compiling scientific and experiential information generated by key actors. Currently, it covers 14 sites in four Andean countries (Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Chile), it has 50 immersive 360° photographic shots in high definition, which generate a sensation of presence in situ or overflight. Each virtual tour includes complementary information such as testimonies, data on flora, fauna, culture, geography, threats, conservation and restoration initiatives, as well as links to complementary information.

The construction of this platform has been possible thanks to the collaborative action of various key actors, including public institutions, such as the Regional Government of Apurímac, the Ministry of the Environment, the Forest and Wildlife Service and the National Service of Protected Natural Areas in Peru, the National Forestry Corporation in Chile and Arví Park in Colombia. Civil society organizations also contributed, such as the NGO CEDES Apurímac, community organizations and private owners such as the Atumpata community in Peru, the Chocó Andino Model Forest, ZEM Comunicaciones, the Pambiliño Reserve and the Paz de las Aves Refuge in Ecuador, and the San Sebastián and Alto de San Miguel Reserves in Colombia. Contributions were also made by research institutions, such as CIRAD and the Medellín Botanical Garden.

The Antioquia Forest Observatory

The Antioquia Forest Observatory (OBA) is an online platform promoted by the main governance body that brings together key actors from this learning site: the Pact for the Forests of Antioquia. With a friendly interface suitable for all audiences, the objective of the OBA is to synthesize and disseminate information on the state of forest ecosystems in Antioquia, and promote citizen mobilization and sustainable decision-making on the territory, conservation and environmental management. It has a Geoportal with information on indicators and biophysical variables, the status of forest cover, and information from monitoring cameras, which is updated annually. In addition, the OBA is linked to the iNaturalist, eBird and Global Forest Watch platforms.

The main contribution of the PBA during its two phases was to finance the OBA design, updating and consolidation, with the inter-institutional support of the Botanical Garden of Medellín, MasBosques, Medellín Public Enterprises, the Metropolitan Area of ​​Valle de Aburrá, CORANTIOQUIA and the Government of Antioquia.

Lessons Learnt

Throughout the years of dissemination of key messages and communication products through these channels, lessons have been generated regarding the type of content and formats that have the greatest reach, as well as the best way to take advantage of the resources that social networks offer.

For example, Facebook reaches out to all kinds of key players and allows the replication and dissemination of materials such as notes, graphic pieces and documents that are stored or based on the information on the website. It also allows multiplying the reach of radio podcasts of the national media and interview videos. Platforms such as Andean Forests and the Antioquia Forest Observatory provide more specialized information and have more reach among professionals and the academic public.

It has also been learned that the lighter contents reach the general public, but the more specialized contents, with technical information, also gain the attention of a wide audience, which is waiting for the dissemination of information.

Among the main challenges for the dissemination of information is the availability of time by the staff of the project. This is needed to generate appropriate materials for dissemination to the general public, such as articles or notes, since in addition to the preparation time, each material has to be reviewed technically and editorially in order that key messages are presented in the most appropriate way to make the right impact on the target audience. This is key for ensuring communication activities not only guarantee access to information but also generate reflection, new alliances, interest in new topics, and other aspects that are not addressed in scientific platforms and papers.