An Annual Report in today’s context has become an important communication material. Some organisations use it for fund raising activities, some as a need and request from funders, some to showcase key activities and achievements of an organisation and some present it as a technical report. It is called as a technical report, since it projects/states different types of information, either domain-wise or project-wise. A typical Annual Report often contains financial information, to include Income and Expenditures. Whatever the reason, one should see the story board of an Annual Report with a visual layout of pictures, images, photographs and also include the required text.
At the Center for Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP), a not-for-profit organisation and one of the largest Think Tanks based in Bangalore, India, an Annual Report is a technical report. However, it is designed to share with audience from various backgrounds and experiences events, mile stones achieved, impact studies made, innovations, new projects to name a few.
The production of the latest Annual Report went through a systematic and rigourous process to ensure that nothing was missed out. The process began with identifying the audience. While it was accepted that the primary audience would be CSTEP the larger and exterior audience would be any one from – policy/decision makers both from the State and National levels, to funders, consortium partners, ex-employees and acquaintances and new visitors. For any communication material to go out to the public, it is believed that the immediate audience (inner/organisation) need to understand and accept what is going out to the public. There are 2 primary reasons for this, one, by accepting what is being showcased in an Annual Report, one primarily admits to having ownership, secondly, in most cases all the employees become the spokespersons of an organisation. Since an Annual Report is used as a communication tool, it is very important to understand and accept the contents of the same.
At CSTEP, it is the primary responsibility of the Communication and Policy Engagement (CPE) team to bring out the Annual Report, apart from other communication materials like Newsletter, some reports etc. Hence the CPE team followed an interesting process of asking all the Principal Investigators to identify what according to them was a key achievement in their domain. We mentioned that it could be a new funder, a new insight into the research that they are conducting, an award/recognition received, to name a few. They came up with some interesting insights and we used them as quotes in the Annual Report.
The Communication and Policy Engagement team (CPE team) then analysed the different types of information available, discussed what could be included, how best it could be presented and finally how so much valuable information (of a mammoth size) could be captured in a few pages (28 pages for an organisation which has over 70 employees, 5 major domains and several projects!!). Initially, it was a mammoth task of what should be included, and not included. However, the CPE team had brief discussions with some of the senior management at CSTEP, including all the project leads, asking them as to what they would like to be included in the Annual Report. Several ideas emerged, some good, some not so useful or important. Once this exercise was done, a brief research was done on some the existing Annual Reports (previous years) of CSTEP and some from the internet.
The jigsaw puzzle started falling into place when all the information was identified, collected, and sorted in a systematic manner. Since large sections were identified, information was grouped accordingly. The whole idea was, since CSTEP works on several domains, a balanced overview was important to give an essence of what CSTEP actually does. The next important thing was the designing the Annual Report. Since we had already decided that the Annual Report would be shared primarily through the website, the key factor kept in mind, was the navigation and clarity of presenting information.
Designs were made to logically present information, to ensure that information could be referred to, at a future date, by any of the stakeholders/audiences.
To bring in readability and consistency, colour schemes were identified, types of fonts were decided, types of information were planned to be placed in boxes to highlight the same.
Consistency was applied in font styles and types, type of information and visuals.
Once the 1st cut was developed we shared with some of the senior staff at CSTEP. After receiving their feedback and input, we discussed and incorporated it. We believed that since the primary audience was CSTEP, they should be in a position to understand and identify the activities, highlights and achievements of the organisation. If this can be achieved, then it is not difficult to meet expectations of an external audience (known and new).
You also know that you have done a fairly good job, when you get instant feedback and reactions, so this gives us an impetus to be better prepared for the next time. Once the production was completed and shared with the audience, several feedback was received. Most of them were positive and included, the presentation of the content, the simplicity of navigating and accessing information. Some even said because of the format, it was like reading a book. Most of the feedback received were either verbally or via emails.
Every challenge becomes a learning curve to perform and outdo yourself the next time. We realised that next time we will start collecting information way ahead, which primarily means make you Database Management more robust and up to date. Start collecting important information (both text and images) in a separate folder (you can also create sub folders for types of information). This will help you to retrieve information quickly during production.
[Editor’s note: For more blog posts on CSTEP’s experience dealing with think tanks’ decisions read Acknowledging a prominent think tank: the Center for Study of Science, Technology and Policy (CSTEP) in India.]