Communicating Investigations

This workshop demonstrates the importance of communicating investigation findings, and provides methods and tips about investigative "storytelling." It aims to familiarize participants with the process of defining communication goals, identifying audiences, designing a communication plan adapted to contexts, utilizing various communication formats and channels and understanding how they impact the message and the audiences alike.

Workshop Overview

Topic: Communicating your investigation and turning evidence into investigative storytelling

Aims:

  • To demonstrate the importance of communicating investigation findings, and of "investigative storytelling".
  • To familiarize participants with the process of defining communication goals and identifying audiences.
  • To introduce participants to the process of designing a communication plan adapted to contexts, audiences and goals.
  • To introduce participants to the different communication channels and tools and their potential effects on how audiences may perceive and make use of the information.

General guidelines for trainers:

  • This workshop can be divided into 30-60 minute long sessions. Between sessions, trainers can add a short break or a quick energizer activity.
  • For small group activities, divide participants into groups of 3-5 people. Adapt the time you allocate to feedback and post-exercise discussions based on the number of workshop participants and size of groups/teams. You can also assign roles depending on the number of participants. Roles can include: Facilitator, Recorder/Note-taker, Timekeeper, Presenter, Artist (whenever a visual presentation is required.)
  • For online workshops, we recommend sharing a timer on the screen during energizers and small group activities.
  • Whenever possible, adapt the workshop examples to the context of your audience.

Mode of delivery: online / in-person workshops

Workshop duration (without breaks): 3 hours and 50 minutes

Number of participants: 6 to 24

Related workshops:

  • This workshop can be combined with the "Investigation is Collaboration" and "Crowdsourcing" workshops.

Related Exposing the Invisible articles and guides:

Workshop activities and templates, to download:

NOTE regarding workshop audience: This workshop is addressed to investigators and recommends questions and tasks related to such work. Adapt these questions and activities to the context and expertise of your participants: if they have less or no experience with conducting (journalistic) investigations, refer to other kinds of research or projects they might be involved in.

Learning Activities

Opening (15 minutes)

Workshop Introduction

Read Watch Listen | 5 minutes

Instructions for trainer

  • Grab attention by posing a question or commenting on a relevant topic, image, etc. For instance: What is making headlines today in the world? What's trending on Twitter / TikTok? Explain that these are types of communication.

  • Introduce yourself and the goals of the workshop.

  • Optional: Introduce the source of the workshop material (Tactical Tech.)

  • Explain what links and material will be available at the end of the training.

  • Suggest ground rules for the workshop. Ask participants whether they would like to modify your suggestions or suggest other rules. Ensure that everybody understands and agrees with the ground rules. Specific suggestions about setting ground rules are available in the Facilitator's Guide, section on "Delivering the Workshops".

  • Establish the dynamics for groups if needed. For instance, explain that the same group of participants will work together across the entire workshop.

Participants' Introductions / Icebreaker

Produce | 10 minutes

Instructions

  • Facilitate a quick round of participants' introductions by asking them to answer a couple of questions (communicate something) about themselves, their work, their workshop expectations. Additional questions they could answer are:

    • Were you informed about something through specific platforms today? What was it?
    • Do you do that in general?
  • Alternatively, you can pick an icebreaker exercise that encourages participants to get creative and interact with each other by drawing answers or ideas on an online whiteboard or, if off-line, stand up and perform some tasks (for instance communicate something about themselves to another participant). You can start encouraging them to communicate so they get in the mood of the workshop. Check the "Icebreakers" section in the ETI Facilitator's Guide for inspiration.

Communicating investigations (45 minutes)

Do we communicate?

Produce | 10 minutes

Tools / Materials

Instructions

[5 minutes]

  • Ask each participant to think of one research or investigation project that they worked on and that was communicated and disseminated publicly (e.g. in a newspaper, website, radio program, etc.).

  • If some participants did not work yet on such projects, they can think of an investigation they saw and liked.

  • Ask each participant to answer the following questions related to the chosen investigation, filling out the provided template:

    • What investigation / research topic did I communicate? (or "was communicated?" If it is not their own)
    • What type of information and findings did I communicate?
    • How did I communicate that information?
    • What did I communicate it for?
    • To whom did I communicate? What was the audience?
  • NOTE: Participants should only mention cases that are safe to share and not confidential information.

[5 minutes] Debriefing

  • Invite one or two volunteers to share their answers.

  • Ask participants to keep their notes for later, as these examples will be used during the workshop.

  • Emphasize that although some answers might be similar now, they will serve in the next sessions to highlight missing points and help the participants to rethink their communication strategy and methodologies.

  • There are no wrong answers.

Essentials of communicating investigations

Read Watch Listen | 10 minutes

Tools / Materials

  • Slides for a power point presentation or pre-written flip-chart papers (for offline)

Instructions

  • Following up on the previous exercise, prepare and give a presentation focusing on essential points about communication, and the importance of communicating investigations. In-between each bullet point, allow participants to contribute their own thoughts and experiences.

  • What is communication? –The act of sharing information from one person to another person or among a group of people through different means.

    • Highlight the importance of the message, and not of the way it is conveyed, because there are varied ways as we will see during the workshop.
    • Provide a couple of examples based on the cases they shared in the previous activity.
  • Who can communicate? – We are all communicators and we can learn how to effectively communicate in different ways.

  • How can we communicate? – Mention some of the methods that participants shared during the previous activity, and add other examples.

  • Why is it important to communicate investigations? – What happens when we choose not to communicate?

    • Mention that remaining silent makes us vulnerable to abuse, lack of (re)action or solutions.
    • Emphasize how communication connects those who investigate with their audiences and creates a sense of community that empowers us as a society, for instance.
  • What challenges do you face when you want to communicate? –List some possible challenges such as:

    • not having a clearly defined target audience,
    • lack of resources and/or communication skills,
    • limited audience reach /reactions / engagement,
    • public backlash, threats and abuse,
    • bad timing, etc.
  • Discuss the relationship between the key concepts of this workshop: Communication and Storytelling.

    • Emphasize that "communicating" or "communication" is the act of sharing information, while "storytelling" refers to how we communicate that information.
    • The workshop uses both terms and related practices, and participants will share and practice the connections between the two.

RESOURCES:

Group Task: Communicate your investigation

Produce | 25 minutes

Tools / Materials:

  • Communicating Your Investigation: Activity Templates (section: "An investigation you worked on" and the new section "Group Activity: How would you communicate this investigation?" (online or printed) )
  • A shared cloud space or a digital whiteboard with the templates (Miro, Mural, etc. - if online)
  • Digital break-out rooms (if online) or separate room areas / tables (if offline)
  • Individual sheets of paper, sticky notes / post-its, pens (if offline)
  • Slides or flip-chart papers with pre-written tips / reminders for the Wrap-up section (see 'Debriefing' below).

Instructions

[15 minutes]

  • Divide participants into small groups of 3 to 5 members depending on overall group size. The same groups should work together during the entire workshop.

  • Recommend that each group allocates specific roles during their activities: Note-Taker, Time-Keeper, Presenter (roles can be rotated), etc..

Instruct groups as follows:

  • As a team, select one of the research projects or investigations listed by your group's members in the previous individual exercise – this will be used as a group case study for the rest of the workshop.

  • Based on the selected case study, answer the question:

    • How would you communicate this investigation?

    • List the different steps, needs and other considerations that you need to keep in mind when you want to communicate the investigation and its findings. Expand further from what the investigation has already achieved, if this is a published project already.

  • Supporting questions: What do you usually keep in mind when you decide to communicate your investigation / research / any findings? Are you missing anything? What and why?

  • Reflect on any planning, platforms, narratives, challenges and doubts, and write them down to be shared during the debriefing.

You may suggest customized questions or even a specific case/scenario for each group to work on if they cannot choose their own. This might be recommended for heterogeneous groups, but it is important to leave it open so that participants can reflect on their choices.

[10 minutes] Debriefing

  • A representative of each group summarises their answers in maximum 2 minutes / group.

Guiding questions for debriefing:

  • Did you consider what you want your investigation / evidence to achieve? Not the communication purpose itself but the investigation purpose.

  • Will communicating the investigation and related evidence help with the goal or purpose of your investigation? How might it do that?

Wrap up the exercise with some relevant points, such as:

  • Communicating investigations implies "Investigative Storytelling" - meaning collecting evidence and turning that evidence (documentation, testimonies, etc.) into a narrative with a PURPOSE. Note that we will talk about purpose, goals or desirables in the next section.

  • Building a storytelling approach around a research / investigation needs to be part of the communication plan , especially if the goal is to make evidence publicly available in order to address a problem, raise awareness, etc.

  • Communication is not linear. It is more like a circular process and should be planned accordingly.

  • Sometimes you will need to consider collecting evidence ad hoc to communicate it, and other times you will gather evidence in order to give shape to the storytelling (or an existing narrative). This depends on the evidence you have gathered and on the goals you have.

  • In any situation, you should consider both the goals you want to achieve with your investigation and its communication, as well as the audience you want to reach.

  • It is important to keep the communication of your investigation / evidence in mind from the beginning , and to consider how to communicate the evidence that you will gather (for instance: data sets, images, samples from field research, etc).

  • Investigative Storytelling is a type of narrative that can be used to communicate not only the final evidence and results of your investigation but also the investigative process itself, the methodology. The process of collecting evidence and turning that evidence into a 'story' is as important as the findings. This is also a matter of transparency, and others can learn from you and gain trust in your process.

Identifying goals and audiences (1h:10 minutes)

Communication and storytelling goals

Read Watch Listen | 5 minutes

Tools / Materials:

  • Slides or flip-chart paper with a brief presentation.

Instructions

Start by reminding participants what happened in the previous session (especially if you provided a break in-between):

  • Investigative Storytelling means turning the communication of evidence into a narrative with a purpose:

    • Why do you investigate?
    • What did the investigation try to achieve?
    • How can communication help to achieve this goal?
    • From now on we will refer to the PURPOSE or GOALS of the Storytelling.
  • Make sure the audience understands that knowing what they want to achieve will help them achieve it, even if something unexpected comes up.

  • To communicate effectively they need to identify those purposes or goals.

Identify goals

Produce | 25 minutes

Tools / Materials:

  • Communicating Your Investigation: Activity Templates file, including notes from previous activities, plus section "Group Activity: Identify goals" (online or printed)
  • A shared cloud space or a digital whiteboard with the templates (Miro, Mural, etc. - if online)
  • Digital break-out rooms (if online) or separate room areas / tables (if offline.)
  • Individual sheets of paper, sticky notes / post-its, pens (if offline.)
  • Slides or flip-chart papers with pre-written content for the Wrap-up section (see 'Debriefing' below).

Instructions

[10 minutes]

  • Participants return to their groups (same teams as before).

  • Building on the previous activity and their selected investigation case study, each group will address the question:

    • What do you want to achieve by communicating your investigation? What are your communication GOALS?
  • Each group assigns a note-taker to write the answers.

[10 minutes] Debriefing

  • A representative from each group shares their answers, in maximum 2 minutes / group.

  • Make sure they identify at least the goals below. If not, fill the gaps and provide examples related to the cases / investigations mentioned by participants. Some goals may be to:

    • raise awareness
    • mobilize
    • inform people, publicize of the wrongdoing
    • advocate to: built a legal case, force government to legislate, make the wrongdoing to cease
    • healing
    • raise funds for the victims or to continue investigating
    • make information available to other investigators: pave the way for others to take matters forward, facilitate data use by other investigators
    • hold wrongdoers accountable
    • counter a prevalent narrative
    • ...
  • Indicate that these are some possible goals but there are many more and you have to reflect on which ones work for a particular context.

[5 minutes] Recommended Relaxing Time

  • A relaxing time or small talk before the next session. It might be a funny video with miraculous soccer scores, referring to unexpected achievements, so people chill a bit.
Planning communication: identifying audiences

Produce | 25 minutes

Tools / Materials:

  • Communicating Your Investigation: Activity Templates file, including notes from previous activities, plus section "Planning communication, Identifying audiences" (online or printed)
  • A shared cloud space or a digital whiteboard with the templates (Miro, Mural, etc. - if online)
  • Digital break-out rooms (if online) or separate room areas / tables (if offline.)
  • Individual sheets of paper, sticky notes / post-its, pens (if offline.)
  • Slides or flip-chart papers with pre-written content for the Wrap-up section (see 'Debriefing' below).

Instructions

  • Start by sharing this guiding question:

    • What do you have to communicate, and to whom, to achieve that goal?
  • Depending on the answers participants provided in the previous exercise, you may ask the additional questions below as a reflection or as direct questions to them:

    • What did you consider when deciding about audience?
    • Was audience discussed at all before?
    • Or where you referring to an unknown mass?

[10 minutes]

  • Participants return to their groups. - Considering these questions and the same case study as before, instruct groups to:

  • Decide WHO you want to address, who your audiences are.

  • Explain WHY you want to reach those particular audiences.

    • Consider changing the goals (after you learned of new ones), to better relate goals and audience.
  • WHO and WHY should be filled out in the template provided, in columns together with GOALS.

[15 minutes] Debriefing

  • A representative from each group shares their answers, in 1 minute, including:

    • WHO (their identified audience);
    • WHY (why they want to reach them);
    • GOAL (if any initial goals had to change or not).

Wrap up the exercise and emphasize the following:

  • Your audience are the people you want to communicate the investigation to, depending on what you want to achieve.

  • When defining audiences it may be helpful to consider the following:

    • their relation to your investigation, or to where the wrongdoing happened;
    • if you have a very local, or identified audience,
    • if, on the contrary, the message that you want to convey can be interesting for a wider audience, not specialized or specific.
  • Did participants consider the place where the wrongdoing happened? Is it very local? - Highlight the potential OUTREACH of a very local investigation.

  • Briefly mention these types of audiences:

    • Open: if it is not defined
    • Closed or specialized: when it is targeted and specific: i.e. hackers, environmentalists, scientists
    • Proximity: local, national, international
    • Targeted audience: the one we want to reach directly
    • Extended audience: the one that might not be in our 'bubble' but might get to know and become interested in the investigation, evidence, etc.
  • If you had the relaxing exercise with the miraculous goals from the previous section, you can remind the participants of the unexpected achievements. Likewise you might be able to reach beyond your targeted audience. This can serve as an introduction to the next exercise.

How local is local? Can audience become global?

Discuss | 10 minutes

Instructions

Facilitate a discussion with all the participants based on the points below:

  • Living in a globalized world allows for shared concerns. A very local issue may become international, so consider your audience but allow yourself to dream big.

  • Share and watch together the video Men wearing skirts in Turkey (or pick any other video relevant to your group), where they will see how a local issue became international news.

  • Let the group chat a little bit about it before going for a break. Encourage them to share any related experiences or knowledge.

Communication formats and channels (1h:10 minutes)

Introduction: formats and channels

Read Watch Listen | 5 minutes

Tools / Materials:

  • Slides or flip-chart papers for a presentation.

Instructions

Prepare and give a presentation including the following points while engaging participants with questions related to their work in groups so far:

  • We are ALL natural communicators.

  • The PURPOSE of the investigation, the GOALS of communicating it and the AUDIENCE they are addressing will determine the type of Storytelling, but it might happen the other way around.

  • Communication is not linear but circular. – Once you have identified PURPOSE and GOALS, and researched your audience, you need to adapt the narrative.

  • Use examples that participants shared in their previous individual and group activities in order to highlight the way they communicate:

    • What type of communication did they use for a particular topic?
    • Was it successful or not? Why?
  • Introduce the different formats and dynamics of communication:

    • Format / Narrative: audio, writing, image (film, photography, graphics, illustration…), music, art work (sculpture, installation), combined formats, etc.
    • Dynamics / Relation with the audience: participatory / action based, disruptive action based narratives, campaign, culture jamming, crowd-sourcing, etc.
Formats and dynamics

Produce | 30 minutes

Tools / Materials:

  • Communicating Your Investigation: Activity Templates file including notes from previous activities, plus the new section "Formats and dynamics of communication"
  • A shared cloud space with editable files or a digital whiteboard with the templates such as Miro, Mural, etc. (if online)
  • Digital break-out rooms (if online) or separate room areas / tables (if offline)
  • Individual sheets of paper, sticky notes / post-its, pens (if offline)

Instructions

[15 minutes]

  • Participants return to their groups.

  • Each group assigns a note-taker and a speaker / presenter of their findings.

  • The task is to:

    • Analyse the work they have done so far, and come up with the most fitting formats to communicate their investigation to audiences, explaining their choices.
  • Ideas should be listed in the two column template provided.

[10 minutes] Debriefing

  • A representative from each group shares their answers, 1 minute/group.

  • Observe and give feedback to each:

    • Did they use one format or several?
    • How many considered the relationship with the audience? Did they see audiences as a passive observer (reader, watcher), or as a participant?
  • Mention the formats that participants may not have considered and how formats relate to the dynamics and connections they can establish with the audience.

  • Share tips on how different formats may affect those who consume the information provided – this will serve as a bridge to the next exercise.

[5 minutes] Recommended Relaxing Time

  • A chilling exercise or a short break. It could be a video of a performance showing participatory practices or music, to relax and learn (no minute goes to waste).
Impact of communication formats

Read Watch Listen | 10 minutes

Tools / Materials

  • Slides for a power point presentation or pre-written flip-chart papers (if offline)

Instructions:

Prepare and give a brief presentation and overview of formats and channels of communication: verbal, non-verbal, written and visual. Points to include are:

  • Communication choices are both biologically conditioned and culturally shaped. They will be also conditioned by the possibilities for action in the environment of the investigator or the targeted audience, or the established goals – or all together.

  • Visual perception and hearing are key aspects in social interaction. Also, the role of touch in interpersonal communication is essential, and there are examples of experiments integrating smell into cinema, or live music.

    • For instance communicating about polluted water may include collecting or looking at water samples together with affected communities.
  • Participatory practices such as street theatre performances or other forms of art may be used to convey messages.

  • Each format has advantages and disadvantages and it should be shaped considering the goal and the audience, again with a circular and non-linear approach

  • Benefits of various formats:

    • Verbal : speaking or sign language allows for clear ideas and is easy for others to understand. It is important to avoid meaningless or filler words.
    • Nonverbal : using body language, gestures and facial expressions to convey information to others.
    • Written : usefulness of striving for simplicity.
    • Visual : photographs, art, drawings, sketches, charts and graphs can convey information. When communicating with visuals, choose visuals that add value to your communication.
  • Mixing formats can help or damage the communication.

    • Pay attention to that and decide based on context, audiences and purpose/goals.
    • Sometimes more formats and communication channels can mean reaching diverse groups and interests, other times this can dilute the message if there is no capacity to develop quality work or to follow up on all the channels.
Conveying the message

Produce | 25 minutes

Tools / Materials

  • Digital white boards (Miro, Mural, etc.) or a flashcard app of your choice (iff online.)
  • Digital break-out rooms (if online) or separate room areas / tables (if offline.)
  • Blank sheets of paper, post-it notes, pens (if offline.)

Instructions

[15 minutes]

  • Participants return to their groups. - Based on previous group discussions about their selected investigation case, each group's task is to:

    • Explore possible communication formats and channels, and prepare flashcards as follows:
    1. On one side (or on top of the page), add the name of a format , for instance VIDEO.
    2. On the other side (or below the format), write down how it conveys the message, noting:

      • what it appeals to, e.g. sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch, emotions, intellect,
      • what the added value of the format is: e.g. accessibility, conciseness, simplicity, interactivity, relevance, reliability.

You can provide the guiding questions below for groups to reflect on while preparing the cards:

  • How do your audiences like to get informed and how do you think they learn best?
  • For instance: Who watches documentaries? / Who watches 60 seconds videos on YouTube or TikTok? / Who listens to podcasts or reads long features? / What spurs them into action or makes them reflect?
  • What formats and styles of communication will your audience be most responsive to?

[10 minutes] Debriefing

  • Upon return to the plenary room, participants can play with the different formats and choices they made, compare cards and fill them with more details.

  • Wrap up the exercise with the following points:

    • The key in communicating is to understand what moves your audience: what is most appealing to them?
    • During your investigation, make sure you you collected data, testimonies, videos, photos or other types of evidence that you can use to communicate the result of your investigation and that may be compelling for your audiences.
    • Be realistic when assessing your capabilities: what possibilities and resources do you have to communicate with your audiences?

Communication platforms and resources (20 minutes)

Venues and platforms for sharing narratives

Read Watch Listen | 10 minutes

Tools / Materials

  • Slides for a power point presentation or pre-written flip-chart papers (for offline)

Instructions:

Prepare and give a brief presentation, including:

  • Examples of different narratives in different formats and shared through different platforms or venues. Ideally try to pick a range of cases from various regions and topics, or focus on issues that may be relevant to participants.

  • Note that we make a difference between the FORMAT we use to convey the information (tell the story) and where we place it: the CHANNEL / venue / platform we use to share and disseminate it.

  • Different formats can match the same channel/venue, one format can match more than one channel/venue, etc.

  • Emphasize how traditional media outlets are relying on and adapting to social media, which is shaping the formats and platforms here they communicate a message.

  • Share relevant examples adapted to various venues and platforms pushing the audience to think 'outside the box'. Make sure that examples are relevant to your participants' language(s) and context. Try to look for cases from:

    • Social media: Twitter, TikTok, Facebook, Mastodon
    • Media outlets: TV, radio, blogs, specialized magazines
    • Street action: usually gains publicity and attention via social media
    • Campaigns: advocacy, education projects, policy change, etc.
    • Artistic performance: street theater, concerts
    • Art circuits: galleries, museums, online exhibitions
  • Invite participants to contribute with their own experience or examples they know, moving the discussion to the next section.

Resources

Discuss | 10 minutes

Instructions:

  • Lead a brief discussion focused on how identifying what you need in order to communicate your investigation is a crucial step when planning how to communicate your data and other findings. This differs on a case-by-case basis.

  • Invite participants to suggest resources (skills, tools, awareness, etc.) they lack when communicating their investigations.

    • Ask them to focus on and share their experience if available, or if not, to imagine potential scenarios based on the exercises they have developed so far.

    • The may want to use the notes in their personal sheet (from: "Individual Reflection: An investigation you worked on / or liked") elaborated at the beginning of the workshop, adding to what they listed already.

    • They can mention any resource (for instance, budget, skills, time...), as a reason in order not to communicate their investigations.

  • Facilitate the discussion, encouraging participants to share with each other advice and/or challenges from past experience and to look for alliances, accomplices.

  • Support discussions with additional examples and tips.

Closure (10 minutes)

Conclusion

Read Watch Listen | 10 minutes

Instructions

  • Wrap up the workshop and sum up its contents.

  • Run a quick review of the session. Each participants would say:

    • one thing they found very good about the session and
    • one thing they would improve for the next time.
  • Encourage participants to ask pending questions or give some final tips.

  • Share contact information if relevant and any follow-up details.

  • Also encourage participants to consider the safety implications of their work while communicating and invite them to visit the ETI resources related to Safety and Security (e.g. "Safety First Guide"; "Risk Assessment Is a Mindset, Not a Checklist").

To keep participants informed about what is going on at all times, trainers can effectively sum up workshop contents following these steps:

    1. [in the introduction] tell participants what is going to happen;
    1. [during each part of the session / workshop] remind them what is happening;
    1. [at the end of the session/workshop] tell them what just happened. In addition, at the end, trainers need to make sure they point out which expectation have been addressed.

Contact Us

Please reach out to us at Exposing the Invisible if you:

  • have any questions about this workshop plan and facilitation guidelines,
  • use this workshop plan and want to share feedback and suggestions that can help to improve them,
  • adapt the workshop plan to a specific context and want to share the results with us,
  • want to suggest new activities, tips or examples that can be added to this workshop,
  • want to share your expertise and collaborate with us on developing and testing new workshops.

Contact: eti@tacticaltech.org (GPG Key / fingerprint: BD30 C622 D030 FCF1 38EC C26D DD04 627E 1411 0C02).

Credits and Licensing

CC BY-SA 4.0

This content is produced by Tactical Tech's Exposing the Invisible project, and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International license

  • Workshop author: Nuria Tesón
  • Instructional design: A. Hayder
  • Editorial and content: Christy Lange, Laura Ranca, Wael Eskandar
  • Graphic design: Yiorgos Bagakis
  • Website development: Laurent Dellere, Saqib Sohail
  • Project coordination and supervision: Christy Lange, Laura Ranca, Lieke Ploeger, Marek Tuszynski, Safa Ghnaim, Wael Eskandar

This resource has been developed as part of the Collaborative and Investigative Journalism Initiative (CIJI) co-funded by the European Commission under the Pilot Project: "Supporting investigative journalism and media freedom in the EU" (DG CONNECT).

This text reflects the author’s view and the Commission is not responsible for any use that may be made of the information it contains.

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