It’s not about being the best, it’s about being better

By Richard Darlington, Leonora Merry and Nick Scott

Since we started WonkComms, lots of you have suggested that we should get into the awards business. Some of you have said that we should start the ‘WonkComms Awards’. Others that we should try and persuade Prospect Magazine (who, in the UK, run an annual international think tank awards) to include a ‘WonkComms’ category. And some of you – yes, you know who you are! – have even suggested that we try and get Prospect Magazine out of the game by making a hostile take-over of their award scheme.

But we’ve never been in the awards business because it isn’t what we’re about. We are actually really grateful to Prospect Magazine for scrapping their ‘Publication of the Year’ award because – as you know – we don’t think publications are the be-all-and-end-all of research and we’d like to see more think tanks experiment with alternative digital formats and innovative outputs – as long as they are clearly tied to a higher objective.

And yet all this awards talk has made us think hard about what we are really are about. And that’s how we came up with our new strapline: It’s not about being the best, it’s about being better. And what better place to unveil it than in a room full of Wonks? So at the 2014 Prospect Magazine awards last week, we did just that. And we did it with a bit of guerrilla marketing.

We took some inspiration from John Wilshire’s Artefact Cards, from Rob McPherson’s post last year on gamification and from Sky News back in 2010. We designed some ‘Top Trumps’ style cards for people to play around with between their glasses of wine and canapés.

Because we work with researchers we know the importance of research methods. So we chose categories that we felt would be easy enough to collect from a cursory look online and easy enough to compare across the 30-odd think tanks we looked at. The hardest was the wonk to comms ratio, a topic that has been the focus on intense debate in our linkedin group. Some think tanks had less information about their staff than others. Some seemed to include comms with their general admin or resourcing function. In the end we went with the best available information we could find online but do tell us if we’ve got it wrong!

It was a bit of fun and proved to be a nice ice-breaking talking point on the night. Getting people talking to each other has been one of the best things about WonkComms and our twitter followers and LinkedIn Group members are a great testimony to that. A bit of healthy competition makes us all raise our game but at the end of the day, it’s not about being the best, it’s about being better.

I am Digital Manager at UNISON. My core area of interest is in digital tools and content strategy. As Digital Manager at the Overseas Development Institute, I developed a digital strategy awarded Online Strategy of the Year at the Digital Communications Awards 2012. I have written extensively on digital strategy and monitoring and evaluation, primarily on how they can support research communications with impact. I am also a founder of WonkComms, a popular community of practice for think tank communications staff. In this capacity, I am a member of the blog editorial board, commissioning and editing blogs and regularly formulate, speak at and chair events held at various UK think tank HQs in London and more widely.

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2 comments on “It’s not about being the best, it’s about being better
  1. […] There have been other noble attempts to try a different methodology (see for example CGD’s work on measuring the public profile of think tanks). Indeed, one of the fun surprises of the night came from Wonkcomms by way of a ‘top trumps’ card deck of various local think tanks. […]

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