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September 08, 2017

Transforming Reports into Modern Social Communication  

Esther image

Posted by Esther Palacio[1]

Traditional reports are losing their effectiveness and efficiency in the modern IT-dependent world, as more friendly forms of communication appear. We are talking here primarily about reports written by government agencies or think tanks, or by international finance agencies or donors, or by other public sector bodies. How should we take advantage of the new technologies and transform long and often unread reports into modern social communications that strengthen the impact of policy and technical advice? 

Reports are written with the intention to communicate. Nevertheless, in the modern era, most people rely on the traditional media and the social media. Few people have the time or inclination to read long reports. As a result, excellent reports containing important messages, analysis and data, risk not reaching their target audience, and often have little impact in practice. Moreover, the authors of reports rarely think through the key messages that need to be communicated to a wider audience, and who are the members of that audience.

There is a well-known rule that the number of readers of a report multiplied by the number of pages of a report is a constant “k”. In public policy, k approximates to 100. Thus, a 50-page report will only be read by two people whereas a two-pager has the capability to reach 50 people. This example might sound a joke, but it is not far from reality.

Another factor is the downward trend in literacy. With the IT revolution, more and more people have the skills to edit a video, at a professional standard, in a short time. But less and less people are capable of writing in a clear and concise way. 

There are huge potential advantages to use videos and other social imagery to communicate core messages to a wide audience. These advantages include: 

  • Multiplying the target audience by a factor of 10, or 100, or more.
  • Passing on key messages, attracting new readers, and raising awareness of topics efficiently, and at low cost.
  • Using vehicles of communication that are modern, different and fun, while retaining control of the timing and substance of the message.
  • Avoiding the risk that the audience will miss key messages in “quick-diagonal” report reading.
  • Maximizing the use and potentiality of “free social media” as videos are easy to share and the number of viewers can easily be controlled.
  • Creating a product that remains alive after being published – videos live on, but reports all too often die in a filing cabinet or trash can! 

Of course, communicating key messages only through images and videos has obvious limitations. Social media does not replace formal reports, whose documentary value remains huge, and essential for debate and the public record. The key point is that work should not finish with the completion of a report, especially in the case of important and complex reports that discuss topics of broad public policy interest.

In sum, communication in the 21st century requires a combination of tools and channels. Policymakers should consider combining the release of formal reports with the use of visual communications to ensure that key messages reach a well-targeted audience in a timely and user-friendly way.

Here are a few examples to illustrate these ideas:

• Final report of an audit, assessment or aid project:
   ILO, several videos summarizing key reports
   Mozambique, 7 minutes, 111 viewers in 15 days
   CIP, Mozambique, reached over 2,000 people in 5 days

• Raising awareness on a specific public policy or issue:
   Brazil, housing policies, 9.880 viewers since 2014 
   FAO, social protection
   IMF on corruption,151,300 viewers in 15 days

• And for the need to improve the simplicity of the language and the messages:
   IMF video on 2007 global financial crisis

 [1] Esther Palacio is the IMF’s resident PFM Advisor in Maputo, Mozambique.

Note: The posts on the IMF PFM Blog should not be reported as representing the views of the IMF. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the IMF or IMF policy.


As a public finance professional, I find often that it is a challenge to present financial data in a simple way before citizens even with graphs and other forms of visual presentation. The idea of using videos to communicate financial performance can go a long way in making the information reader friendly.

Thank you Esther. Great post. I agree nobody reads reports anymore. Reports have various other objectives than purveying messages:
- They provide status to the writer and his/her chain of command;
- They provide psychological comfort to the institution/unit which owns the report that "things are under control", "we know what we are doing".

The reader is sometimes just a collateral damage.

Important messages included in most reports could be adequately summarized in a one-pager. I am a believer (but not always a practitioner) in the impact of short impactful narratives and maybe the success of this blog can be explained by this.

I do not share your enthusiasm for videos though. We are submerged with videos and they do not attract more brain focus than texts I am afraid.

Thank you Esther, great post and great videos from Mozambique.
Let us see, next time in Maputo, how to improve our own FAD deliveries in light of these considerations.
Best, Benoit

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