The Challenge:

How can The Innovation Service of UNHCR: The UN Refugee Agency work to improve the care for and protection of the more than 65 million displaced people worldwide? Through activation of innovative tools, learning environments and partnerships within and outside of the organization, the agency supports experimentation, creativity and collaboration.

Since 2017, the Center for Public Interest Communications and the Innovation Service have partnered in an effort to accelerate the spread of innovative approaches within the organization and in the humanitarian sector.

What We Did:

The Center worked with the Innovation Service to conduct a workplace ethnography. We interviewed staff across the organization to create a baseline understanding of communication practices and challenges, and to find opportunities where insights from behavioral, cognitive and social science could be applied to internal and external communication strategies. The findings were used to inform the following activities:

  • Conducting trainings for staff on strategic communications and the science of storytelling
  • Launching “The Arc,” an ongoing series that translates insights from behavioral, cognitive and social science for those working in the humanitarian sector. Briefs include:
    • The Science of Beliefs: A three-part series applying research on values, identity and worldviews to communication for refugees
    • Communicating Complexity: A six-part series applying a public interest communications framework to communicating the complexity of displacement in the context of climate change
  • Providing regular counseling and coaching for external communication projects and story development.

When we first began our assignment, we discovered that everyone we interviewed agreed that strategic communication is necessary to serve UNHCR’s mandate, but communication was siloed to one team within the organization. This encouraged us to focus on building a new understanding of communications throughout the organization.

  • One in which everyone recognizes the role of communication in their work and can develop science-driven communication strategies with strategy and intention.
  • One that measures belief and behavior change, not awareness.

What the UNHCR Said About Working With the Center

“Our partnership with the University of Florida’s Center for Public Interest Communications has reshaped how we view communication as a vehicle to change mindsets and behaviors at the UN Refugee Agency. The Center provided insights into how behavioral and social science can contribute to communicating complex issues on such as climate displacement and xenophobia. In addition to academic research, the people at the Center ignited a creative spark for our team through strategic support and trainings on how we could rethink our work. Outside of digging into concrete challenges and innovation projects at UNHCR over the past years, our collaboration is built around openness, shared values, and an eagerness to explore how storytelling can change systems. We’re very lucky to collaborate with people who not only care about social change as much we do, but are at the forefront of experimenting with new approaches to how we communicate strategically in a chaotic world.” – Lauren Parater, Innovation Officer (Strategic Communications), UNHCR


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