Context Analysis – What? Why? How?

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FIR On Strategy with Andrea VascellariThis is part of a series of posts that explores the “Adaptive Digital Strategy Framework”, an operative guide that I created to plan, execute and manage online strategy programs more effectively and efficiently. Each of post of this series comes with an audio podcast in which you will find the audio version of the post with additional audio commentary about the discussed topics. The name of the podcast is “FIR On Strategy with Andrea Vascellari”.

The first thing you need to do when you start to work on a communication plan is to define where you are starting from and what’s the focus of your initiative. This is exactly what the context analysis helps us with.

In today’s cast/post we will understand what is a context analysis, why it’s so important and how to conduct one.

What is a Context Analysis?

Context analysis is a method used to analyze the internal ecosystem in which an organization operates. The purpose of this analysis is to ensure a project is informed by all of the contextual factors that might affect its implementation and sustainability.

The context analysis is the first step of the planning process but once you start running a project you might identify new factors that you didn’t think of. This is why I suggest you to regularly update your context analysis throughout the course of the project. It will help you ensure that the project adapts to changes as needed.

Related to this, you might have heard also about ‘environmental scanning’. This is a related analysis but it mainly focuses on the macro external environment of an organization (we will explore this in another cast/post). With a context analysis we set the internal scene in order to develop a solid strategic plan of action for the organization.

Why it’s important?

Planning and setting up a project is not an ‘objective’ thing. It is subjective to who you are, your network of contacts, your experience and what your organization can do in terms of internal resources and capabilities.

This internal analysis is crucial to make sure that the opportunities we identify are feasible to implement.

How to conduct a context analysis?

A context analysis is essentially a brief description of the project. It’s like a 30-second “elevator pitch” to communicate the essential basics of your initiative.

Now, imagine to be in a meeting room during a planning session. Here’s what’s going on:

“This is what we are going to do…”
“Oh yes, why don’t we add this and this other thing, too?”
“One of our competitors is doing that, we should do it, too!”

People keep adding ideas and thoughts to the table without a focus. I have been in tons of meetings just like that. In small and large enterprises, there’s no difference. Things tend to go down that road if you don’t guide them. That’s the human nature and this is why your role is fundamental. You are a strategist and you are going to guide your organization in the right direction.

Where to start from?

Let’s go back to that meeting room for a minute. Ideas, skills and potential are right there sitting in front of you. It’s like an orchestra of talented musicians. They are great but can’t play well together without a director.

Here’ an effective methodology that I use to “conduct the planning orchestra” in the right direction.

1) Choose a path.

I start by asking what are we trying to achieve with this project. Do we want to increase/optimize:

  • Awareness?
  • Sales/Conversions?
  • Loyalty?

This is the first question that needs to be asked – when you ask this question keep in mind the theoretical customer journey from the moment an organization attracts the consumer’s attention, to the point of action/purchase and then to retention/advocacy.

Awareness, conversions, loyalty, these areas are all important. At this stage though it’s vital that you only choose one of them because each area comes with a different path, strategies tactics etc. Sure, you can run multiple projects under the overall “strategic umbrella” of your organization, but remember, each project has its own DNA.

Funnel Areas

2) Focus on a specific stage.

For example, let’s say that we chose to increase “awareness”. Is the audience aware of your organization/product/service? Did the audience take any action to communicate with you? Has there been already a first action/purchase?

Here you must look at the current relationship that you have with the audience in that specific area. This will help you focusing on the right stage of the funnel.

What you should do now, is to pick two adjacent groups.

Funnel Groups

Automatically this helps you, and your team, understand what your are going to focus on. Any idea or whatever else that doesn’t help you in this direction must be left out of the picture.

3) Analyze.

By now we know in which area and stage of the funnel we are going to focus on. We identified the broad purpose of our project.

Now, since this is an internal analysis, we have to analyze a series of internal factors that are within the organization’s control. I divide them in macro and micro level factors:

Macro level factors: Remember these factors? Does it ring any bell? >> Adaptive Digital Strategy Framework.

  • Organizational Factors: What’s the current leadership style/approach? Are there existing approaches, activities, processes for internal coordination of such initiatives? – Tip: If there are project reports that can provide data about the impact of the current approach, have a look at them.
  • Human Factors: What are the skills and characteristics of the staff involved in the project? What’s their current workload level? Is there any ongoing or historical conflicts between teams/departments that may raise issues? Who’s involved (stakeholders, partners, other organizations)? Who else within the organization should be consulted/involved?
  • Social Factors: Is there a culture of trust, dialogue, support, knowledge exchange and innovation? How have other changes been received in the past? What are the values, inspiration, behaviors of the groups of people that work for the organization? Is there any lesson learned from past experiences that you should keep in mind?
  • Organizational Structure: What is the administrative structure and governance model within which the project will run? How are the different activities, tasks and responsibilities distributed within the organization?
  • Financial Structure: What financial resources are or may be available to support the project? What is the funding projection for both the project and organization as a whole (e.g. cutbacks vs new resources)?

Micro level: These are more specific factors that take our analysis to a deeper level in relation to our project.

  • Deadlines: Do you have any upcoming product/service launch/event/other?
  • Alignment: How does the project align with the vision, values and mission statements of your organization?
  • Media: Have you already made any announcement?
  • Physical and Technological Resources: What resources are in place, or in development, to support the project? (i.e. computers, software, office space, etc.).
  • Ongoing Projects: Is there any other project happening prior to, during and following the project being considered? How will these other projects interact in terms of staff, resources, clients and partners involved? Are there links between these existing projects and this new project?

Good! Now you should have everything you need to define the existing context in which the project is taking place.

Wow, all this stuff to write such a short section in our communication plan? Yes. The best tip I can give you is to “know what you are doing”. You see, if it’s clear to you what’s going on internally, within your organization, and what you want to achieve with your project, this section of your plan is going to be quite easy to write.

Over to You

This is based on my experience, what would you adjust based on yours? What do you think about it? Is something missing? Looking at the sector you are working in, would you approach this differently? Please, let me know.

Andrea @vascellari
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2 thoughts on “Context Analysis – What? Why? How?”

  1. Really wonderful

    But I have a question on this! Is it the same when we talk about security context analysis?

    Hoping to hear from you

    1. Hi Mohammed, I’m glad you found it useful.
      This is a general approach that you can apply to any sector. Start from the business/communication problem that you are trying to solve.
      Good luck!

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