This is a summary blog post based on a paper by Julie O’Neil, Ph.D., Texas Christian University;  Michele Ewing, M.A. & APR, Kent State University; Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA, Jackson, Jackson & Wagner; and Sean Williams, M.A., True Digital Communications. The full study can be found here.

It’s a principle taught in the very first public relations class one takes—employees are an organization’s most important public. Thus, public relations practitioners dealing with internal communications must be able to effectively evaluate the impact of their initiative. Unfortunately, standards of measurement for internal communications have been severely lacking, a situation which the Institute for Public Relations and its Commission on Research, Measurement, and Evaluation has recently made strides to ameliorate.

A Delphi Study to Identify Standards for Internal Communication,” a research paper written by Julie O’Neil, Ph.D.; Michele Ewing, M.A. & APR; Stacey Smith, APR, Fellow PRSA; and Sean Williams, M.A., puts forth a proposed list of measurement standards and their definitions along with a review of the research they conducted to test the professional consensus on the tentative list. The proposed standards were developed by an 11-member task force composed of public relations leaders. A Delphi study was subsequently conducted on a sample of 22 public relations professionals and academics. Each of the participants in the Delphi study were required to have least ten years of PR experience and at least 5 years of experience with internal communications.

A Delphi study is designed to identify the consensus of a group of experts on a debated issue. In at least two rounds, the experts are given a questionnaire structured toward this outcome. This study specifically sought to find which of the listed standards for internal communications are currently measured, whether they agree with the list, and how the proposed standards should be defined.

The task force formulated 21 standards and organized them into groups of “outtakes,” “outcomes,” and “organizational impacts.” Round one results showed most of the outtake standards are already being measured—such as ‘awareness,’ ‘knowledge,’ ‘understanding,’ and ‘retention of information.’ Nearly half of the 22-person sample noted ‘understanding’ as the most important outtake measurement. Regarding outcomes, the majority of the sample currently measured the standards of ‘satisfaction,’ ‘attitude,’ ‘empowerment,’ ‘collaboration,’ and ‘trust.’ ‘Trust’ held the majority as the most important outcome standard. However, citing lack of resources and time, many respondents said they did not currently measure several of the outcome standards. Lastly, results showed many of the organizational impact standards are already being measured—respondents ranked ‘employee retention’ and ‘safety’ as the top two measured standards. Respondents noted lack of time and resources, lack of leadership support, and a lack of knowledge on how to measure the standards, as reasons for not measuring all organizational impact standards.

Before proceeding to round two, the 11-member task force made amendments to the list of 21 standards. These amendments included adding ‘relevance’ to outtakes (bringing the list to 22 standards), more clearly defining ‘understanding’ and ‘knowledge’ to create distinction between the two standards, along with a few other changes for definition clarity. Round two results showed a 90 percent approval rating among the 22-person sample for the new list.

The final proposed standards for internal communication are as follows:

Outtakes: Awareness, Knowledge, Understanding, Relevance, Retention of Information Outcomes: Attitude, Advocacy, Authenticity, Empowerment, Collaboration, Teamwork, Discretionary Effort, Trust, Satisfaction, Transparency, Fairness
Organizational Impact: Productivity, Innovation, Continuous Improvement, Reputation, Employee Retention, Safety.


Whitney Mecca is a member of the IPR Street Team and a public relations student at the University of Florida.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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