Maturity models in strategic communication

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As artificial intelligence and digital technologies advance, quantifying value becomes increasingly important. In general management practice, maturity models are already used to describe organizational capabilities. They map a desired development path from a baseline state to a target maturity level. The question, however, is whether they are suitable for communication practice.

Maturity models in practice

Maturity modeling is becoming increasingly popular in the communication field. The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, the International Association for Measurement and Evaluation of Communication, and a number of service providers have spearheaded efforts over the past five years to create maturity models for various strategic communication subfields. For example, Staffbase, a global provider of communications services in Europe, has developed an internal communications maturity model that focuses on aligning communications strategies with business objectives. The Australian company Step Two and the US communications firm Local Wisdom have developed maturity models to map and improve the digital processes of internal communications. However, overall, the use of maturity models in practice remains cautious and focused on individual communication disciplines.

Little attention in science

Maturity theories exist in a number of disciplines, including political science, innovation management, and strategic management. However, the majority of academic and professional literature does not conceptualize communicative maturity in any way. Established concepts such as measurement and evaluation (M&E) and communication excellence are often discussed in relation to communication maturity. However, the academic debate is tied to the professional discourse, and existing work on communication maturity lacks consistency in concepts and definitions. From the research, six general characteristics of communication maturity can be derived.

Communication maturity is…

  1. a dynamic concpt
  2. that describes successive stages of development of communication management capabilites and practices in relation to a target state depending on
  3. the alignment of communication strategy with organizational strategy,
  4. individual perceptions of organizational members,
  5. and capability-specific characteristics that
  6. influence creating and demonstrating the value of communication for organizational success.
  7. The purpose of the concept is to support the creation and demonstration of the value creation of corporate communications to the overall organizational success

New opportunities for the evaluation and benchmarking of communication

Researchers and practitioners alike emphasize the use of communication maturity models as evaluation and benchmarking tools, and as tools for improving communication practices in the pursuit of excellence. The concept is thus positioned between communication evaluation and excellence. As a result, maturity models are best suited to management practices rather than individual communication activities. Furthermore, the suitability of a model should be carefully considered in light of the organization’s goals and value contribution.

Overview of maturity models in the literature. Sources: Communication Excellence Framework, Communication Maturity Index, DPRG/ICV Framework, Integrated Evaluation Framework, Integrated Framework for M&E, Measurement Maturity Mapper, PR Effectiveness Yardstick, The Staffbase Internal Communications Maturity Assessment

About the study

The research has been conducted by Caroline Siegel at the Institute of Communication and Media Studies at Leipzig University under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Ansgar Zerfass, Chair of Strategic Communication at Leipzig University. Their paper received at the 27th International Public Relations Research Conference (IPRRC) in Orlando, USA, the Best Paper Award.