1. Communication for development
“Communication that underpins and leads to successful and sustainable development places the people who are most affected at the center of the discussions, debates, choices, and decisions needed to guide their own development”.
FAO/The World Bank, 2007
‘Development Communication’ is a way of connecting local communities with donor agencies in a two-way flow of information. Com4Dev treats beneficiaries as equal partners, helping them to set their own agendas for development programmes.
In 1972, development pioneer Nora Cruz Quebral defined Com4Dev as “human communication linked to a society's planned transformation from a state of poverty to one of dynamic socio-economic growth that makes for greater equity and the larger unfolding of individual potential”. Development Communication, also termed “Communication for Development” or Com4Dev, “Development Support Communication”, “Participatory Communication”, “Communication for Empowerment” and more recently “Communication for Social Change”, became later integrated into the United Nations institutions and refers to the incorporation of strategic communication in development initiatives in order to improve, through behaviour change, the chances of success of development projects.
‘Com4Dev’ has changed a lot over the decades, with more emphasis now on dialogue and empowerment. Moving away from traditional communication – as top-down sending of messages – the goal now is to involve beneficiaries in the communication process and give them the power to shape policies.
The participatory approach is designed to empower local communities, and this seems to be reflected in communication strategies. But it has also been criticised for functioning more as a legitimating stamp for donors, while giving few real powers to communities.
So how do you involve people from low-tech environments in communication processes? At national level, radio talk shows are extremely popular as well as interactive. People call these talk shows all the time and, as platforms, they are politically very influential. The question for development journalists is how do you track the feedback loop between low-tech communities, media and policy makers?
Com4Dev aims to:
- share information, build mutual understanding, and ensure collective action
- enable community-driven development, based on the socio-cultural environment
- help people improve their communities, in line with their social and cultural needs
- be an equal and two-way process, based on dialogue and interaction
- bridge different perceptions and ensure change, via a range of techniques, media and methods
- use various media -- modern and traditional, mass and community – and draw from as many voices as possible
- promote openness, flexibility and intercultural awareness from the outset to prevent miscommunication
- foster self-reflection among marginalised and disadvantaged people
- show that reality is largely socially constructed and therefore culture-specific.
Under this approach, development communication does not try to impose the ‘correct reality’, but rather to guide dialogue to ensure mutual understanding among different perspectives.
To work most effectively, Com4Dev requires an enabling environment that includes:
- Free, independent, and pluralistic media, accountable to audiences, through which open dialogue and debate can occur
- Open, transparent, and accountable government that encourages public debate, discussion, and input
- Broad public access to a variety of media, as well as a regulatory environment that promotes pro-poor licensing for local radio and low-cost universal access to Internet and telephone services
- An open society in which all groups and sectors can participate fully in development discussions, debates, and decision-making processes.
“Communication for sustainable development is about people, who are the drivers of their own development”
Com4Dev is not about public relations; it aims to help developing countries to shape their own destinies. According to the UN, Com4Dev promotes “two-way communication systems… that allow communities to speak out, express their aspirations and concerns and participate in the decisions that relate to their development”.
Com4Dev is also key to achieving the MDGs. To ensure sustainable development in the poorest areas of the world, international organisations have placed it at the core of their activities. They have institutionalised it as a part of their everyday work.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has pioneered Communication for Development in the United Nations institutions since the early 1970s. For the past 30 years, FAO has implemented programmes in developing countries to achieve better results through incorporation of communication for attaining food security, sustainable natural resources management, and rural development. Through its specialised Communication for Development Group, located in the Research and Extension Unit, Natural Resources and Environment Department, FAO strengthens the capacities of rural people and institutions in managing participatory communication processes to share knowledge and information and to enhance participation and dialogue for sustained rural development.
The UN Inter-Agency Round Table on Communication for Development plays a significant role in bringing together UN agencies and international partners to discuss and debate the very broad, challenging, and crucial role and practice of Communication for Development. The first UN Inter-Agency Round Table on Communication for Development was convened in 1986. The goal was to offer a mechanism for UN system collaboration and information exchange. In 1994, a report of the Joint Inspection Unit recommended holding regular Round Table meetings to facilitate dialogue across agencies and to improve communication strategies. The report also encouraged decision-makers to include Com4Dev as an integral component of programmes and reports. Nowadays, all UN institutions have embedded Com4Dev into their daily activities. For example, UNESCO, UNDP and the International Telecommunication Union direct the implementation of World Summit on the Information Society action lines, which aim to foster greater participation and inclusion of stakeholders in the use of ICTs for development by addressing the digital divide.
The World Bank established the Development Communication Division (DevComm) relatively late, only in 1998. DevComm supports the Bank's mission of reducing poverty by providing clients with strategic communication advice and tools they need to develop and implement successful projects and pro-poor reform efforts. The division creates mechanisms to broaden public access to information on reforms; strengthens clients’ ability to listen to their constituencies and negotiate with stakeholders; empowers grassroots organizations to achieve a more participatory process; and undertakes communications activities that are grounded in public opinion research. Through the CommGAP global program, the World Bank promotes the use of communication in governance reform programs and supports the building of democratic public spheres. It works in three program areas: Research and Advocacy, Training and Capacity Building, and Support to Development Projects and Programs. CommGAP draws its activities on the use of communication to help governance reform programs work under real-world conditions, as well as to promote the building of democratic public spheres.
In 2006, Rome hosted the first World Congress on Communication for Development. With the Rome Consensus, the 900 participants defined Com4Dev as “seeking change at different levels including listening, building trust, sharing knowledge and skills, building policies, debating and learning for sustained and meaningful change”.
The meeting, hosted by the World Bank, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and The Communication Initiative, led to a common agreement that communication is integral to development and to achieving the MDGs. Participants underlined that for these reasons communication must be built into development planning and embedded in strategies for poverty reduction, health planning, and governance: the three major themes tackled during the three days of the Congress. The fourth theme was labelled Communication Labs and it included sessions dealing with cross-cutting issues relevant to communication methods, media, and information and communication technologies.
One of the messages was that involving people actively from the start takes time and resources, but it pays off in terms of results and sustainability. Still, Com4Dev does not provide a rapid answer and a quick solution. It requires long-term consistency of engagement. All participants recognized the need to foster partnerships among government agencies, donors, academia, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations, and the people affected. They noted that Com4Dev is about listening, as well as talking. It is a two-way dialogue that is horizontal rather than vertical and debates must be inclusive—the rights of those most affected must be guaranteed. This approach was underlined in sessions involving disabled people and indigenous peoples.
The Rome Consensus identified the main prerequisites that should be given priority action in the Communication for Development process:
- The right and possibility for people to participate in the decision making processes that affect their lives
- Creating opportunities for the sharing of knowledge of skills
- Ensuring that people have access to communication tools so that they can themselves communicate within their communities and with the people making the decisions that affect them (for example community radio and other community media)
- The process of dialogue, debate and engagement that builds public policies that are relevant, helpful and which have committed constituencies willing to implement them (for example on responding to preserving the environment)
- Recognising and harnessing the communication trends that are taking place at local, national and international levels for improved development action – from new media regulations and ICT trends to popular and traditional music
- Adopting an approach that is contextualised within cultures.