The Dilemma, the Debate & the Dare
Media mediates social change: a very popular adage of our times. However, commercial interests driven media initiatives have often fallen short of the social responsibility and development impact they are supposed to bring in. Modern polemics have given birth to development communication as an extension of social responsibility mandate of media.
Society, especially in the developing world, as in South Asia, is plagued with several problems like poverty, unemployment, environmental degradation, loss of arable land, malnutrition, diseases, inequality, high population growth and ethnic conflict, negation of human rights, among others.
While we learn and mentor development communication, the dilemma in mainstream media as to how much of it to be covered, the debate on what makes good development communication, and the dare to represent development communication creatively and convincingly and seamlessly across multiple media platforms: all remain the key challenges to be learnt well before practicing.
What & Why of Development Communication
Development communication grew in response to these societal problems and one of its underlying assumptions in it is that these problems may be traced to root causes and these root causes may in turn be remedied by information and communication.
Development communication refers to the use of communication to facilitate social development. Development communication engages stake-holders and policy makers, establishes conducive environments, assesses risks and opportunities and promotes information exchanges to bring about positive social change via sustainable development.
Development communication techniques include information dissemination and education, behaviour change, social marketing, social mobilization, media advocacy, communication for social change and community participation in development process.
Development communication has been labeled the “Fifth Theory of the Press,” with “social transformation and development,” and “the fulfilment of basic needs” as its primary purposes. The philosophy of development communication is anchored on three main ideas, namely: purposive, value-laden and pragmatic.
Three Models of Devcom: Basic Learning:
Diffusion Model of Development Communication
The diffusion model assumes that a proper combination of mass-mediated and interpersonal communication strategies can move individuals from poor to not-poor via a process starting with awareness (of a new technology or practice) through interest, evaluation, trial and finally to adoption of the technology or practice that is assumed to lead to improved livelihoods.
The Diffusion model defines communication as information transfer – vertically. Here, development communication refers to information dissemination via mass media. Critics of the diffusion model were unsettled by its pro-innovation, pro-persuasion and top-down nature that is, its strong emphasis on adoption and lack of emphasis on recipient input into the development decisions and processes. The solution lies in information transfer: Knowledge to Attitudes to Practice, i.e. outcome oriented behaviour change.
When government imposes a family planning policy or birth control dictum, it will go through a top-down diffusion. When a health app is made compulsory to subscribe to by a government, it will have to go through a diffusion via all possible media at its disposal.
Behaviour Change Model of Development Communication:
Media exposure leads to increased knowledge and attitude change. For example, farmers basically utilize mass media for entertainment, relaxation, to escape from problems and to enliven their houses, so the use of a new herbicide can be promoted, for example, through television or radio. Some of the various media that can be used in social marketing and education entertainment to bring in behaviour change, are: Electronic media, i.e., television and radio broadcasts wherein the programmes may comprise of interviews with experts, officials and farmers, folk songs and information about weather, market rates, availability of improved seeds and implements, etc. There can be Radio forums: Live broadcasts or programming for the developing community on the intervention concerned. This can take many forms, for example, the form of a studio panel discussing a relevant topic, where communities can phone or write in, where possible.
It is important, however, to understand that development communication using various media is possible only with the active involvement of the following: (i) Development agencies like departments of agriculture. (ii) Voluntary organizations (iii) Concerned citizens (iv) Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) These groups help the government in implementing development programmes. The focus here for the government or a higher authority is to effect the desired behaviour change of the target audience through various agencies, like moving on a new COVID protocol of masking and washing hands, or delaying birth of a child after the first one, on bringing in a cleanliness regime, etc. The UN bodies also aim towards behaviour change communication through government and non-government agencies.
Participatory Model of Development Communication
Late in the 1970s, there was a shift to the participatory approach, which is based on a systems framework with an emphasis on horizontal communication through which the poor/disadvantaged are directly involved in the communication process. They not only adopt but are part of the creation of the new technology/knowledge/communication messages. The participatory approach is made effective by a number of factors. Among these factors are: creating a participatory communication environment that not only gives room for the expression of diverse ideas on societal developmental concerns, but also facilitates grassroots-level interaction; strengthening the flow of public information and opportunities of public dialogue on development policies and programmes; and producing and disseminating information content that reflects as well as responds to the local values and information needs of the people at the grassroots level. The participatory approach uses culturally appropriate communication approaches and content; uses community communication-access points, especially community radio, while harnessing the strengths of traditional media (drama, dance, songs, story-telling, etc.) and combining them with new information and communication technologies. For example, there can be a powerful participatory communication that can combat child marriage, early child birth, child abuse, etc.
Mentoring-learning of Devcom will need to clearly understand these three types, their characteristics, their examples, and the ways and means to do these with the government, an organization or the civil society. Loads of case-studies must be explored of all of these to actually comprehend the way they work and what impact they bring in.
Considering the transactional nature of communication, competency should be viewed in terms of relationships with others. People who work well in a group are often more competent in achieving communication goals than those who do not. They understand communication effectiveness. Communication competence is measured by results. Thus, “someone who knows what changes in communication behaviour need to be made, want to make these changes, but never does, can hardly be deemed a competent development communicator”. They have a sense of appropriateness. A competent communicator must have a sense of context. In other words, avoid “violating social or interpersonal norms, rules or expectations”. Communication competency in case of development will integrate knowledge of the sector and media, communication skills, social sensitivity and values to put people and planet at the centre of the discourse.
There are many barriers to communication that affects communication competency. We must be able to identify them and deal with them. These barriers are present everywhere. As students of development communication, we must be conscious of these barriers that come in the form of environmental factors, semantic noise, channel noise, or socio-psychological factors. These barriers must not be seen as insurmountable problems, rather, as challenges that can be overcome.
Must-learn Development Communication Goal & Outcome
Social mobilization is the process of bringing together all feasible and practical inter-sectoral social allies to raise people’s demand for a particular development program, to assist in the delivery of resources and services and to strengthen community participation for sustainability and self-reliance. In other words, it is the act of rallying together as many social sectors— government leaders, civil society, and business sector— to own and support a certain development program.
Social mobilization has six elements: advocacy; information, education, and communication or IEC; community organizing; capacity development; networking and alliance building; and monitoring and evaluation. Advocacy is the organization of information into arguments used to persuade or convince a specific group of people to take necessary action on a specific goal. It involves pleading, defending, recommending, and supporting a policy. Advocacy targets include national and local leaders, policy- makers, and decision-makers Information, education, and communication strategies and tactics are employed in social mobilization to generate a knowledgeable and supportive environment for decision-making. This includes the allocation of adequate resources to inform and engage various stakeholders through multiple communication channels. The aim of IEC is to change knowledge, attitudes, opinions, and values. Community organizing involves building the community’s capability for problem solving, decision-making and collective action. Community organizing serves as catalyst for the neighbourhood to initiate action.
This approach believes that improvements in services can be achieved if people participate in their delivery. Harnessing the community’s potential, particularly in sustaining itself is capacity development. This includes training to improve people’s knowledge, attitudes, values, and skills. This element in the social mobilization process develops competencies in dealing with their networks, resource sharing, problem solving, and collective action. Through networking and alliance building, one can bring together those who have similar interests and programs. These include what the Asian Institute of Management refers to as the four pillars of governance: local government units (LGUs); nongovernment organizations (NGOs); business sector; and civil society (schools, media, religious, and socio-civic organizations).
Devcom mentoring-learning must have social mobilization strategies and techniques learnt and practiced in specific contexts.
The Devcom learning-mentoring today needs the following:
- Historical knowledge of the evolution of Devcom across the decades since the second world war
- Types of Devcom (specially the three critical ones) with case-studies of each (successful and failed ones)
- Understanding the values and barriers of Devcom, and how to enhance personal communication competency along with skills of social mobilization
- Understanding media convergence and how to seamlessly utilize all types of media platforms and forms of communication functions to get the desired impact
- Transformational leadership and committed team-work skills
- Actually creating a multimedia communication campaign on a given brief of purpose
- Finally, the experience of actually implementing a development communication strategy and plan in a real life context.