Development Communication:
The Emerging Participatory Paradigm

Development and communication are both intertwined. Communication is extremely essential in any developmental project for long-term results. Both the terms are loaded with different conceptions and richness of uses and functions because of their theoretical foundation. This article will be looking at four main questions: What is development communication? What are the differences among other ways of communication? Why is it needed in developmental work in today’s perspective? And what is development communication, the emerging participatory paradigm?

Development communication supports sustainable change in development operations by engaging key stakeholders in the development process. Development communication tries to establish two-way flows to share knowledge, opinions and perceptions among the stakeholders. This type of communication also tries to establish conducive environments for assessing risk and opportunities to disseminate information, and induce behaviour and social change.

The role of development communication has become important and relevant now more than ever after the continuous failure of the one-way vertical communication model: sender – message - channel - receiver (SMCR). Worldwide, the development focus has shifted from economic growth to include other social dimensions; hence, its approach to communication of the processes. Sustainability and people’s participation have become key elements of this new vision, as also acknowledged by the World Bank. According to the World Bank, ‘Internationally, emphasis is being placed on the challenges of sustainable development, and participation is increasingly recognised as a necessary part of sustainable development strategies.’

Without communication, participation cannot occur in a large scale or vice verse. Participation needs to be based on two-way communication principles and practices.

Definition of Development Communication

1. Development communication, as an interdisciplinary field, is based on empirical research that helps to build consensus while it facilitates the sharing of knowledge to achieve a positive change in the development initiative. It is not only about effective dissemination of information but also about using empirical research and two-way communications among stakeholders (Development Communication division, the World Bank )

2. It is a social process based on dialogue using a broad range of tools and methods. It is also about seeking change at different levels, including listening, building trust, sharing knowledge and skill-building policies, debating and learning for sustained meaningful change. It is not public relation or corporate communication (Rome Consensus of World Bank 2006)

There are five keywords in development communication: dialogue, stakeholders, sharing knowledge and mutual understanding. The first keyword associated with development communication is dialogue. No matter what kind of project, it is always valuable and essential to establish dialogue among the stakeholders. Dialogue is necessary ingredient in building trust, sharing knowledge and ensures mutual understanding.

Development communication has two modes of application: monologic mode and dialogic mode. The participatory model mainly deals with dialogic communication. The monologic mode is broadly equivalent to the diffusion perspective and is based on the transmission model. It adopts one-way communication to send messages, disseminate information, and awareness generation for changing behaviour. The dialogic mode is closely associated with the participation perspective and uses two-way communication methods to build trust, exchange knowledge and perception, achieve mutual understanding and asses the risk and opportunities. Dialogic approaches guarantee that relevant stakeholders have their voice to be heard.

In socio-development initiatives, inclusion of dialogic development communication often results in the reduction of political risks, the improvements of the project design and performance, increased transparency and enhanced people’s voice and participation. For example, many development projects initiated by the Government fail because from the beginning of the development project, key stakeholders were not involved in the preparatory and planning phases. The lack of proper communication at the initial stage generates suspicions among stakeholders and leads to misunderstanding and negative attitude towards the projects. The cause of these problems, and ultimately of the project failure, is the lack of two-way communication.

Participation ladder of stakeholders in development communication

Sustainable Civil Society Initiative – Shubh kal

Climate change is happening. The science is compelling and the longer we wait, the harder the problem will be to solve

Shubh Kal, an initiative of Development Alternatives and the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation is a pilot project and supports measures that eventually lead to better income, improved resource management, lower carbon footprint and overall reduction in climate vulnerability of the population. This project has three target groups: farmers, artisans and women who are trying to improve their livelihood conditions in the drought-affected Bundelkhand region. The project area has been facing constant drought for the last few years; few livelihood options and low literacy level are major problems and, hence, the initiative has been trying to improve the lives of these three target groups by devising micro projects that are relevant to climate change adaptation. Due to the context, some complexities in the content and to the need for capacity building, here the communication strategy relies mostly on interpersonal and group methods like focus group discussion, knowledge mapping, exposure visits to other relevant project areas, etc. The key stakeholders have been associated with the process from the beginning so that no misunder-standing may take root in their mind. We are hopeful that the initiative will lead to the expected projects results within the timeframe.

The Emerging Participatory Paradigm

The participatory model of communication for social change is mainly a new look at the newly emerging paradigm in development since it emphasises the importance of two-way horizontal communication and need to facilitate the participation of stakeholders in each step for empowerment. ‘Change is now expected to be defined with the people and not for the people, making communication for social change closely aligned with the participatory communication perspective’ (World Bank).

This model favours people’s active and direct interaction through consultation and dialogue. It shifts the emphasis from information dissemination to situation analysis, from persuasion to participation.

Participatory approaches are gaining worldwide importance in development programmes because they offer enough opportunities to any individual right from passive recipients to active agents of development efforts. Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and Participatory Action Research (PAR) are the two main approaches of development communication. PRA facilitates people’s involvement in the problem analysis process, while PAR aims at placing communities and local stakeholders in the driving seat of development efforts. Till such time as we do not include communication in a systematic and dialogic manner, any approach of communication will not be successful in the large scale. Participatory development communi-cation or the horizontal model of communication opens up new space for dialogue among stakeholders and facilitates the exchange of knowledge, empowering people to participate actively in the process affecting their own lives.

In the participatory approach, engagement of stakeholders is essential for assessing risks, identifying opportunities, preventing problems and identifying the needed change. This is the model communication to asses and to empower are its key focal points. In this model, the media is no longer the central element of communication. It can be used as one of the tools to be used according to the situation. The SMCR model has given way to the two-way model which is more appreciated, where the sender is at the same time the receiver and vice verse. The combination of these elements in emerging development paradigm is shifting its focus from media to people, and from persuasion to participation. q

Nibedita Phukan


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