The practice of Development Support Communication, DSC, is a multi-sectoral process of information sharing about development agendas and planned actions. It links planners, beneficiaries and implementers of development action, including the donor community. It obligates planners and implementers to provide clear, explicit and intelligible data and information about their goals and roles in development, and explicitly provides opportunities for beneficiaries to participate in shaping development outcomes. It ensures that the donor community is kept constantly aware of the achievements and constraints of development efforts in the field.
Development Support Communication makes use of all available structures and means of information sharing. Therefore it is not limited to mass media alone. It also uses both formal group and non-formal channels of communication, such as womens and youth associations, as well as places where people gather.... markets, churches, festivals, and meetings. But its contribution is in using these in a systemic, continuous, co-ordinated and planned manner, to perform linkage and enabling functions. It requires analysis of the communication environment, of the available and needed communication competencies and resources (hardware, software, financial and human), and clearly indicates expected results from specific resource inputs, so as to maintain accountability.
In short, DSC is a legitimate function of development planning and implementation. DSC therefore needs to be examined as a valuable «technology» for using the social communication process to foster and strengthen sustainable development at local and national levels. It should be taken more seriously in programs of social change, and should be reflected explicitly in development policy and strategy. One way of doing so is through the enunciation of a national information and communication policy, which can be explicitly integrated into national development thinking and practice.
SOME ISSUES REQUIRING POLICY ACTION
Because of the multi-sectoral and comprehensive nature of national development needs and objectives, a national strategy on information and communication for sustainable development must be seen also as a multi-sectoral, multi-dimensional issue, around which different development stakeholders can find a rallying point, and to which they can make invaluable constructive contributions. Previous attempts in some countries to deal with information and communication policy issues, because they lacked an over-arching development-oriented framework and justification, have tended to be ad hoc, and overly politicized.
By focusing almost exclusively and without much negotiating margins, on particular sectoral interests or thematic considerations (e.g. commercialization, privatization, public service, monopoly, freedom of expression, minority rights, etc.), they tended to exacerbate areas of tension and disagreement, instead of promoting opportunities for constructive dialogue. The development and management of a national information and communication policy can be seen as a mechanism for ensuring widespread public education and informed public participation in decision-making on the future directions of development in African society.
The process of developing and implementing a national policy on any issue probably goes through several steps, among them:
Is Africa developing? Is your country developing? Whether your answer is: «yes», «no» or «maybe», how can information and communication enhance development in your country? Specifically, how can a policy approach to information and communication enhance development in your country?
In that connection, what are the goals of development in your country? Are you concerned about economic growth? Are you concerned about reducing the level of poverty? Are you concerned about the quality of life of your people? Are you concerned about the peoples right and freedom to speak out? How can a policy approach to information and communication enhance development in your country?
Policies are about politics.
Politics is about power; power to choose, power to decide. Who has the power to decide in Africa today?
The challenge is political will. Where lies the political will in Africa?
Governments are obviously important; but civil society and the individual citizen are becoming important as well.
How can the process of designing and implementing national communication policies affect the «balance of power» in African countries?
African governments and citizens are expressing a commitment to democracy, even though it is often not clear if democracy means more than holding periodic elections. Remember what the late Claude Ake said: «In much of Africa, people are voting without choosing».
Whatever it means, democracy must include the notion of participation by the majority in discussing issues of national importance. How can the design and implementation of a national information and communication policy enhance democracy?
Culture is about adjustment to the physical and metaphysical environment.
Culture is about identity, about defining who we are, what our values are, how we see ourselves, how we want others to see us.
How can a national information and communication policy contribute to cultural development? In the 21st century can we still speak about national cultures in Africa? Are we not becoming part of a global society? Who defines how that global society should communicate, and about what? What is the contribution of Africans to a global cultural environment? How can this be articulated in national communication policies?
Culture is also about institutions, such as religion. What provisions need to be made in a national information and communication policies with reference to religion?
In much of Africa, culture is about diversity; because many African nations are multi-ethnic, with several cultural backgrounds. How can a national information and communication policy make provisions for cultural diversity as well as the national cultural uniformation, which is much desired?
Communication is centred on language; and the language of communication can either exclude or include individuals and groups. The language policy of a national communication policy is an important aspect of its acceptability and impact.
The right to communicate, to speak and to be spoken to has become a universal right. A national communication policy should recognize the right to communicate and ensure that it is respected legally and practically.
There is a wide gap between individual and among groups in their ability to access the media or other channels of public communication. A national communication policy seeks to enhance access and reduce factors that inhibit access.
As the 1972 UNESCO report states: «The rapid development of communication technology makes it especially important for potential users to keep up to date». What was technically or economically untenable yesterday may be possible today and quite attractive tomorrow. A national communication policy will seek to balance the needs of the day after tomorrow with the realities of today.
Should information and communication policies deal only with what is affordable? Should the nations resources alone guide what is examined and proposed in the policy?
10. The institutional framework
Who should be responsible for initiating and managing a policy on information and communication?
In some countries, the initiative has come from the government department charged with public information or telecommunications. A re-baptised Ministry of Communications has led the management of a communication policy often. Earlier international discussions suggested a National Communication Council as an independent entity, responsible to Parliament or some non-partisan framework. What actually happens in any given country will be a matter for negotiation among the competing interests and social forces in the development context.
However, the existence of strategic communication actions in support of programs or projects in development sectors may also influence the choices made in the directions that a national communication for development policy takes. For example, many countries have a communication support system or project in agriculture, involving agricultural extension and agricultural information, combining interpersonal and mass media communication strategies. Many countries have also developed health promotion and health education programs or projects. In yet other countries, population communication is often based on a sectoral strategy for promoting reproductive health, or adolescent behaviour change. Similarly, the communication activities in support of HIV/AIDS prevention in many countries are based around multi-media, multi-sectoral strategies. All of these actions on the ground are building blocks for the implementation of a national communication for development policy. Civil society, including the legal profession, journalists, advertising and marketing groups, womens societies, human rights activists and NGOs have been actively involved in pushing one or more areas of communication policy to suit their particular political or economic agenda. These also can contribute perspectives and actions in dealing with the basic challenge, which is: To develop or to not develop, how can information and communication play a role?
11. Policy Design and Implementation
Preliminary considerations in the design of a policy
Some preliminary considerations in the design of a policy involve questions such as: Who needs it? The need for a communication policy is often felt at the level of public or private institutions or of civil society. Whatever the source of concern, information/communication policy provisions will impact on various groups or individuals. Therefore, the design and formulation of the policy should be seen as a «public good», of potential interest to a wide spectrum in society. The process should therefore be transparent, and should seek to be inclusive of diverse interests. While information and communication technicians and professionals should be involved, other groups should also be represented, so as to make the ownership of the process and the product truly «national».
Another question concerns the challenge and vision, in other words: Why is it needed? Experience has shown that the increasing global influence of information and communication technologies and organisations is felt at various levels in Africa. Similarly, changes in the political arena, with democratisation and more involvement in governance by civil society create tensions, which require changes in the management of public goods and services, including those related to communication. Therefore such issues as the control and ownership of telecommunications and media organs, as well as freedom of expression, and access to media by political parties during elections have become prominent in the national discourse of many countries. In addition, the need for individuals and communities to participate in development activities makes communication for building trust and consensus on the development agenda an important goal of governments and society at large. The emergence of new technologies, including computers, the Internet and related adaptations, is creating situations, which require concerted action within national and regional space. These are some of the reasons which usually make a policy necessary; to deal in a clear and public manner with technical and cultural issues.
But solving todays problems is not the only goal of policy. A good policy should be able to provide signposts for the next decade or so. It is true that the communication sector is changing rapidly worldwide, so the policy environment may be more dynamic, even in the short term. For this reason, it is important that policies be forward-looking, and that they meet the future expectations of the people who will implement them and be influenced by them. One concrete way of ensuring this is through visioning; that is getting the collective ideas of a cross-section of society about the kind of future environment in which they would like to live, and to see what role information and communication would play in those future scenarios. This would then be part of the environment to which a communication policy should respond. Joint visioning is a tool for social management, which should be incorporated in the process of designing the policy.
Yet another question: What are the Development Challenges on the ground? What do we know? What do we need to know?
A situation analysis is the first step in the policy design process. It attempts to «scan» the policy environment. It should help to define the need for a policy by identifying the development problems that a policy on information and communication can help to solve. In this connection, relevant questions include: What is the current situation of the communication system, looking at various components and sub-sectors? What are its strengths and weaknesses? The situation analysis should evaluate the potential of the system for change in the short to medium term, considering the opportunities and constraints, which may confront the system.
Among the preliminary concerns are objectives, goals and principles. A policy should have goals and objectives. These represent answers to the long term and medium term development needs that the policy should address. A policy should also be based on certain norms or principles, which will guide its orientation and content. These are usually derived from national development goals or constitutional provisions, which may in turn have been derived from internationally agreed ideas. A sample of underlying principles includes:
Equity/Access to information and communication
Freedom of expression and reception
Cultural promotion and preservation
Responsibility in public communication
Coherence with other social/sectoral policies.
 See O. Adesida, Health
Futures, WHO Africa region, Harare, 2001.|