Lessons from past experience

Communication has shown its usefulness in many individual programmes and projects. Experience has made clear, however, that there are certain prerequisites for success.

A systematic approach brings the best results. Communication succeeds when it is part of the core strategy to set development priorities and carry out planning, implementation and evaluation of programmes, and also when it is used to improve training at all levels.

Above all, communication succeeds when it is planned with a comprehensive strategy. There must be research, clear objectives, identification of different audience groups, careful message design and choice of channels, and monitoring and feedback. Multimedia approaches that use different communication channels in a coordinated and mutually reinforcing way give the best results. The last-minute addition of a "communication component" too often consists only of a budget to make project publicity materials or to produce some audiovisual aids, and is not cost-effective.

A critical mass of staff, equipment and activities is needed to make an impact. Since the activities involve what is sometimes termed "social engineering", they must be persistent over time.

Media hardware may need to be purchased after determining clear objectives, needs and local infrastructure. An adequate maintenance facility is needed locally, and equipment operators must be trained in its use.

The overall budget for communication, experience shows, is typically about 10 percent of the total development programme budget. For large-scale programmes, however, it may be as low as 1 percent, and for small programmes somewhat higher than 10 percent.

Communication for development is a specialized field, and if local expertise is not available, technical assistance will need to be sought from neighbouring countries, from international agencies and aid programmes.

Multimedia in the "mountain kingdom"

Using a multimedia approach - several media channels and tools together- multiplies the impact of communication campaigns. This was clearly proven in the mountainous Kingdom of Lesotho in southern Africa, in 1988.

An assessment of needs was carried out among the people of the Mohale Hoek district by government extension officers who had been trained in communication techniques. One priority which emerged was to increase farmers' knowledge of recommended seed varieties and methods of sorghum production, and to reduce postharvest losses.

It was decided to launch a communication campaign in a way that would make it possible to evaluate its impact accurately. Surveys about knowledge, radio audiences and attitudes were taken before and after the campaign in three areas: the "full campaign" communities (to receive personal visits, radio programmes and other materials), the "radio only" community (to hear radio programmes only, without personal visits and other materials) and a nearby "control" district where the campaign was not held.

The "full campaign" strategy consisted of several steps. On the first week a nutritionist gave cooking demonstrations using sorghum and explained its nutritional value. Leaflets were distributed and radio programmes were aired once a week on the same theme. Communication teams visited and used audiocassettes and slidetape audiovisual programmes as a basis for discussion with small groups of farmers. Posters and handouts were given during these sessions and when possible, practical demonstrations were held.

After 15 weeks the results were quite impressive according to the survey. People in the "full campaign" area had increased by nearly 130 percent their knowledge about recommended seed varieties and methods of sorghum production, and about reducing postharvest losses. The "radio only" group increased its knowledge by 70 percent - still a good result. The control group, which did not directly experience any of the campaign, increased its knowledge by about 20 percent, probably as a result of word-of-mouth.

The multimedia approach produced nearly double the impact that the radio medium could by itself.

How may communication be part of a national development policy?

A political and executive decision that development must reflect the true needs of people, and involve them every step of the way - this is the starting-point.

Once this decision has been made at the highest level, and once it has been recognised that communication must be used to invigorate and sustain the development process, several policy issues of a more practical nature must be addressed in order to mandate a sphere of action for communication, to locate an institutional framework and ensure its operational requirements are met.

The following ideas are based on FAO's experience over the last two decades in assisting member countries to use communication for development.

A national communication policy should he drawn up to articulate the role of communication in development. This policy might require, for example, that communication and a participatory planning process should help to establish needs and guidelines prior to formulating any new development proposals, especially those involving rural communities. Alternatively, a somewhat less ambitious policy might simply ensure that communication activities and the media are used systematically to guide and promote the objectives of development programmes which are already established.

Whatever the emphasis, communication for development should be conceived as a cross-cutting sector, similar to the already existing sectors of information, education and planning. It should cover subject matter where people's participation is needed, such as agriculture, livestock, forestry, environment, fisheries, population, women, health arid nutrition. The existing situation in most countries where sectoral ministries conduct their communication and extension work independently is proving wasteful, and the lack of coordination causes confusion.

New legislation may be needed. For example, establishing a rural radio service that includes community radio stations where local people create and broadcast their own programmes could require new regulations or laws.

Likewise, the responsibilities and relationships of various ministries, institutions and NGOs with regard to communication may need legislation. For example, the ministry of information may need to devote more mass media time to social and educational programmes or to the needs of the rural population. Similarly, licences for privately owned TV and radio channels may need to be conditional on their giving a proportion of their air time for development programmes. In some countries the broadcasting channels, although belonging to the state, now expect ministries to pay for any services they require, and thus new financial relationships may need to be established within the government. To generate new sources of funding for communication and training activities, paid corporate sponsorship might be considered.

An institutional framework should provide the logistical and organisational structure for communication work. In the past, large development programmes have sometimes had their own communication units consisting of planners, researchers, trainers and media producers, and a multimedia production capacity. In other cases, a central unit belonging to the technical ministry concerned has been used, as has the media infrastructure of the ministry of information.

A development communication policy and programming unit might be located in the decision-making centre of government. Here, it could keep abreast of the most recent national policies and objectives, advise decision-makers about communication issues and set the overall priorities for communication work. Within those overall priorities, the unit's main role could be to guide and support ministries, other development institutions, people's organisations, and other participants in the development process, in the planning, implementation and evaluation of their communication work.

The unit could ensure a coordinated approach among all the partners in the development effort, and avoid having contradictory messages sent to the public. It could continuously analyse results, feedback, problems and opportunities revealed by the communication process, and inform the nation's policy-makers. Staffing of the unit would need to be small in number but high in professional quality, and a policy framework to give the unit the prestige necessary for it to carry out its planning and coordinating functions would be required.

The services for research, planning and media production and use could be arranged in a number of

Africa's first national policy of development communication: Mali

After a change in Mali's government in 1991, the new authorities were determined to make not only their national institutions but the entire development process more democratic and responsive to the needs of the people.

The days of the "top-down" approach were over, they decided. However, in practical terms, how could they install a functional system that encouraged people's participation, an exchange knowledge and ideas across all levels, and coordination of efforts?

The heart of the manor, they realised, was the need for a national communication policy. This could pave the way to a better understanding between leaders and people, and to ensuring that different ministries and sectors of the public were aware of each other's activities and concerns. Of particular importance to Mali, a country dependent on its agriculture and livestock, such a policy of communication would be vital to ensure the involvement of rural populations in identifying and successfully implementing priority development programmes.

Accordingly, the President of Mali asked FAO and UNDP to assist in the preparation and implementation of a national workshop to define a national communication policy for development.

The workshop took place in Bamako in October 1993. The result was Africa's first national

communication policy for development, charting key guidelines on the role of communication, an appropriate institutional framework, the role of different media and specific training requirements.

The workshop recommended: to set up communication units in sectorial ministries to define the strategies and implement communication programmes; to establish an intersectorial coordinating committee to deal with development communication activities under the "Conseil superieur de la communication", the highest policy body dealing with communication in the country; to introduce a curriculum for development communication at the University of Mali; to establish a research programme; and to upgrade the communication skills of intermediate-level professionals working in development programmes. The workshop emphasized the need to involve all partners in the development process, including government institutions, NGOs, farmers' associations and rural communities. With regard to the media, emphasis was placed on the use of rural radio, video for farmer training, traditional media and the rural press. Finally, the workshop recommended that all development programmes and projects include a communication component.

The President commented that the people of Mali must assume responsibility for their own development and that a democratic process cannot be achieved without the participation of the rural people, thus underlining the importance- of communication

ways, depending on the circumstances. In many countries, individual ministries already have units for producing programmes for mass media and audiovisual training materials. In some cases, these may wish to continue independently, but with support, advice, training and coordination arranged by the central communication unit. In other cases, existing units may wish to amalgamate and perhaps form a parastatal service; and in others, ministries may decide to contract out their media research and production requirements to NGOs or the private sector, as is already happening in the field of health. Small countries may decide to establish a single communication service to handle all development needs. In some cases, NGOs might be entrusted with the whole task.

There are a number of options, but whichever one is chosen, an important principle is that the communication services should aim to become financially autonomous, at least in part, within a given time-frame. This could be a precondition for their establishment. However, profit considerations should not be allowed to detract from the essentially public and social nature of the services provided.

To generate income, the service or services would need a marketing plan to sell skills and capacities in areas such as field research, situation analysis, formulating communication strategies, producing media materials and training personnel in communication skills. Clients would be government ministries, institutions, aid agencies, NGOs and even commercial firms.

The goal of financial autonomy should directly guide the design of the services and their institutional framework. In many countries, parastatal structure might be the solution. This can allow income to be generated, retained and used directly by the communication service for its operational needs, rather than having income revert to the central treasury, as is usually the case when government departments earn revenue. The parastatal structure would also allow the service to pay higher salaries to trained communication personnel to avoid the risk of losing them to the private sector and to encourage greater creativity and problem-solving capability by the management. The establishment of such a parastatal institution usually needs legislative action.

Development loans and investment to capitalise communication services, whether at the outset or after their initial establishment, might be a viable proposition to aid agencies and even to commercial lenders. After all, a parastatal entity which generates its own income within a national policy and mandate gives communication the profile of a "bankable" sector.

Training national personnel in communication for development would be vital in most cases. Good communication staff possess a unique mix of knowledge and skills in social sciences as well as in the production and use of media. This particular educational curriculum still needs to be established in most countries.

Common practice is to take social scientists or people with field experience in rural communities and train them in the use of communication media and the concept of rural development. Less frequently, media specialists are trained to use their skills to meet the needs of rural people. Managers may also need training in how to select outside contractors, such as advertising agencies with a social focus, and how to supervise them properly.

Training of national staff in development communication is often best done in-country, based on the specific needs and with the media facilities and equipment available. However, the need to introduce very specialized media production techniques or provide higher level academic training may sometimes warrant external study.

A mandate within the national communication policy and legislation may be needed for those who carry out

Thirty-four countries and nowhere to go

The strategy of the Pan-African Rinderpest Campaign (PARC) regarding the rinderpest virus, deadly to cattle and other animals is: squeeze it out of existence through vaccination of cattle and other control measures.

However, national livestock services, no matter how enthusiastic, cannot do the job by themselves, faced with 180 million animals, a vast continent, many difficult areas and a hot climate which destroys vaccine, if unprotected, within hours.

They need the active support of the cattle owners to report the disease, to bring all their animals for vaccination and other measures, and eventually to help pay for the campaign, costing US$64 million in the first five years and initially financed by the European Community. PARC plans this cost-recovery exercise as one of several steps to make the livestock services financially self-sustaining - another key objective of the campaign.

When they began in 1986 PARC's planners originally overlooked the need for communication activities. Then in 1988, recognising the enormous need for people's participation, the coordinator of PARC, the Organization of African Unity's Inter-African Bureau for Animal Resources (OAU/IBAR), began to introduce a new subject to the PARC countries: "development communication". Initially viewed with suspicion by many senior veterinarians, todaylnearly every national PARC project has budgeted 5-7 percent for communication, often using contingency or even government funds.

PARC provides national campaigns with a model communication strategy consisting of increased dialogue with cattle-owning communities, a kit of media materials and guidelines for local adaptation, and training of personnel in communication skills. Publicizing PARC to decision-makers also enhances support for the programme.

Community visits are now being made, the bright PARC logo, stickers, postage stamps, posters, leaflets, flipcharts, booklets, banners, radio programmes and television spots are being noticed and understood more and more across the continent and beyond, and national planners are increasingly consulting rural communities on how to undertake common work against rinderpest and other problems.

With PARC's communication effort growing in so many places, it may be word-of-mouth, multiplied by millions, that in the end chases rinderpest out of Africa.


"Projects are more successful if they are participatory in design and implementation. A review of 30 completed World Bank projects from the 1970s found an average rate of return of 18 percent for projects that were judged culturally appropriate but only 9 percent for projects that did not include mechanisms for social and cultural adaptation. A more detailed study of 52 USAID projects similarly found a strong correlation between participation and project success, especially when participation took place through organisations created and managed by the beneficiaries themselves. "

World Development Report 1992, The World Bank

communication activities so that they are recognised by others, and their scope of activities is well defined and directed. A clear mandate to use communication techniques, skills and media specifically to involve people in planning, participation and training for sustainable development, for example, would be useful. This would help to clear up any possible confusion between "communication for development" and public information, journalism or even some sort of political exercise.

Training the network of field staff, including extension staff, in the ministries might be another requirement, since the use of communication media with rural communities should be complemented by good interpersonal communication. Field staff should also learn how to gather feedback from rural communities in order to inform the managers of development programmes. Such liaison work gives field staff a new role and responsibility, and can deepen their commitment to achieving sustainable results.

Communication-for better agricultural knowledge and information systems

The strong link needed between research, extension and farmers has been notoriously difficult to achieve. In the past, the agricultural technology developed by researchers and disseminated by extension staff has not always been relevant to the farmers' situation. In other cases farmers have considered the technology to be inappropriate to their needs and capacities. The so-called strategy of "transfer of technology" has, therefore, produced meagre results.

Today, developing countries are experiencing various economic pressures and shortfalls, and find the costs of large research and extension services difficult to bear. Better agricultural knowledge and information systems are being sought, systems that will be technically effective, cost-effective and people-effective. For these, too, communication would be an integral component.

A better agricultural knowledge and information system would correctly identify, sort and match the needs and existing technical know-how of all three groups involved: farmers, extensionists and agricultural researchers. As a result, appropriate technology packages could be developed and disseminated, and would probably be rapidly adopted because of the farmers' contribution in developing them. An additional result of such a consultation process would be that researchers could focus their work primarily on those technical problems confronting farmers for which there is no ready solution available.

A "farmer-first" approach

In Thailand, a "participatory extension" pilot project encouraged farmers to help decide what technology should be used to carry out the national wheat programme. Despite the fact that this was a relatively new and unfamiliar crop, it was recognised that farmers had important contributions to make in deciding how it should be adapted to local conditions.

Extension agents introduced farmers to the recommended new practices through slide sets, study tours and on-farm trials, encouraging them to make any changes they felt necessary to suit their conditions. One of the major changes they made was from row seeding to broadcast seeding, primarily because of labour and time constraints. However, the physical environment could also influence their choice: row seeding was preferred where there was sandy soil and a hand plough could be used to open up one furrow and simultaneously cover seed in the adjacent one.

In many villages extension meetings were used to present innovations being made by farmers, thus encouraging others to adopt them more rapidly.

Of course, not all the farmers' adaptations led to improved production, but trial and error are a normal part of the adaptation process. With opportunities for information exchange, the experiences of farmers, both good and bad, could be compared, and the exposure to alternative technologies stimulated farmers to experiment. The lesson for extension is that farmers should actively participate in the selection and evaluation of technologies and be encouraged to communicate the results of their efforts to other farmers.

The basic aim of the system would be to bring the three groups - farmers, extensionists and researchers - into an equal partnership to communicate and to share knowledge. Whatever the configuration of such a new system, both its energy and its linkage would rely greatly on the use of communication skills, materials and methodology.

In order to exchange information effectively among researchers, extension workers and farmers, there must be a dialogue among equals. Farmers' opinions need to carry the same weight as those of the formally educated experts. A "demand-driven" mechanism would be the aim, where farmers have enough status to demand and receive the best quality of agricultural research and extension services they require.

However, farmers often need help to define their own problems, reach consensus among themselves and build up their self-confidence before they can express their ideas to the urbanised specialists. Communication activities should be used to empower farmers in this way.

Such an intervention requires interpersonal communication, and the extension agents are the obvious personnel already in place for this. In most cases, however, extension staff would need to be transformed into

Farmers' networks on display

After 4 hours of drawing and discussion, a group of Filipino farmers map out their agricultural communication linkages, indicating the people that have best linked them with information: the farmer from the neighbouring village who shared improved rice seed in 1989; the extension worker who helped organise their cooperative; the pesticide salesman who pushes chemicals; the merchant in town who supplies urea; the vegetable middleman who brings new cabbage seed; the farmer who visited the University three years ago to seek advice about a new disease... All these people, the "actors", and the linkages are mapped. The diagram on display shows where the actors work (village, municipality, region), what information they bring and to whom.

A farmers' agricultural knowledge and communication system materialises and serves as a discussion tool with others: the youth group and the women's club. The drawing is the result of a participatory rapid appraisal with a handful of farmers. Such diagrams indicate who is feeding information into a village; what kind of knowledge is in demand; who are the experts to whom theses demands may be addressed; how can farmers reach those sources of information.

This process has a future as a local planning tool, providing a bottom-up approach to identifying agricultural communication needs, the possible actors and channels through which information can be shared, and the information demands to which researchers need to pay attention.

development agents who can use communication skills and materials more effectively with farmers. Instead of concentrating mainly on teaching agricultural techniques, these development agents would have to learn how to promote dialogue among farmers, to help them identify their needs and build their sense of being a group taking action.

The same development agents would also have prime responsibility for selecting and interpreting the farmers' information to pass on to agricultural researchers and, vice versa, for disseminating the results of research to the farmers. The reorientation and training of extension staff to provide them with adequate communication skills and materials are, therefore, fundamental tasks.

Finally, a policy decision to create such a "farmer-first" approach must address the most important issue of all. Agricultural researchers may need to be more fully aware of the field situation, the value of indigenous farming knowledge and the reasons underlying requests from the farmers, in order to create appropriate technology. Communication techniques can provide researchers with information direct from the field on human factors, such as farmers' attitudes and working conditions, and, to some degree, on the physical factors too.

The challenge for planners

To take advantage of communication for sustainable development a progressive series of steps needs to be taken. As these steps are taken, a fundamental caution must be kept in mind. Are governments, or local authorities, entering into communication processes with rural people as a genuine expression of a common cause?

Likewise there are implications for international development agencies. Can they seriously go beyond the established mindset of planning a development initiative on the basis of contacts that are mainly limited to government staff and, at best, a fleeting visit to interview a few rural people in the field? Can development agencies be more flexible and accommodate grassroots level action that may not follow predictable paths, pre-set objectives or precise deadlines?

And since meaningful social change takes time, can development programmes be planned accordingly, in terms of duration, budgets and criteria for evaluation?

Applying communication to development emphasises the human element and, especially in a climate of social change, communication can support development in ways that are both known and new. To exploit its full potential is an enormous challenge. "Our common future" depends on meeting that challenge successfully.


Technical assistance for communication

To take advantage of communication for rural development, at the request of member governments, FAO can assist in several ways:

Advice on policies for communication and its role in assisting development programmes may be useful when considering how to increase people's participation and improve training. "Communication" is still confused with advertising or even propaganda efforts. Policy-makers and planners may wish to know specific functions which communication could perform to help meet stated development goals.

Assessment of communication needs and priorities at the national level can be made, as a guide for policy, planning and project formulation.

Formulation of communication, projects or components of projects, to assist the planning and implementation of development programmes, can be carried out. These projects can vary widely in scope. A project may seek to integrate communication into development planning at the higher levels; it may aim to establish or reinforce a communication approach which employs particular communication media and skills such as radio, video, interpersonal communication or traditional media; or it may assist in planning and implementing a programme with specific goals of agricultural production, animal production, afforestation, human health, population and so forth.

Implementation of communication projects, covering both technical and operational backstopping, including recruitment of personnel, control over purchasing and subcontracts, arrangement of fellowships, study-tours and in-project training, project monitoring and evaluation are typical areas of involvement, according to the needs of the project itself.

For further information contact the FAO Country Representative or:
Development Support Communication Branch
Information Division
Viale delle Terme di Caracalla
00100 Rome

+39-06-5225-3152 /5155

Telex: 625852 FAO I
625853 FAO I
610181 FAO I


"Cooperation ... shall be aimed at ... ensuring that the people of the ACP States are better informed for the purposes of mastering their own development., through cultural or social projects or prorgammes making wide use of communication systems and taking account of traditional communication techniques."

Lomé IV Convention between African-Caribbean-
Pacific States and the European Communities (EEC),
Article 149

"Campaigns should be undertaken to increase public awareness of the need of Sustainable Agricultural and Rural Development (SARD)."

United Nations Conference on Environment and
Development, Adoption of Agreements on Environment and
Development (UNCED), Agenda 21,
Rio de Janiero

"More than natural resources, more than cheap labour, more than financial capital, knowledge is becoming the key factor of production."

World Bank Policy Research Bulletin, April/May 1992

About this booklet

This booklet was written by Colin Fraser and Jonathan Villet. It reflects not only the experience and research of the authors, but to a large degree that of the Development Support Communications (DSC) Branch of the Information Division of FAO. In this capacity, Ms Silvia Balit, Chief of the DSC Branch, its staff in Rome and technical experts in the field have been greatly responsible for guiding the final content of this publication. The photos were taken by G.Bizzarri, F. Botts, G. Coldevin, C. Errath, R. Faidutti, F. Mcdougall, P. Nivan, R. Ramirez, M. I. Roque, the Rural Communication Center, Dominica, J. Sultan, I. Velez, J. Villet and, A. Wolstad.