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Communication for Development in Action


To explain why development efforts often fail and the importance of communication, participation and PRCA in human and rural development.

At the end of this chapter you will be able to:

1. Define sustainable human development.
2. Identify why communication is important for rural development.
3. Recall the reasons for the frequent failure of rural development efforts.
4. Know the role of communication and participation in development.
5. Become acquainted with Communication for Development programme planning and implementation.
6. Define Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal (PRCA).
7. Recall the historical background of PRCA.

1.1 Sustainable human development - The communication imperative

Human development is the process of enlarging the capabilities, choices and opportunities of people, especially the rural and the poor, to lead a long, healthy and fulfilling life. This process includes the expansion of people's capacity and skills to gain access to and control over factors that affect the basic needs essential to their lives. These needs include freedom from poverty, food security and availability of safe drinking water and improved sanitation. Other needs involve access to primary health care and basic education as well as the opportunity to participate effectively in the social, economic and political affairs of their societies and nations.

Human development puts people's empowerment at the centre of development. It aims to enable people to use their capabilities and resources to the fullest without destroying the richness of their cultural and natural environment. It also recognises that not much can be achieved without the improvement in the status of women and the opening up of opportunities to them.

One of the major factors that have slowed human development is the lack of people's participation in the design and implementation of policies and programmes that affect their lives. Unless people become the protagonists of their own development, no amount of investment or provision of technology will improve standards of living in a sustainable way. The problem, however, is that the rural and the poor who need to become active actors in their development to enable them improve their livelihood are often beyond easy reach. They are generally illiterate, but they have ideas, knowledge and practices shaped by deep-rooted cultural norms, traditions, experiences and values different from those of development workers. These peculiarities or differences render the task of involving rural people in the planning and implementation of development efforts difficult. To worsen the situation, most of the development workers, who work with the rural people, frequently lack the skills, tools, techniques and attributes to understand and involve them in the development process. This is a problem of communication and unfortunately not enough practical attention has been paid to the research, development or adaptation of techniques and training approaches to lessen it.

1.2 Why rural development often falls?

Rural development efforts fail for many reasons but the lack of people's participation and inadequate communication between projects and the people have often been cited as root causes. Below are some of the common communication-related reasons why rural development often fails.

1.2.1 Poor planning and programme formulation

Many rural development projects fail because the so-called beneficiaries do not truly participate in the assessment of needs and identification of problems to be addressed by such efforts. Rural people's perceptions of problems and solutions are often overlooked, while their storehouse of information, experience and analysis is usually neglected. Rural people are thus regarded as mere recipients, rather than as the actual creators of change and progress. This results in incomplete and inaccurate analysis of problems, and incomplete and inaccurate identification of solutions, frequently leading to poor programme planning and formulation. Target beneficiaries frequently refuse to participate in the implementation of such programmes because they are not perceived as relevant to their felt needs.

Box 1: Example of the consequence of planning without the people.

The Herald


Villagers resist
$250m project

GURUVE villagers in Nyangavi and Mupfurutsa communal lands are resisting the construction of a $250 million German-funded irrigation scheme and have threatened to beat up anyone who visits their area in connection with the project.

Guruve district Agritex officer, Mr Francis Mashayamombe, said in an interview that the villagers had refused to entertain any negotiations and have also barred Agritex officers from entering their territory.

He said they started resisting the project soon after a survey on how best it could be implemented had been completed claiming that it had been imposed on them since they had not been consulted.

Mr Mashayamombe, however, described the move by the villagers as unfortunate and said that if they continued with their stance, the project would be transfered to another district. - - - ZIS.

1.2.2 Misallocation of project resources

When incomplete and inaccurate information about the community is used to plan development efforts there is a high tendency to allocate project resources to people who are not in most need of them or the truly poor.

1.2.3 Rural people's low sense of power

Some rural people, especially women, the oppressed and the very poor, usually feel powerless to steer development policies, priorities, technologies, agenda and programmes. They believe that development is controlled and decided almost entirely by outsiders and they cannot influence this process. This sense of powerlessness may be due to the non-inclusion of the people in creating the development programmes. Or, even where the political will exists to include them, the rural person's or community's low sense of power and ownership may be due to a lack of, or under-utilisation of, methods by which they may capably participate in the research, design, decision-making, implementation and evaluation of a development programme. Furthermore, development extension staff may be unwilling to use participatory methods or are ignorant of these. For instance, at Kwazulu-Natal Poverty Hearings held at Ulundi on 15 May 1998, over 600 people, the majority of whom were women, turned up to speak out against poverty. But the majority were too scared to speak out in public. 'I cannot go up there and speak', said one woman, 'I don't have the permission of my husband'.

1.2.4 Provision of inappropriate technology

Development agencies frequently promote inappropriate solutions that the people refuse to adopt because they are not perceived as relevant to their felt needs. This stems from the scantiness of effective methodologies to involve the people in the identification and development of appropriate technology, which address local conditions, needs and problems, and take advantage of local resources and opportunities. In such situations, development agencies commonly blame the rural people for being resistant to change and not having the appropriate attitudes and values to recognise the usefulness of offered solutions.

1.2.5 Inadequate promotion

Information, ideas and knowledge are often poorly identified and packaged for the socio-cultural context of rural people. This frequently leads to non-use, non-appreciation by people or even their confusion and misdirection. Many development workers who are charged with promotion are inadequately trained in appropriate ways to identify, gather and package information, ideas and knowledge in order to be useful and attractive for rural people. In many situations communication idioms, channels and media, as well as power and authority structures which are not effective for or accessible to rural people, both to receive and send information, knowledge, messages and decisions are used in rural development.

Figure 1: Working model of Communication for Development.

In this working model of Communication for Development, the traditional designations of receiver and source have been changed to Decision-makers A and 1. A is the first letter of the alphabet while 1 is the first number of the Arabic Numeral. In this way there is ideally no element of dominance in the model as has been the case with earlier communication models. It is recognised that the two decision-makers do not share the same communication skills with the result that the C (communicator) in this model is seen as a facilitator who interacts with each decision-maker within his or her own frame of reference. The facilitator translates utterances and actions of one decision-maker (white X) into idioms (black X) understandable by the other decision-maker in order to create mutual understanding that leads to successful joint decision-making.

Anyaegbunam Chike, 1989

1.2.6 Ineffective training methodologies

Training methodologies used in rural development frequently do not effectively transfer knowledge and skills to rural people who have low levels of literacy and little proficiency in formal education processes.

1.2.7 Lack of enabling policy

Finally, there is generally a low level of recognition of the true role of communication and participatory methodologies in planning and implementing rural development programmes, especially among policy and decision-makers in government and development agencies. Many government officials and development experts still see communication as a media oriented one-way process of sending information, knowledge and skills from the all-knowing project or government ministry to the ignorant rural dwellers to educate them. This lack of appreciation of the two-way nature of communication as sharing and participation usually leads to inadequate funding and support for communication and participatory activities in rural development projects.

1.3 How can Communication for Development help?

1.3.1 What is Communication for Development?

Communication for Development is the systematic design and use of participatory activities, communication approaches, methods and media to share information and knowledge among all stakeholders in a rural development process in order to ensure mutual understanding and consensus leading to action. The aim is to facilitate people's participation at all levels of the development effort to identify and implement appropriate policies, programmes and technologies to prevent and reduce poverty in order to improve people's livelihood in a sustainable way.

1.3.2 Role of communication and participation in development

Communication for Development can be applied to all development sectors that rely upon the choices and actions of people to succeed. It is not limited to promoting agriculture alone, but also assists programmes for nutrition, health, gender, population and reproductive health, livestock, forestry, environment, literacy, income generation, sustainable livelihoods and other key areas. It usually focuses on the needs of communities and those organizations working with them. It empowers all stakeholders, especially the poor in rural and urban areas, to contribute actively to the decision-making processes of development as a whole.

Communication for Development can also be applied at any time during the project cycle. When applied during project formulation it ensures that the people actively participate in the identification of problems and needs which form the basis for project planning. Applied to a project already under implementation, Communication for Development helps to identify and solve communication problems and improve dialogue among all stakeholders to ensure that the objectives of the project are achieved. It might even be used for the adjustment or repackaging of project objectives and activities to ensure that they are relevant to the people's problems and capabilities. Specifically, communication and participation have the following roles in development:

Communication for Development uses participatory activities, media and materials to empower people to articulate and share their own opinions, needs, problems and abilities both among themselves and with outside development agencies. This enables the people to influence the decision-making processes of formulating and implementing projects and programmes intended to satisfy their needs and solve their problems. People's participation in decision-making leads to consensus between them and the development agency on actions aimed at more sustainable community development. The outcome of this type of participation is often successful and sustainable because people see the decisions and plans as theirs and strive to ensure effective implementation. Empowerment increases people's readiness to mobilise themselves for collective action in order to achieve the objectives of the development effort.

Communication for Development uses communication research, approaches, methods, traditional and modern media and materials to improve dialogue between rural people and development agencies in order for all parties to reach mutual understanding and jointly decide on problems, needs, solutions as well as on new and appropriate technologies and practices. Such decisions often marry local capabilities with outsiders' knowledge and skills for more effective problem- solving. Jointly identified solutions are often more acceptable to the people because they are seen as relevant to their needs.

Dialogue ensures that the people's culture, attitudes, capabilities and skills, as well as their views and opinions form the basis for the planning and formulation of effective and relevant development projects and programmes. Communication for Development can be used with success at any point in the development cycle to ensure people's participation. It is, however, most effective when used at the conceptualisation of the development effort to ensure that the people's perceptions of their livelihood and environment are taken into account in the process of planning.

Thus, Communication for Development ensures that information from development agencies is packaged in ways the people will find attractive, understandable, useful and relevant. In the same way, it also enables the people to transmit their perceptions and knowledge in ways that will be comprehensible to development agencies.

Communication for Development improves training of rural people by making available information, skills and knowledge in forms people find useful, relevant and attractive. Information and training about new technologies and practices are rendered in idioms and formats people can understand and transmitted in new ways that reach people more effectively wherever they may be through interpersonal, group and mass communication. Such communication-enhanced training can help to overcome the barriers of illiteracy and cultural differences by sharing ideas and knowledge in appropriate audio and visual forms.

Proper segmentation of the community using such criteria as wealth, gender, age, etc. ensures that the truly poor or people who really need training are the ones who get them in a development project. Communication for Development does not view communities as undifferentiated entities but as units made up of people of various circumstances and social standing.

In an advocacy role, Communication for Development helps to raise the awareness of policy and decision-makers to the need for better communication between projects and rural people. It also helps in coordinating policy between decision-makers and the people by packaging and transmitting the rural people's opinions in ways the policy makers will understand and vice versa.

1.4 Communication for Development programme planning and implementation: An overview

1.4.1 Phases of the Communication for Development programme

A programme of Communication for Development can be divided into six distinct phases with several steps in each phase. This handbook focuses on the first phase - Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal - because it provides the basis for successful planning and implementation of the rest of the programme. An overview of all the phases is presented in this part of the handbook as a context for understanding what a PRCA should accomplish.

Box 2: Phases of Communication for Development programme









Preliminary situation assessment

This is the assessment of the situation based on information already available to the team in order to determine the focus of the field appraisal.

Phase 1: Participatory rural communication appraisal

Research is one of the fundamental phases of the Communication for Development programme. In this phase, the use of Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal is strongly recommended because it is a participatory research method that involves the community in the process of communication programme planning right from the beginning. With PRCA, the needs and problems of the people are identified, defined and prioritised while opportunities and solutions existing in the community are discovered. Segments of the community who are most affected by these problems and needs can also be selected during PRCA. Such important community segments are known as 'Interaction Groups'. PRCA specifically seeks to discover issues amenable to resolution through the application of communication. Such communication issues often relate to the socio-economic and cultural characteristics of the interaction groups, including their perceptions, values, knowledge, attitudes, and practices connected to selected problems and needs. As a communication research method, PRCA also identifies the traditional and modern communication systems in the community to be used for interacting with the people during programme implementation.

A baseline study, when combined with PRCA becomes a powerful tool to arrive at clear communication objectives in order to plan, implement and manage effective communication activities with the people.

Phase 2: Communication strategy design

In this phase, PRCA and baseline results are translated into useful accounts and utilised to design a communication strategy that will assist to achieve the development objectives selected during the PRCA. The communication strategy is based on the identified focal problems, which are turned into objectives. The strategy indicates the priority interaction groups in the community most affected by the focal problems and specifies the best communication approaches such as information, motivation, promotion, training and education. Basic messages and discussion topics (rough core content) to be packaged for a variety of channels and media during phases 3 and 4 of the programme are also selected.

The strategy outlines financial, material and human resources required for solving the problem. It also contains a preliminary workplan and management plan that specify activities and the people responsible for performing them in order to obtain outputs that will contribute to the solution of the problems. To ensure that the programme does not go off track, the preliminary plan also contains measurable indicators for use in monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the strategy.

Phase 3: Participatory design of messages and discussion themes

This is the third phase in the communication programme planning process. In this phase, the basic messages and discussion topics (rough core content) are creatively turned into appealing and thought provoking messages and discussion themes for various channels and media. Messages are information to be passed from one person or group to another with intent to produce effects. Discussion themes are information or ideas designed specifically to focus the attention of a group on a familiar problem and generate dialogue about the nature of the problem and possible actions to be taken.

In this highly creative phase, all the relevant knowledge discovered about the characteristics of the interaction groups and their perceptions of the problems are used for the creation of copies for the messages and discussion themes. Appeals are also added at this point to the messages and themes to bring the subject alive and make the interaction group stop, look, listen and discuss. To obtain maximum effect, the interaction groups must participate in this highly creative process. During this phase clear and written specifications are prepared to guide media producers in translating messages and themes into communication materials, media and activities.

Note that there are other main communication modes, which involve the design of instructional and group mobilisation strategies as part of a communication programme. Message and discussion theme design have been highlighted here because they are the most frequently used.

Phase 4: Communication methods and materials development

In this phase, with the help of communication media and activity producers the messages and discussion themes are turned into such audio visual materials and activities as radio programmes, posters, picture codes, flipcharts, drama etc. for mass production and eventual distribution and use in the field. During this phase supervision is essential to make sure that all materials are being produced according to the agreed specifications. All materials developed must be pre-tested with the intended interaction group before actually going into mass production. Pre-testing usually helps to verify the correctness and effectiveness of the material or activity. Materials should be corrected following pretesting to eliminate possible misinterpretations, biases or ambiguous elements.

At this stage the preliminary workplan is reviewed to ensure that the above activities and subsequent ones are properly scheduled to take place.

Figure 2: Phase of Communication for Development Programme

Phase 5: Implementation

Phase five is the actual implementation of the planned communication activities with finished materials in the field. To ensure that this important phase proceeds smoothly, the first step is to present the communication strategy and materials to all stakeholders for a final review and to obtain their permission to proceed with implementation. In-depth training to field staff on the proper use of communication materials for the programme also takes place in this phase. Such field-staff training includes sessions on basic interpersonal communication skills and the differences between lecturing and facilitating. Influential sources of information and advice identified during the PRCA are also orientated on their roles in the programme. No communication programme can succeed without a cadre of well-trained field staff who will actually interact with the people to make the programme a reality and a success. Many communities appreciate a formal launching ceremony which brings all the stakeholders together to mark the beginning of the communication programme implementation.


This is a continuous procedure that runs through all the communication programme planning and implementation process. Monitoring is the systematic recording and periodic analysis of information to assess whether the programme is being implemented according to plan and how effectively. To monitor the process effectively, indicators are needed to point out whether the programme is on the right track or not. Indicators can be compared to road signs that tell motorists whether they are on the right road to their destination and how far they are from it.

Phase 6: Evaluation

It is also essential to measure the overall effectiveness of the programme at the end of its implementation. This is known as the final or summative evaluation. It measures the impact of the communication programme in the community and the degree to which the activities have contributed to the achievement of the communication programme objectives. This information can be obtained when results of a post-implementation baseline study are compared with the benchmark study carried out at the beginning of the programme.

1.5 Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal (PRCA): A definition

1.5.1 What is Partipatory Rural Communication Appraisal (PRCA)?

PRCA is a communication research method that utilises field-based visualisation techniques, interviews and group-work to generate information for the design of effective communication programmes, materials, media and methods for development purposes to ensure relevance and ownership by the people. PRCA facilitates dialogue among the rural people themselves and between them and the development workers in order for all parties to reach mutual understanding and plan for action. PRCA is therefore used to promote the involvement of rural people in decision-making that affects their livelihood.

PRCA results can be used for planning communication programmes for new development efforts or for adjusting on-going projects. Communication activities developed from PRCA facilitate the sharing of knowledge and experiences between rural people and other development stakeholders in order for them to reach consensus on actions to be taken within the community to improve people's standard of living.

PRCA draws from such participatory approaches as Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and Participatory Learning and Action (PLA). It borrows from qualitative and quantitative research as well as ethnography. It also incorporates ideas and techniques from the Logical Framework Approach (LFA), Objective Oriented Project Planning (OOPP), advertising and marketing research.

PRCA is built on the definition of communication that explains it as an interactive process characterised by the exchange of ideas, information, points of view and experiences between persons and groups. In PRCA, communication is a two-way process in which all the people are seen as important sources of information and ideas worth listening to. Passiveness is, therefore, non-existent in this process because it requires active mental cooperation of all the people involved until a common awareness and understanding is reached. It is a process in which all participants decide on a course of action together. In the context of development work, this view of communication therefore presupposes that all actors are equal. The convergence model of communication developed by Rogers and Kincaid (1981) best captures this framework.

1.5.2 The historical background of PRCA

The origins of PRCA can be traced to the participatory methods that started to emerge in the 1970s. During this period many development workers were becoming more and more disillusioned with the progress and achievement of development activities, especially in the rural areas. The limitations of many of the traditional communication research methods were becoming apparent. By this time the assumption that one of the main causes for lack of development was due to lack of education soon gave way to the realisation that there is a wealth of collective indigenous knowledge among the rural people that could be effectively used to raise their living standards. It was also realised that when rural people are involved in the identification of their own problems and needs they are more likely to support the actions needed to address the situation.

In the 1970s, development workers began to abandon the questionnaire methods which tended to be too long to administer, very rigid in their format, not taking into account the local reality (as the instruments were usually designed by researchers sitting in their urban offices) and complex to process and analyse. Looking for more effective methods, development workers learnt that most illiterates or semi-literate people can communicate any issues that affect them effectively through the help of visual representations.

All of the above factors gave birth to Rapid Rural Appraisal (RRA). This was a great improvement from the questionnaire methods. Data were gathered more quickly and as a result the reports of the findings were prepared faster. RRA also addressed the needs of the people better. However the researchers, after having collected the data in the villages, still took the information away from the people in order to analyse it in their own offices with their own sets of assumptions. That is why RRA has been known to be mainly extractive. Outsiders would go to rural areas, obtain information from the rural people, and then take it away to process and analyse, thereby controlling the process.

As RRA began to be applied in more situations, the emphasis on participation began to grow almost naturally. It became clear that the communities needed to be involved not only in data collection but also in the prioritisation and analysis of their problems and needs. Out of this process Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and later Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) methods emerged. PRA and PLA recognised that there were many things that researchers and subject-matter specialists did not know and the only way to know them was by listening to the rural people. Similarly rural people were lacking some of the technical knowledge that the experts had to solve some of their problems. Thus, knowledge sharing became an essential component of PRA. PRA has been used extensively in agriculture, forestry and a number of other areas. However, interesting enough it has never been specifically used in the communication field, even though most of its techniques and tools derive from communication. PRCA was therefore created to take care of this oversight. PRCA belongs to the same family as RRA, PRA, PLA and the other participatory methods, but it is unique because it focuses specifically on rural communication systems and how to improve information sharing among all stake holders in a development effort. From the time it was conceptualised in 1994, PRCA has undergone changes to better adapt it to field realities. Comments and suggestions from international experts, field workers and rural people have been taken into account in polishing the research method.

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