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Theme: Innovation and Action

Learning Objective: To heighten participants' critical skills at matching the requirements for action with the context for that action.


Innovation is an essential component of any communication and change process. In reviewing the GreenCOM experience below, we encourage you to reflect on the issue of innovation in relation to NRM.

Following the description of this experience there is an introduction to two approaches to sustainable change related to culture and innovation. Reflect on them in relation to the GreenCOM experience and your own work.


US AID launched GreenCOM in 1993, to work in tandem with other projects across sectors and regions, to achieve a range of strategic environmental and education objectives. Its mission is to change human practises to better the environment through the use of strategic communication and education.

Its goals are to:

GreenCOM seeks to empower people and communities to protect and conserve their environment by:

GreenCOM has worked on over 30 projects, in 28 countries over the past 8 years, with a wide range of partners in an effort to create synergies between the activities of US AID Missions and the projects they support. The aim is to develop projects that are responsive to the needs of each partner and that use education, communication, and behaviour science tools to promote improved environmental practises. GreenCOM provides an on-line resource centre of environmental education materials, an internal portal allowing workgroups to communicate, a journal for practitioners and a series of publications on how to implement effective strategic communication initiatives.


US AID had been involved in environmental education and communication (EE&C) projects in many places. GreenCOM was established to create synergy between and among these development activities and to bring together multiple tools, methods and strategies developed across US AID missions and projects, and from a variety of partners and experts.

GreenCOM has sought to play a multifaceted role for US AID EE&C programmes by:

  1. Providing direct EE&C support to field operations.
  2. Carrying out field-driven applied and practical research.
  3. Sharing state of the art methodologies and materials with people around the world through a resource centre, website, newsletter, as well as publications and occasional symposia.


  1. US AID felt a need to coordinate and build synergy between its EE&C projects.
  2. In many countries environmental issues were becoming worse and local capacity had to be strengthened significantly.
  3. Changing behaviour to impact positively on environmental issues involves more than the provision of information. Behaviour change involves a complex combination of strategies and methods.
  4. EE&C projects drew on several disciplines and techniques that could be brought together to increase the success of future projects.


This is a global project working through the US AID structure of Missions, projects and country partnerships. It works at national levels with governments, and at regional or local levels with partner NGOs. It also works directly with projects at all levels, providing support, design, monitoring, and evaluation.


The fundamental question informing GreenCOM in any EE&C project has been why do people who take positive environmental actions often have no better understanding than those who do not? What causes people to act?

GreenCOM starts from the perspective that knowledge and attitudes regarding the environment are not the critical areas of focus for EE&C. The determining factor is behaviour. While shifts in knowledge and attitudes support behaviour change, GreenCOM believes there is no cause and effect relation between them.

The programme pulls together the following processes, objectives and principles of social marketing, environmental and education communication, and public participation:

1. Social Marketing using a five-step process:

2. Environmental Communication, which draws on social marketing theories, using this four-step process:

3. Environmental Education which focuses on critical skills rather than behaviour change - how to think, not what to think. Using five objectives:

4. Public Participation requires stakeholders to participate in research, development of messages, programme design, decision-making and implementation. The need for public participation is a basic tenet of GreenCOM's strategies and is seen as important because:

GreenCOM approaches to public participation seek to go beyond project design to involve stakeholders in collecting formative research, decision making and project implementation. The incorporation of increasingly participatory approaches has also led to the use of new communication tools such as community resource centres, radio, and websites.


  1. GreenCOM staff.
  2. US AID Missions and NGO partners.
  3. Local NGOs and communities participating in projects.


Three experiences from GreenCOM:

1. El Salvador. This rebuilding project began in 1994 after the war had left the country's physical and natural environment badly degraded. The country had no environmental education in schools, no environmental information on the media, no government agency charged with environmental concerns, and a rapidly growing population. GreenCOM was brought in to promote a five-year campaign to increase environmental awareness and management throughout the country.

By the end of the five years El Salvador had:

The development of the national environmental education strategy was the first step, and it focused on three areas:

GreenCOM worked with the government, to make the environment one of eight central themes for education; to prepare environmental education materials for teaching throughout standard subjects like science and math; and to train teachers.

In the universities, training was provided to professors, courses were "greened" where the instructors expressed interest, and a mandatory course was instituted on national environmental problems.

Informal education was supported by establishing environmental education units; training legislators, decision-makers and technicians on the issues, and how to design, execute and evaluate environmental projects; and establishing interpretative trails and information centres at parks.

Key staff from environmental NGOs were trained in participatory techniques, design and evaluation of environmental programmes and education materials, and monitoring and evaluation.

Informal education was also promoted through sensitisation meetings with media owners and managers, training and support to reporters, and rewards offered to journalists for the best environmental reporting.

2. The Gambia: This project began in 1995 and operated over a short time frame with limited resources. Run by the National Environmental Agency, this was an awards programme offered to the best environmental projects in eight categories including business, schools and voluntary organisations. Over 200 individuals and groups entered and many more were exposed through media coverage, community meetings and awards ceremonies. The programme was well advertised and reached out to all parts of the country. Specific groups were identified for special appeals, such as farmers, community leaders, school administrators and teachers.

Each component from sensitisation to awards ceremonies, was used for education and awareness raising. Evaluation criteria were carefully decided and used. Results have included new programmes and an infrastructure for decentralized environmental management.

3. Jordan: This project began in 1994 with a Jordanian NGO, the Royal Society for the Conservation of Nature (RSCN). Jordan has extreme water shortage problems and growing dependency on other countries that control upstream river flows. The project focused on developing curriculum to improve water conservation, at which Jordanians are already quite good. With a 92 percent loss of rainfall to evaporation, hydropower in Israel and Syria reducing river flow, high population growth, modernisation increasing demands, and rationing a way of life, Jordan is looking for changes in individual behaviour to conserve every drop. This was done by:

The research resulted in a better understanding of Jordanian perceptions of water problems, from a historical and gender perspective. The identification of knowledge gaps indicated that the best intervention would be a water-conservation curriculum for the RSCN's network of secondary-school environmental youth clubs. The curriculum consisted of five units:


Here are two theoretical statements expressing different underlying principles on culture and innovation. Each has implications for how change is effectively initiated:

Everett Rogers35

Rogers elaborated the "Diffusion of Innovation" Theory in the 1960s. This theory has been one of the most influential models for development communication. Rogers argued that innovations diffuse over time according to individuals' stages. ...Rogers posited five stages through which an individual passes in the adoption of innovations: awareness, knowledge and interest, decision, trial, and adoption/rejection. According to Rogers, development communications entailed a "process by which an idea is transferred from a source to a receiver with the intent to change his behaviour. Usually the source wants to alter the receiver's knowledge of some idea, create or change his attitude toward the idea, or persuade him to adopt the idea as part of his regular behaviour." Populations were divided in different groups according to their propensity to incorporate innovations and timing in actually adopting them. Rogers proposed that early adopters act as models to emulate and generate a climate of acceptance and an appetite for change, and those who are slow to adopt are laggards. This latter category was assumed to describe the vast majority of the population in the Third World.

Later in his career Rogers recognized that his early views had individualistic and psychological biases. It was necessary to be sensitive to the specific sociocultural environment in which "communication" took place... The stages model remained but the top-down perspective according to which innovations diffuse from above needed modification. Communication was no longer focused on persuasion (transmission of information between individuals and groups), but was understood as a "process by which participants create and share information with one another in order to reach a mutual understanding".


"In the redefinition of culture, the clue lies in the understanding of the communicative nature of culture, understanding culture as a process that is productive of meaning, not just as a "circulator" of information. Thus, the receiver is not just a decoder to whom the TV broadcaster transmits a "message" but also a "producer". " [1993]

The emphasis here is on culture - more specifically the ways in which people define their own culture. Culture is dynamic - it continues to be redefined as people "produce new meanings". People are the producers of change, not receivers and communicators of messages. By implication, people in their social settings drive the change process.

What do you think are the main differences between these two perspectives about how to effectively initiate change?



We encourage you to review the GreenCOM project and list elements that you think reflect Rogers' 5 steps.


Knowledge and interest



Adoption/ Rejection
















Do the elements you have identified above reflect the views of Rogers' later work? If so how? if not why?


Now consider the statement by Martin-Barbero and identify 2 or 3 areas where you think the GreenCOM project emphasizes the importance of culture and locally driven and controlled communication and change processes.

Do you think Rogers Diffusion of Innovation Theory and Martin-Barbero's understanding of culture as a producer of meaning are compatible? Give reasons for your answer.


Which of the two approaches provides the better framework for enabling innovation and matching requirements for action with the context for that action? Why?


What conclusions do you draw about the mission, goals and methods that underpin GreenCOM's strategy?


Considering the Theme and Learning Objectives for this experience please list one or more lessons you think are important for your own work. Please list these on the chart in "Drawing Your Own Conclusions" p89.


Academy for Educational Development (2000). Environmental Education and Communication for a Sustainable World: Handbook for International Practitioners. Washington. Available at

"Living with the Rubbish Queen - Telenovelas, Culture and Modernity in Brazil" by Thomas Tufte. Published by University of Luton Press - 2001 p 16.

Silvio Waisbord Family Tree of Theories, Methodologies and Strategies in Development Communication: Convergences and Differences. Prepared for the Rockefeller Foundation 2001. Available on The Communication Initiative website at

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