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4. Strategic communication for natural resource management in agriculture (NRMA)

Ma. Theresa H. Velasco

After going through this module, you should be able to:

1. Define strategic communication planning in the context of NRMA;
2. Explain the key ideas relevant to strategic communication planning;
3. Write SMART/TOMAS communication objectives; and
4. Identify the components of an action plan for a strategic communication program.

When the phrase planning for development is mentioned, two questions immediately come to mind:

The prepositions for and with seem unimportant, yet they make the world of a difference in strategic communication planning. An example of the differences between these approaches is provided once more by the experience developed in Cambodia.

Given the results of the analysis phase from the Participatory Rural Communication Appraisal (PRCA) done in the villages of Kra Chap and Trapaeang Chhan, it would have been all too easy for the members of the MAFF/MoE

Communication Team (CT) to sit down among themselves in the capital city of Phnom Penh and map out the course of action for the two villages. They were, after all, armed with the preliminary data needed for deciding on a communication intervention that would help people in the two villages appreciate the importance of natural resource management in their agricultural activities.

However, the CT realized that with the planning-for-the-people approach, they would not be doing anything different from what has been done before perhaps in every other village in Cambodia and the rest of the developing world. The difference this time would lie in the strategic element introduced into communication planning.


Strategic communication has been defined as the "generation, analysis, interpretation, packaging, and sharing with specific groups critically important information needed in achieving objectives for various development concerns" (CDC, UPLB 1993).

In this light, it is important to think of two concerns: a) What NRMA-related information do the users of information in Kra Chap and Trapaeang Chhan truly need? and b) What is the best way of generating and sharing such information for it to be relevant to the farmers and fisherfolk in the two villages?

Experience has taught many development workers that to be able to answer these two questions, it is important to look into the uniqueness of the adjective strategic. This in turn can be done by looking into the root word strategy itself. Strategy, in its literal sense, is usually associated with:

Over the years, through the experience of various development agencies in many countries around the globe, the word strategic communication has evolved to include the following key elements:

1. Emphasis on users of information and their involvement in all stages of the project;

2. Recognition that behavior change is as much a social process as it is an individual decision-making process;

3. Use of the best combination of media, materials, and methods;

4. Appreciation of the role of entertainment in learning; and

5. Increasing focus on sustainability of communication initiatives.

1 People's Involvement in the Project Cycle in Kra Chap and Trapaeang Chhan

The PRCA was the first step which allowed the Communication Team to touch base with the people of Kra Chap and Trapaeang Chhan. The PRCA was aimed primarily at determining the villagers' KAP (knowledge, attitudes, and practices) on NRM.

Through interviews with key informants in the villages (like the commune chiefs) and group discussions, the CT and the villagers together were also able to identify problems and needs that could be addressed by an information and communication strategy.

Three areas of concern surfaced - crop production, fishing, and livelihood. Villagers wanted to learn more about proper use of fertilizers, pesticides, and other inputs to increase rice yield, particularly floating rice. Fishing-related concerns focused on need to increase fish catch in a sustainable manner and to get rid of illegal fishing activities, like using electricity, fine fishing nets, and tree branches to trap fish. Swine and chicken raising, on the other hand, were the livelihood enterprises that the villagers identified for additional income.

A successful information and communication strategy would revolve around what the people need and want for the upliftment of their very own standard of living.

2 Behavior Change as a Social Process

Many communication programs fail because planners assume that it is easy to change behaviors. It is common notion that planners of communication programs just have to produce communication materials that could do the job of disseminating the information people need.

However, research has shown that behavior change is a slow process, that individuals go through several stages before behavior change occurs, that different communication approaches may be needed at each stage of behavior change.

Rogers' (1971) classic model on the diffusion of innovations lists five steps that an individual goes through before he or she adopts (or rejects) a new idea or practice: awareness; interest; evaluation; trial; and finally adoption (or rejection).

In recent years, JHU/CCP (in Piotrow et al., 1997) has synthesized the results of its researches in various countries to come up with the Steps to Behavior Change (SBC) Framework, which is an adaptation of the diffusion of innovations theory and the input/ output persuasion model, enriched by social marketing experience. It is flexible enough to use other theories within each of the five steps.

To understand fully the SBC, it is best to explain it in the context of an environment-friendly behavior that could be recommended for Kra Chap and Trapaeang Chhan, like non-use of illegal fishing gear. Following are the behaviors that may occur at each of the five stages under the SBC: Knowledge, Approval, Intention, Practice, and Advocacy.

KNOWLEDGE: Villager from Kra Chap first learns about the need to stop using illegal fishing gear, like fine fishing nets and tree branches to trap fish.

1. Recalls messages about the banning of illegal fishing gear

2. Understands the disadvantages of using illegal fishing gear

3. Can name the illegal fishing gear

APPROVAL: He then approves of the new behavior.

4. Responds favorably to messages calling for putting an end to the use of illegal fishing gear

5. Discusses possibility of not using illegal fishing gear with personal networks (family and friends)

6. Thinks family, friends, and community approve of not using illegal fishing gear

7. Approves of not using illegal fishing gear

INTENTION: He then believes this behavior is beneficial to him/her and intends to adopt it.

8. Recognizes that not using illegal fishing gear can meet a personal need.

9. Intends to consult an expert on ways of increasing fish catch without use of illegal fishing gear

10. Intends to carry out activities in support of programs advocating non-use of illegal fishing gear

PRACTICE: He then practices the new behavior.

11. Goes to someone who can help in activities calling for non-use of illegal fishing gear

12. Starts planning out activities for a project

13. Continues to work on project

ADVOCACY: Villager then promotes new behavior through his social networks after being satisfied with the new behavior's results.

14. Experiences and acknowledges personal benefits from involvement in project

15. Advocates program to others

16. Supports similar programs in the community

The SBC framework clearly shows an individual's journey from the first time he hears about something he later realizes he needs to do for his own personal good, as well as his community's, to the time he is so convinced about the benefit of adopting the concomitant behavior that he asks others to do the same. The highest level of the behavior change continuum (BCC) is advocacy - villager convinces others to adopt new behavior because he himself is convinced of the benefits associated with it. In the process, he needs the support of people around him, those who explain benefits further and reinforce positive ideas and practices.

3 Use of the best combination of media, materials, and methods

People at different stages of the BCC usually need different messages and sometimes different approaches. This becomes doubly important with the fact that different people learn in different ways. How easy it would have been if communication were simply like shooting an arrow straight at a non-moving target!

For example, the CT's job would have been easy if all that would be needed is a leaflet containing information on the bad effects of using illegal fishing gear. Once the leaflets are distributed to the villagers in Kra Chap, the CT can sit back and relax, feeling the communication program is highly successful because the desired information has been disseminated.

But real-life experiences in working with villagers have taught development workers that communication - to be effective - must be a process that involves all stakeholders and employs the best possible combination of media, materials, and methods. The term media, at this point, should be best understood as incorporating both mass media (print, broadcast, and audio-visual) and interpersonal channels of communication.

Both research and experience have established the fact that mass media and interpersonal channels have their own strengths and weaknesses. The mass media, for instance, have been shown to be highly effective in creating awareness. Hence, use of radio, television, or leaflets would be useful at the initial stages of the steps to behavior change.

The interpersonal channels of communication, on the other hand, are critical in reinforcing the gains achieved by the mass media. Users of information need further explanation about things they read from leaflets or hear over the radio. They need answers to their questions or more information about facts they do not understand fully. As such, interpersonal channels are crucial at the later stages of BCC.

As the PRCA results in Kra Chap and Trapaeang Chhan have shown, personal contacts in the two villages were very much higher compared with exposure to the mass media. Interaction with fellow farmers/fishers and the village chief was mentioned by the great majority of PRCA respondents.

Strategic communication recognizes that combination or complementation of the different media of communication - mass and interpersonal - is one effective way of making communication do a good job towards behavior change.

4 The Role of Entertainment in Learning

Chapter 2 emphasized the importance of using the right approaches in dealing with adult learners, who are the villages' decision-makers and major stakeholders in NRM and related concerns.

It is worth reiterating at this point that adults learn best: in a non-threatening climate of respect, acceptance, and trust; where there is cooperative evaluation and self-evaluation; and when the focus is on the process than on the content of learning.

It is said that when one lectures, he lectures alone. But when one sings, the world sings with him! A good acronym for conducting adult learning sessions is also worth remembering:

L isten
A sk questions
U nderstand one another
G ive feedback
H ave fun!

Another important aspect of this element of strategic communication is the idea of incorporating the development messages into entertainment formats that the villagers enjoy reading or watching. The ill effects of using illegal fishing gear, for example, could be woven naturally into a story that villagers would enjoy reading in the highly illustrated comics format that does not require high literacy level.

The video is also a popular format in rural areas. Villagers watch video programs through battery-powered television sets. Other traditional formats, like plays, poetry, and songs could be tapped to carry development-oriented information in a subtle, non-threatening but highly informative and emotional manner.

Incorporating the element of entertainment into developmental messages has been tagged either as enter-educate or info-tainment, an approach that has been proven to cater to both the heart and the head.

5 Sustainability of Communication Initiatives

Many development-oriented programs come to an end when funds run out. This is one reality that governments, funding agencies, and stakeholders themselves are now very much concerned about.

An overriding concern of the ICNRM project implemented by FAO in Cambodia was how to set up a cost recovery scheme towards sustainability of development efforts initially in the villages of Kra Chap and Trapaeang Chhan and eventually in the entire kingdom.

The Communication Team had the benefit of learning from the consultants the best practices of fund-raising as experienced by small- to medium-sized non-profit organizations in the Philippines (Venture for Fund Raising 2001).

These organizations faced the challenges of financial sustainability through three main strategies: individual giving; income derived from the sale of products and services; and mobilization of volunteers.

Individual giving nurtures in potential donors the development of a sense of social responsibility - of the desire to help others who are in great need - especially among the younger generation. Non-profit organizations also tap corporate donors and stakeholders, like alumni of schools, as well as individuals whose lives have been touched by the organization's services, like relatives of patients ministered to by health organizations. Nonprofit organizations also see to it that they maintain good relationship with donors and foster a balance in what is called the "donor pyramid." The few at the top of the pyramid, who give more, and the multitude at the bottom, who give considerably less, are treated with equal importance.

Sale of products and services by non-profit organizations, particularly development-oriented ones, appeared to be an idea ahead of its time. People have been so used to the welfare style of receiving such goods and services. One such organization that saw the need to reorient people's thinking was the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture. ISACC engaged in offering training-seminars, publishing, audio-visual shows, creative media, research, and public fora.

The words of ISACC founder Melba Maggay best sum up the philosophy behind this scheme: "We are developing our services so we can best market our skills. We are doing this for long-term sustainability. People will come to us because we are good at what we do and we do it with integrity, and they (will) pay us for it. So we (will be) able to do our work with dignity and not (have to) always ask funding agencies for grants" (Venture for Fund Raising 2001, p. 68).

The experiences of ISACC and similar organizations underscore the fact that when clients pay for services, they appreciate the program more. These services then become part of their own development. Thus far, those who have been paying for the cost of services offered by non-profit organizations include individuals requiring the services, individual donors, and the community from which the clientele come.

The spirit of volunteerism has been proven to be a viable foundation of fund-raising activities. Non-profit organizations in the Philippines, as the case studies in Venture for Fund Raising's Investing in Ourselves show, have expanded their services without incurring high operational costs.

This, plus making a greater impact on society, they were able to do by enlisting the help of volunteers from among students, professionals, and community workers. "Various tasks were accomplished out of a sense of camaraderie, a common purpose, similar interests, or the reciprocity of favors among each other."

Thus, sustainability of development efforts at the two villages in Kompong Chhnang province through cost recovery measures remained a big challenge to the Communication Team.


It is during the strategic design phase that decisions about the following key elements in a communication program are decided (Piotrow et al. 1997):

Setting Objectives

Objectives in general are the signposts that guide planners as to the direction they should take in program or project implementation. A communication objective, in particular, is a target which specifies the intended audience, the type of behavior change that is expected, when and where the communication activity is to take place, and finally, what criteria will be used to measure the degree of success.

A strategic communication program, therefore, defines its objectives clearly right after the analysis stage. Ideally, the PRCA should have generated data on the following: nature of the problem that a communication activity could address (problem analysis); users of information or the stakeholders themselves (stakeholder analysis); activities conducted in the area by a responsible organization (program analysis); and the conditions obtaining in the area, including media environment (situation analysis).

A good objective goes by the ABCD or SBCD standards. That is, it must contain all four of the following components:

Audience/Stakeholder (users of information)
Behavior (change desired)
Condition (time, place situation under which desired behavior should occur)
Degree (extent of change, hence measure of success)

Let us consider this sample objective for a possible communication project in the fishing village of Kra Chap:

By the end of a one-year communication campaign, 100 per cent (from 30 per cent) of the fishermen in Kra Chap would stop using illegal fishing gear (fine nets and tree branches).

Audience/Stakeholder: fishermen in Kra Chap

Behavior: will stop using illegal fishing gear

Condition: one-year period; Kra Chap village

Degree: 70 per cent of fishermen (difference between current number of 30 per cent, who have stopped using illegal fishing gear, and desired number of 100 per cent)

The above objective also measures up to the SMART set of characteristics of a good objective (Piotrow et al. 1997; Torres and Velasco 2005):

Simple (reflects only a single idea at a time; defining what needs to be accomplished in terms of concrete steps to behavioral change among specific, well-defined audiences)

Measurable (results are observable and visible; quantifying the objectives by indicating a numerical or percentage change expected)

Attainable (can be accomplished given existing resources)
This could also stand for Appropriate - defining intended changes that are culturally and locally acceptable.

Realistic (can be accomplished given normal human capability and based on typical experience)

Time-bound (sets length of time by which desired behavior should have been accomplished)

Over the years, however, it has become important to add a C in the SMART acronym to stand for Challenging. It is not surprising for program planners and implementers to set objectives that are easy to achieve. This way, their programs would be successful and their efforts rated highly by donor agencies come monitoring and evaluation time.

But the question remains: Could planners have set higher objectives that would have contributed more to the improvement of the community, although such objectives would also have required greater effort on their part?

Thus, the adjective challenging is truly appropriate for an objective that is ambitious enough to motivate the concerned stakeholders to give their best towards accomplishing it. Hence, the SMARTC acronym for a good communication objective. In some books, SMART is referred to as TOMAS (time-bound, observable, measurable, attainable, simple).


The very meaning of the word positioning carries with it a situation of advantage or preference. When applied to communication programs, positioning means presenting an issue, service, or product in such a way that it stands out from other comparable or competing issues, services, or products (Piotrow et al. 1997).

Developmental communication programs could very well benefit from such a concept borrowed from the commercial world of marketing and advertising. How can the social idea of promoting the non-use of illegal fishing gear be noticed by the fishermen of Kra Chap, for instance, given the many messages they receive simultaneously from various sources? Knowledge of the audience or the users of information - which was obtained by the CT through the PRCA - should help planners position the social idea well. Input from the PRCA is also meant to lend greater credence to the messages and the communication strategy in general by establishing the following:

Positioning, also referred to as strategic positioning, allows planners to use communication to the fullest advantage possible.

Implementation and Partner Organizations

Once the stakeholders most likely affected by the problem are identified, the basic messages crafted, and the best communication approaches identified, communication planners then think of details of implementation. These include potential allies or people and organizations who/that could help undertake the program at the community level.

This part of the communication strategy outlines financial, material, and human resources required for addressing the problem in the community. The Gantt chart is a good tool to see at-a-glance the pertinent details about implementation. It specifies the activities that need to be carried out for each objective, the persons or organizations responsible for each task, the time frame, the budget, and wherever possible, the monitoring and evaluation indicators. The management and implementation plan was prepared by the Communication Team, together with key people in the villages of Kra Chap and Trapaeang Chhan.

Planning for Monitoring and Evaluation

"If it is not written down, it did not happen" is a common-enough truism. Monitoring and evaluation (M&E) activities should be included in planning as early as the strategic design phase. Together, monitoring and evaluation can help implementers accomplish the following:

At this stage, it is critical to think about these important considerations:

More importantly, it is best to remember that monitoring and evaluation are not isolated activities done by third-party evaluators or outsiders to the project. M&E are integral parts of a process whose "specific steps are not primarily about applying techniques, but about building mutual understanding and collaboration, facilitating participation and accompanying a development process" (Bessette 2003). Participatory monitoring and evaluation is thus defined as the process of getting the views of the stakeholders in monitoring and evaluating activities which were meant to benefit them (Torres and Velasco 2005). Its main strength lies in the fact that beneficiaries get an opportunity to voice their opinions on activities that affect their lives (Ariyanbandu in Librero et al. 2000).


Anyaegbunam, C., P.Mefalopulos, and T. Moetsabi. 1998. Partitipatory Rural Communication Appraisal: Starting with the People. Harare: SADC Centre of Communication for Development and Rome: Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

Bessette, Guy. 2003. Isang Bagsak: A Capacity Building and Networking Program in Participatory Development Communication. Canada: International Development Research Centre.

Investing in Ourselves. Giving and Fund Raising in the Philippines. 2001. Manila: Venture for Fund Raising Foundation, Inc.

Piotrow, P.T., D.L. Kincaid, JG Rimon, and W. Rinehart. 1997. Health Communication: Lessons from Family Planning abd Reproductive Health. Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Center for Communication Programs: Praeger Publishers.

Torres, Cleofe S. and Ma. Theresa H. Velasco. 2005. Participatory Monitoring and Evaluation. Manila: Brotherhood of Asian Trade Unionists ASEAN Sub-Region and the College of Development Communication, University of the Philippines Los Banos.

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