With the wisdom of hindsight, it is now clear that the severity of the economic situation that afflicted and the effects of the structural adjustment programmes which conditioned the work in the field, were greater than anyone foresaw, or perhaps could have foreseen.
Some people now say that the expansion planned for PRODERITH II was too large for the economic conditions that developed in the country. The quality of the work in the field suffered as a result, but let us examine what actually occurred in the communication activities.
The project area chosen for the establishment of the first decentralised Regional Communication Unit was Pujal Coy II. This area-partly in the State of Tamaulipas and partly in the State of San Luis Potosi - is inland from Tampico on the Gulf of Mexico. The unit would be established in a small town called Tamuin, of 20 000 inhabitants, on the main but narrow road that connects Tampico to San Luis Potosi From the beginning, the unit was conceived and run with a view to transferring it to a peasant organization. Staff were seconded from PRODERITH's Central Communication Unit and they were supported by an international specialist from FAG.
The work began in 1988 with the renovation of a small white-washed house with a palm-thatched roof in a dusty back street of this sleepy rural town. The building belonged to SARH and had been a meteorological station. It had recorded the vagaries of the climate in the area, from incandescent temperatures to occasional bone-chilling cold air from Canada, from extreme droughts to devastating floods.
A two-year time frame was envisaged for setting up the Regional Communication Unit, Tamuin (RCUT) and for transferring it to a peasant organisation.
There were to be four stages in this process:
The RCUT had a steering committee made up of peasant organisations and local and central institutions. It reviewed progress from time to time, decided on its priorities, and established its work plans.
An old but restored 3/4-inch video editing suite from the Central Unit in Cuernavaca was installed. New Video 8 camcorders for production, and 16 playback units of the same format were purchased and put into their wooden cases for easy transportation into the communities.
Staff for the RCUT, nine in number, were drawn partly from peasant communities and partly from CADRIs in the area. The peasants were in the l X- to 23-year-old range. All had secondary education and one had a technical qualification in agriculture. The CADRI staff had long experience of working with PRODERITH, but no experience in the production of communication materials. There were almost even numbers of men and women in the team.
The first training they received was a one-month course in the presentation and use of communication materials in rural communities. By that time, PRODERITH had produced some 500 video programmes, so these were available for presentation.
The presenters' course covered far more than how to set up and use the video playback units: it included aspects of rural society, the rural economy, the means of agricultural production, the marketing of produce, and how all of these relate to rural development. In addition, an overview of communication as a process and part of rural development was provided, and different media were discussed.
The course was both theoretical and practical in that, towards the end, the trainees were expected to use the video playback modules in their own communities, but under the supervision of their instructors until they felt at ease with the task.
The next training need for the staff was in how to produce materials. An intensive three-month production course was organized in the last part of 1988 for participants selected from those who had completed the earlier course for presenters.
The mix of CADRI staff and peasants in the production course caused some tensions initially but, as time passed and the intensity of the work gripped them, the differences of level were smoothed out and mutual respect developed.
Working in groups of two or three, the trainees actually produced video programmes that were needed in the area. The topics included water use, upkeep of roads and drainage infrastructure, and locust control.
There was one feature of the training which the FAO specialists who had first begun to work with video in rural areas had always insisted on, and that was that producers should be able to handle all aspects of the process. They should be competent to conduct research, script-writing, shooting, editing and testing of the materials with peasant audiences. This overall grasp would lead to generally more successful materials and to better use of time and resources, even if some specific aspect -for example of shooting or editing - was less skillfully executed.
Basic computer skills were also part of the course, especially for script-writing. Some of the young peasants showed great aptitude in this area.
The decentralised Communication Unit set up in Tamuin was the model for other PRODERITH project areas. However, not all of the other Regional Communication Units that followed it were carbon copies. The model was varied according to local needs. By 1995, five Regional Units were fully operational. These were located in Tamuin (San Luis Potosi), Merida (Yucatan), Tizimin (Yucatan), Costa de Chiapas and Altos de Chiapas.
Courses for presenters of videos, similar to that held in Tamuin in 1988, were the spearhead for building communication capacity in the communities of the project areas. Regular courses of this type were organized over the years.
Course participants were peasants nominated by their community. Initially, the nominations were nearly always men, but over time, the communities were persuaded to nominate women too.
When the presenters went back to their communities, they became a "communication committee", naturally with the agreement of the community's leaders. The tasks of these committees were to identify communication needs in their community and arrange video presentations and other activities accordingly. They were also to formulate requests for assistance to the Regional Communication Units, especially for the production of materials they needed but which were not already in PRODERITH's collection.
A characteristic of the Pujal Coy area around Tamuin is that it was mainly forest, scrub and rangeland in vast latiJ~undios until the Government began expropriations and settlement programmes in the 1950s. These accelerated over the 1960s and 1970s as land-hungry people came from all over Mexico to create new settlements and ejidos. The result was that many new and quite large villages of up to 5 000 people were built over the years. Frequently, one such population centre contains a number of ejidos which are, in effect, sub-communities within the larger one. These ejidos are often ethnically mixed, with local indigenous people such as Huastecos or Otomi, with their own languages, and Spanish-speaking Mestizos.
One such community is Santa Martha, a settlement 85 km from Tamuin along a dirt road. In 1989, Santa Martha grouped 14 ejidos, 600 families and different ethnic groups from various parts of Mexico. It was a sprawling, miscellaneous collection of houses and dusty roads squatting under the fierce sun, without shade trees or anything else to redeem its shabby character. Health levels were poor and, in the summer months, outbreaks of diarrhoea among the infants led to many deaths through dehydration. The Huastecos and other indigenous people and the Mestizos had little to do with each other; the latter tended to look down on the former.
The RCUT opened a dialogue with Santa Martha in 1989 and began to train people as presenters of video programmes. Each of the ejidos formed a communication committee after some of their people had attended such a course. Video playback sessions were organised in the different ejidos. This involved moving the playback unit between sessions, and other logistical problems.
On one occasion, the head of a communication committee had planned a video session for a certain evening. He was expecting to use the battery of a vehicle in the community to power the video, but the vehicle left urgently to take someone to hospital.
No other battery was available, so the peasant mounted his bicycle at 4.00 o'clock in the morning to ride the 85 kilometres of unpaved road to Tamuin to borrow a battery from the RCUT. He was going to hold his playback session that evening at all costs.
This incident helped the staff of the Communication System to put into action a strategy that they had been planning for some time; they wanted to foster social integration in communities such as Santa Martha, thereby creating the basis for community actions. A first step would be to have a single place that all the communication committees could use for their video sessions, where there would be a power supply for the video, and where the equipment could be stored. This would overcome the existing logistical problems, but at the same time it would be a focal point in the community.
The idea was discussed between RCUT staff and the community and a decision was taken to put up a small one-room building in which to keep the video playback unit. While in use, it would be set on a large window ledge facing outwards. The audience would be seated outside to watch the programmes.
The building was finished within a week, in a central location. The land, labour and materials were provided by the community. In addition, they erected a makeshift shelter for those sitting outside to watch the videos.
Further discussions with the community led to the proposal of installing a sound system that would enable them to call people together without having to walk house to house. The system was duly installed with four loudspeakers high on a mast above the small building. The sound reaches the whole community.
The new building and its sheltered area outside immediately assumed a place in the life of the community. It provided a physical space for gatherings that had been lacking, and it was not long before the community asked for help to construct a proper covered area next to the building to replace the makeshift shelter. They erected a large structure with open sides and a palm-thatched roof. The RCUT only supplied the roofing timbers.
The community called this covered meeting area the palapa (This is a local word to describe an open-sided building with a palm-thatched roof), and with pride refer to it as thepalapa cultural. And so were born the Unidades Locales de Comunicacion - LCUs - (Local Communication Units) which group several communication committees in the community under one roof. The LCU is run by a committee made up of members of the communication committees of the ejidos.
That first Local Communication Unit (LCU) in Santa Martha became a model which was replicated in a number of communities in the Pujal Coy area. Groups of peasants who had seen the Santa Martha LCU, or heard about it, came to request similar units. In the following years, LCUs were also set up in other PRODERITH project areas.
The LCUs played an important part in promoting the social dynamization that PRODERITH hoped for. Beginning in Santa Martha, the palapa became an integrating factor in the often disparate communities. Without this integration, there could be little community identification and spirit, and little social organisation to resolve community problems. Many development initiatives were decided under those palm-thatched palapas. The videos watched there and discussed and the sound system provided the community with information that helped to improve its standard of living.
Before establishing an LCU, the Rural Communication System always drew up an agreement with the community covering such issues as the hours that the sound system would be used, that it would be used only by people who had been trained by the RCUT, that it would "broadcast" in local languages, and so on. Some communities requested permission to use their palapas for social events, and this was approved provided no alcohol was consumed on the premises.
In l99S, there were 13 Local Communication Units in operation in PRODERITH project areas around the country, and there were 76 communication committees.
During the work of PRODERITH I in the Pujal Coy area, close contacts had been built up with the Union de Ejidos Camino a la Liberacion del Campesino. This title - "Path to Peasant Liberation" - was in the sense of liberating peasants from rapacious middlemen who frequently cheated peasants when purchasing their harvests. In fact, the Union marketed its members' crops for a commission of only one percent and made bulk purchases of inputs for them to get the best deals The Union had 17 member ejidos with about 960 farmers, cultivating some 30 000 hectares.
The Union was run by a very competent and socially-conscious team, and when the RCUT was to be established, the management of the Union was enthusiastic about becoming involved, for it was clear that communication was potentially important for strengthening peasant organisations. For example, the Union needed to expand its number of members and create a cooperative spirit among them so that they would all sell their produce through it. Only then would it gain full bargaining power with buyers, and income would be generated to pay for social and other programmes.
For these reasons, it was implicit from the start of the RCUT that the Union would one day assume responsibility for it, thereby completing the transfer to a peasant organisation as planned. The Union created a rural communication committee and was a member of the steering committee of the RCUT.
Sadly, the transfer of the RCUT to the Union could never take place. The increasingly desperate economic situation surrounding agriculture in Mexico in recent years never gave the small farmers or the Union a chance to create any resources beyond those required for sheer survival.
An anecdote will illustrate the problems. When one of us was visiting the Union in late 1989, it had 800 tons of soya beans in store. They had just been harvested and the Union was trying to sell them. The industry had agreed a more or less fair price some weeks before but, at the moment the Union was ready to sell, there was a massive import of soya beans from the United States. The market price dropped sharply, but the Union could not wait for a recovery because its soya beans had been harvested under wet weather conditions and they were spoiling rapidly in its store.
Similar problems became commonplace as neo-liberal policies began to take effect. By 1995, the Union de Ejidos Camino de la Liberacion del Campesino had become a shadow of its former self and its highly-competent president for many years had gone off to enter politics.
For similar reasons, none of the five Regional Communication Units established by PRODERITH have been transferred to local farmer organisations. It is now clear that the premise of making this transfer was mistaken in its timing. It did not take sufficiently into account the policy changes that were seriously affecting the economy of the less efficient parts of the agricultural sector, particularly in the tropical wetlands.
As the only apparent alternative, all of the Regional Communication Units became enterprises that were expected to become self-supporting through selling their services. By the end of 1995, none had been able to generate the contracts that would make this possible. A possible cause of this is that the staff of the Units, while well trained in methodology and in the production of materials, received no training in the management and running of their Units. Thus, they may lack capacity in preparing good proposals and in negotiating them with potential clients.
The aforementioned decline in technical assistance under PRODERITH II had an immediate and negative effect on communication activities because these cannot be effective unless they are integrated with other services, especially technical assistance and credit. During the early years of PRODERITH II, the Rural Communication System in many areas was forced to mark time while it waited for the technical assistance programme to recover from the organisational changes and structural adjustment programmes that had devastated it. In the event, however, it never regained the momentum achieved under PRODERITH I. Furthermore, credit became unavailable under PRODERITH II.
An illustration of the change in circumstances is that there has been a notable decline in the production and use of video training materials for farmers. Several told us that they could not apply what they saw in the videos because they had no resources to do so, and no technical services were available. Artificial insemination was specifically mentioned in this connection.
On the other hand, rural development actions that depend on applying new knowledge that costs little or nothing, particularly those related to health, have been successfully promoted by using video, the sound systems, and group communication. For example, in Santa Martha deaths from dehydration during attacks of infant diarrhoea were completely eliminated after the use of a video programme, printed materials, and discussions to explain the value and practice of oral rehydration therapy.
Another noteworthy example of the impact of the communication activities concerns cholera. In the Pujal Coy II project area, there were quite a large number of cholera cases during the recent epidemic that affected so much of South and Central America. However, there was not a single case of cholera in a community that had a Local Communication Unit working with video and its sound system.
The concept of the Local Development Plan used under PRODERITH I was continued in some areas. For example, again in Santa Martha, the palapa was the scene of a lengthy communication process that led to important community decisions. Among the activities that resulted was a tree planting programme which has transformed the appearance of the village. Traditional medicine activities were also organised.
Perhaps the most important achievement promoted by communication in the Pujal Coy II area concerned the drinking water system. The system was built under PRODERITH I and it was supposed to supply water to a series of communities. Owing to a design fault, the system never functioned properly and some communities were left almost without piped water. In addition, the so-called "drinking water" was polluted.
A video illustrating the problem was made with one of the peasant leaders in the area, and this was taken to the central authorities who agreed to look into the problem. Meanwhile, communication work in the communities stimulated the women to create drinking water committees. Finally, engineers from the central authorities came to the palapas for discussions with these women, and as a result, the necessary redesign and construction were carried out. At the same time, the drinking water committees in the various communities negotiated agreements that would ensure that those first on the supply line did not abuse their privileged situation. They would cooperate to ensure that even the last community on the line received its share of water. So, after many years, the water problems were resolved by community action.
In other communities too, the LCU has often triggered action by women. The head of the ommunication committee in Samaria, a village near Tizimin, Yucatan, visited a nearby community and saw that they had installed a mill for grinding maize. Back in his own community, he organized discussions in the palapa. The result was that twelve women formed a group, obtained credit and bought a mill to provide services to others. They were so successful that they were able to pay off the debt after nine months instead of the year agreed with the bank.
At the time of our visit, the same women were deeply involved in a group livestock project, again with credit. Their husbands were looking after the animals, and were quite happy to have their wives look after the administration of the credit and the commercial aspects. Once again, the women were making money, their repayments were up-to-date, and they were considering further credits for the future. Other women's groups were forming in the community as a result of the successful experience of the first.
As an important general result, the creation of the LCUs, with their palapas and their sound systems markedly improved the sense of integration and community identity. Many of the old tensions that existed between different ethnic and linguistic groups disappeared. In one ethnically-mixed community, a Huasteco became the juez its elected head. This would have been unthinkable a few years earlier.
The Chinese under Mao Tse Tung were the first to use loudspeaker systems in their communes and fields. In that case, it was primarily to bombard people with official information and exhortation whereas, in the PRODERITH areas, the concept was that the communities themselves should take control of the systems.
PRODERITH provided the sound equipment for the LCUs at a cost of about US$2 500 each. It included four loudspeakers, microphone, amplifier, simple tape-recording equipment, and solar panels to provide power. Where electricity was available, there was a saving on the solar panels of about US$500.
In all cases, the building to house the equipment and the palapa were contributed by the community, sometimes with a little support in the form of some building materials.
The communication committees assumed responsibility for running the sound system. In most communities, it is used for about two hours in the early morning and the same in evening. Music is played and announcements are made. Urgent announcements may also be made at other times of day.
In addition, the Regional Communication Units produced some so-called "information capsules", similar to micro-programmes for radio. The majority covered health topics, and they were also "broadcast" by the sound systems in the communities.
All announcements of a social or development nature are free, whereas commercial messages (e.g. someone who has something to sell) are paid for. A typical charge is the equivalent of about US$1.50 for five repetitions of the same message. The revenue goes mainly for repair and maintenance and to buy cassettes, although some may go as a small compensation to the announcers who, by agreement, must be volunteers.
So far, the potential role of the sound systems in social dynamization seems not to have been fully realized. During a group discussion with the heads of the communication committees in the Tamuin area, we found that the main benefit of the sound systems, as seen by the communities, was to save time and effort when calling meetings. They also mentioned the value of the sound systems for "broadcasting" the information capsules about health, particularly those for preventing cholera. However, the group showed little awareness of the possibility of using the sound systems to discuss common problems that could perhaps be resolved by common action.
One interesting example occurred in Santa Martha. When trying to provide an illustration of this possible use of the sound system, we asked whether the community faced any particular problem at that moment. The head of the communication committee replied that there was indeed a problem, but that it required a lot of money to resolve it. On being pressed for more details, he said that the toilets in the school had been out of order for several weeks. We then proposed trying to provoke a public debate over the sound system about this problem, leading perhaps to group action by parents through contributions in cash or kind to the repair of the school toilets. Our proposal met with initial surprise but, on further discussion, those present said it was a good idea and worth trying.
The sound systems have considerable value for the communities who have appropriated them as their own, even if formal ownership rests with PRODERITH. The communities now pay for repairs when needed, but an incident in a community in Yucatan illustrates even better the question of effective ownership. There, with the agreement of the local doctor, the LCU and its sound equipment had been installed within the compound of the village health centre, where it was plugged into the centre's power supply. It worked successfully for many months from that base until a new lady doctor replaced the previous one. She claimed that the LCU belonged to the health centre and that she would control it. No amount of discussion could convince her otherwise, so the people simply proved their ownership by forcibly removing the equipment and installing it in another location.
The LCUs and the sound systems have quite frequently been at the centre of community struggles for influence and power. As the head of one community warned the head of its LCU, "Don't think you have got power just because you use that microphone!"
In the early days of an LCU in one community, the local schoolmaster tried to oust the Huasteco who was the head of the communication committee, saying in disparaging tones that his Spanish was full of mistakes and that he should not be allowed to speak over the sound system. Furthermore, the man was illiterate. We are pleased to report that the schoolmaster failed to make his case: the Huasteco has since learned to read and write, and he went on to become a respected and an elected holder of high office in the community.
In another community, a very enterprising and active woman was chosen as the head of the LCU. She did fine work in that role but, over time, the community began to feel that she was using her position to enhance her personal prestige rather than to provide a service to the community. She was duly removed from office, but not until there had been a considerable power struggle.
Certainly the communities have assimilated the LCUs into their lives and consider them really important. It is a pity that they are not used more for social dynamization, but some people say that social processes of this sort are in severe decline. The problems of the rural sector in recent years have left people disconcerted and demoralised. They are like people who have barely survived an accident and who are wandering about, dazed and aimless.
Staff training was central to the strategy of PRODERITH I. Intensive courses for field and communication staff were a feature of the early years. It takes a considerable time for a producer of video materials for rural audiences to become fully competent. Experience in PRODERITH I, and in similar projects using video in the field, indicates that some three months of intensive initial training is needed, followed by a further nine months or so of practical work under supervision. The actual techniques of video production are easier to learn than is the structuring of the content of educational programmes so that they will be easily accessible to rural audiences.
Under PRODERITH II, training of communication staff was mainly decentralised. This resulted in more reliance on in-service training for new staff and on short refresher courses, rather than on the long initial training of the early years. The result has been a loss of standardisation in the way materials are made and information presented. On the other hand, the staff maintain that the content of the materials is more relevant because in-service training gives producers a better understanding of a local situation and its needs.
The training of people from the communities as presenters of video materials and users of the sound systems has changed with the increasing shortage of resources, and also taking into account the time that the peasants normally have available. Thus, the original course duration has been reduced from one month to about half that time. The training, which includes rural development themes, communication for development, and communication networks, is provided by staff from the Regional Communication Units. After the course, they continue to supervise the work in the communities and provide any reinforcement necessary.
With the decline in technical assistance services to farmers under PRODERITH II, there was less demand for new training materials than in the earlier years of PRODERITH I. Furthermore, the collection of training videos already produced was enormous, so there was less need to produce more. The reduction in technical assistance for agriculture also led to more emphasis on health and other issues.
The Communication System had to be flexible and adapt its content and style in keeping with the varying demands placed on it. A case in point were many of the policy and legislative measures introduced by the Government in recent years. One example of these was PROCAMPO, the subsidy programme introduced to help farmers adjust to NAFTA. Eight videos were made to explain it. But an especially interesting example was the modification to Article 27 of the National Constitution concerning land tenure.
The amended Article 27, stipulating that members of ejidos would be given formal title to their ejido rights and be permitted to sell them, was a momentous change in the rural sector. Land tenure had been an emotional issue for centuries in Mexico, leading to revolution, to land reform and to the introduction of the ejido system. To reverse the changes that had cost so much blood, and which had become enshrined in the social and political conscience of Mexican peasantry, was a convulsion of the ground rules that had governed peasant life for almost eight decades. It needed a great deal of explanation and justification.
In addition, there were practical aspects of selling their rights that peasants needed to understand. Peasants sometimes sold their rights without realizing that they also covered the land on which their house was built. So, without knowing what they were doing, they sometimes sold their land and also their home, leading to such domestic conflict that their families broke up.
The programme for giving title to ejido rights is known as PROCEDE, an acronym for part of its full name in Spanish (Programa de Certificacidn de Derechos Ejidales y Titulacidn de Solares Urbanos). A series of videos about it were made to explain the procedures and what peasants had to do to follow them. In addition, the communication team persuaded the administrator in charge of the whole programme to record a 40-minute video interview in which he explained PROCEDE and the work of the field staff who were promoting and implementing it.
The administrator knew rural conditions very well, and the communication staff were pleased with the video. It was tried experimentally in ejidos covering some 20 000 hectares and it gave good results. Curiously, however, the PROCEDE promotores at the field level refused to use it. The reason for this is not clear, though it was probably connected to some conflictual situation created by the orders under which the promotores were working. They were under instructions that in all their contacts with peasants they were to limit themselves strictly to explaining the workings of PROCEDE. It can be assumed that many peasants, faced for the first time with very difficult choices (e.g. whether to keep their ejido rights, lease them, or sell them), would want advice and information of a broader nature than just the workings of PROCEDE. The interview with the administrator probably provoked those broader questions, and so the promotores refused to use it. Clearly, better institutional communication could have overcome this problem.
Institutional information and communication, especially when the intended audience was high-level government staff, called for a style and tone which the people recruited from film schools were often best able to provide. However, when these same people produced videos intended for rural audiences, they sometimes allowed aspects of this film style to creep in, and something of the earlier tight and disciplined educational structure of PRODERITH programmes was lost as a result.
At one point, a consultant was called in to help advise the communication staff on future policies for PRODERITH II. It was at a time when a certain artistic tendency was evident in some of the productions, and he repeatedly asked the communication staff the question: "Are you producing images, or are you producing social effects?"
From the beginning, the purpose of the Rural Communication System had been to influence social situations by using media. However, the consultant's highly provocative question caused new reflections among the staff about their work in order to give it a better analytical, theoretical and social framework.
It is interesting that the same consultant also pointed out that technical people working in development traditionally looked upon their communication colleagues as "producers of images". They underestimated - or perhaps did not understand at all - the power of communication to create social effects. This was one major cause, in his opinion, of the general under utilization of communication for development.
The volume of video materials produced by the Communication System is impressive. The catalogue of programmes includes more than 700 titles produced by the Rural Communication System, an average of over 40 productions a year for the 17 years covered by the two phases.
Under PRODERITH I, materials were never used in the communities without the presence of a subject-matter specialist who could lead the discussion after the presentation and provide any extra technical information required. This was a central part of the development methodology. With the decline of the technical assistance element under PRODERITH II, the presence of the subject-matter specialists became irregular, and in most areas increasingly rare.
The decentralisation of the Rural Communication System to Regional Communication Units, and the passing of the responsibility to LCUs and to communication
committees to conduct video presentations, also brought changes. For example, many of the video programmes in the PRODERITH collection are designed to provoke a discussion among the audience about some aspect of their situation or their production systems. To lead such a group discussion properly, however, is a task calling for very special skills. It is unrealistic to expect that these skills can be easily and quickly acquired by a member of a peasant community.
We saw an example of the problem in Yucatan when a community had asked to see a video about irrigation systems in the northern part of that State. The programme was a documentary which showed that much of the irrigation infrastructure was poorly used and maintained. It would have been most useful to peasants if the presenter had been able to provide a good verbal introduction before the video, and promote a discussion afterwards about how the experiences shown in the video related to those of the group. This would have been a first step towards agreed actions to improve the use and maintenance of their own irrigation system. Instead of this, the presenter made a very general statement about the need to grow more vegetables under irrigation, and there was no analysis or discussion.
The above case may not be representative of all PRODERITH project areas, but we suspect that it might be a common problem given the limited training and support provided to presenters.
Whatever the problems in presenting materials, the Rural Communication System has achieved more than has any similar project elsewhere in the world. It has provided video-based information and training sessions for a total of more than 800 000 people.
As already mentioned, the 1987 discussions about the new communication approaches required for PRODERITH II raised the possibility of identifying and using existing communication networks in and around communities.
In regular consultation with social scientists from FLACSO (Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences), and during work in the field, the network notion was refined. It was confirmed that naturally occurring networks were created by social groupings who had common interests. In addition, any sort of production or development initiative would call for an induced network that would involve others outside the community, such as producers' organisations, middlemen, development institutions, local authorities, etc. All of the various actors in a network could be in one of two basic positions either senders of messages or receivers of messages, but equally, any actor could simultaneously be a sender and a receiver. To identify and induce these networks as they related to a specific activity, initiative, or problem, and to feed information into it, would make the communication work more effective.
Early attempts to apply the network approach failed, mainly because the actors in the networks were not properly identified. This was the case for the African Bee Control Programme in the late 1980s. The African bee had escaped from a research centre in Brazil and was making its way north year by year. When its arrival in Mexico was imminent, the Government and PRODERITH wanted to reach beekeepers, many of whom were small and independent, with information about what to do when it arrived. The network identified by the communication staff was made up of institutions and large beekeepers' associations. They all had their own agendas, which did not necessarily involve the small and independent beekeepers who, in the event, were hardly reached. In sum, the common interests that are the feature of a true network did not exist.
Nevertheless, the network idea went on to become a feature of the communication methodology under PRODERITH 11, but only after much experimental work in the field. In practice, it proved rather difficult for outsiders such as development technicians to identify the actors in a network. However, once the idea was explained to peasants, they quickly grasped the concept. With respect to any given topic, they were able to define efficiently and clearly the internal relationships within the community or organisation, and also the relationships between their community or organisation and outside groups or sectors of society. Evidently, this was because they knew, better than anyone from outside could, with whom they communicated, or wanted to communicate, about their interests and problems.
The use of the network approach was always linked directly to some concrete programme or problem. A first step was to analyse it and delimit those aspects that had, or should have, communication actions. Then, all those who were involved in the programme or problem - whether individuals, groups, organisations, or institutions - could be identified. Their position within that network determined the type of communication relationship that was to be established.
The network methodology proved very useful. The identification of a network became the first step in PRODERITH's design of a communication strategy for a given initiative or problem. In addition, the people who were trained to become the local communication committees were taught about it and encouraged to use it in their own communities.
The consultant who asked the question about "images" or "social effects" recommended that the Rural Communication System should draw more on social science for in its work, and this led to the consultations with FLACSO concerning the network notion. But it was especially in the transfer of irrigation districts to their users - begun in the late 1980s and to be described in the next section - that IMTA and the communication staff decided that they needed the support of social scientists in promoting participation by the farmers.
Thus, in 1990 IMTA recruited some social scientists, mainly sociologists, to work with the communication staff in a new domain called "social participation". In addition to any considerations about the transfer of irrigation districts to their users, IMTA had a special concern for creating understanding about water among the population, and for seeking the participation of people in resolving problems and conflicts of its use. It was thought that the social scientists would add depth to the work of the communication staff, even if there were already some anthropologists among them.
Initially the newly-recruited social scientists worked well with the communication staff in the irrigation districts. They helped in the situation analysis, in surveys, in assessing the attitudes of farmers towards the transfer of irrigation systems to them, and in the identification of social conflicts around water use.
However, it was not long before tensions began to develop. The communicators found the social scientists rather academic. Furthermore, they seemed dismissive of the qualitative research and situation analysis work that had been done in the past by the communication team. Nor, it seems, did the social scientists appreciate that qualitative research into people's attitudes and perceptions is the bread and butter of good communication work; they tended to look upon the communicators as producers of materials, and in some way as professionally inferior.
Seen from the outside, it appears that the communicators suffered some feeling of intellectual inadequacy and that they felt they needed greater conceptual insights based on social science. This was despite the successes in their work and all the understanding, knowledge and skills they had gained through so much experience at the grassroots level. Or perhaps they felt the need to seek legitimacy and respect in IMTA which, as a research and high-technology organization, requires a minimum of a Masters Degree for its professionals (In September 1995, nearly all of the communication staff were involved in a Master Degree course for the whole of each Monday. This was required by IMTA 's management).
In 1992, IMTA created a Division of Technical Communication, Participation, and Information, with two separate sub-divisions, one for communication and the other for participation, where the social scientists were located. There were bureaucratic and organisational reasons for doing this, but it aggravated the problem. The two sub-divisions work separately to a large extent, even if there were some signs of closer cooperation towards the end of 1995.