October 2007  -  Announcement of a publication

World Congress on Communication for Development

Lessons, Challenges and the Way Forward

The first World Congress on Communication for Development was held between October 25 and 27, 2006 at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in Rome, Italy. It was organized by the World Bank, FAO, and The Communication Initiative. In the run-up to the Congress, a series of regional meetings with a specific focus on sustainable development fed into the discussions and debates.

In addition to about 200 journalists and representatives of media outlets, the Congress attracted more than 900 participants from all over the world. They attended workshops and special events on three broad themes: communication for health, governance, and sustainable development, as well as an additional cross-cutting theme labeled “Communication Labs.” The participants brought a wealth of knowledge and experience, which they shared in a series of plenaries and two debates televised by Radiotelevisione Italiana (RAI) and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). At the end of the Congress, proposed recommendations were discussed with participants and with a panel of policy makers.

During the course of the debates, there were points of difference but also consensus on many issues. There was agreement that communication is integral to development and to achieving the Millennium Development Goals. For this reason, it must be built into development planning and embedded in strategies for poverty reduction, health planning, and governance.

There was also understanding that Communication for Development is not a quick fix: it requires long-term consistency of engagement. Involving people actively from the start takes time and resources, but it pays off in terms of results and sustainability. All participants recognized the need to foster partnerships among government agencies, donors, academia, international organizations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and the people affected.

Participants noted that Communication for Development is about listening, as well as talking. It is a two-way dialogue that is horizontal rather than vertical. Debates must be inclusive—the rights of those most affected must be guaranteed. This approach was underlined in sessions involving disabled people and indigenous peoples.

Participants also noted that giving information is not the same as communicating—it does not address the structural issues that maintain poverty. There is also a place for the crucial and complementary role of purposeful communication programs (including communication campaigns) aimed at such goals as reducing the burden of disease and increasing women’s control over their own health.

The Congress showcased many examples of successful Communication for Development but recognized that there is inadequate documentation of these successes. The many voices at the Congress were evidence of just how far Communication for Development has come in 40 years and of the variety of people now working in this field from all over the world. “This Congress has given us confidence that we are not alone in our profession,” said one participant. The words of some of its original founders still ring true: “The core of all development is empowerment, and the key to empowerment is communication”. The next stage is for Congress participants to use the ideas gleaned during the three days to make this a reality in the world in which they work.

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© FAO, 2007