Communication for development Knowledge

Posted March 1996

Towards national communication-for-development policies in Africa

prepared by Silvia Balit,
Chief, Communication for Development Branch (SDRS)
FAO Research, Extension and Training Division
and Jean-Pierre Ilboudo
Communication Officer, SDRS


Why national policies ?

To be effective, communication for development must be systematically planned, implemented and coordinated. In these days of structural adjustments Governments must find solutions for greater cost effectiveness in all their operations. In the field of development communication there is need for more coordination and elimination of duplication of efforts. The existing situation in many countries where each sectoral ministry has its own development communication unit is no longer cost effective, and the lack of coordination often creates confusion, with the dissemination of conflicting messages to the rural population. National rural communication systems should be established to meet the needs of all the stakeholders and should work with ministries of agriculture, rural development, forestry, environment, women's affairs, social services, health, and information and communication, etc. drawing upon the resources of all the partners. Rural communication systems should not be limited to the public sector, but should encompass NGOs, universities and the private sector.

For all these reasons, the definition of national communication for development policies are now high on the agenda of a number of countries in Africa, and are the subject of policy and intellectual debate. The issues relate to how such policies can best reflect overall development priorities, and what sort of national communication system encourages people's participation, the sharing of knowledge and skills at all levels, and coordination of efforts among all partners involved in the development process. What sort of system can become income generating and sustainable. Other issues concern the need to regulate public and private ownership of the media used for rural development and participation, the amount of advertising and the extent of decentralisation allowed, as well as the regulation of new communication technologies such as telecommunications and electronic networks to make them accessible to rural people for development purposes. Clearly, each country will develop its own policy and or strategies in accordance with its economic, social, political, institutional and cultural framework, and the general communication policies, legislation and institutional frameworks already existing in the country.

Lessons learned on how to prepare a national policy

A number of countries in Africa are requesting FAO to assist them in the definition of a national communication for development policy. The Governments of Mali, and Guinea Bissau have been among the first to embark on such a process and Central African Republic, the Congo, and Burkina Faso will undertake similar exercises in 1996. Although each country will develop its own model and approaches, there are certain commonalities and lessons that can be learned from these first experiences:

1) A national communication for development policy requires a socio-political and development environment that is conducive to participatory development. Is the society sufficiently open to dialogue with the rural people, sufficiently democratic for the processes initiated by communication for development to operate? If not, there is no use in attempting to define a national development communication policy or strategy.

2) A national communication policy cannot and should not be an aim in itself. It should be formulated in accordance with the development priorities of each country. National development communication policies should complement other sectoral development policies and promote and support their objectives. Specialised communication strategies should be formulated for each technical sector, and the content of communication messages must be provided by the different technical sectors and specialists.

3) There should be political support at the highest level, if once formulated the policy is to be approved by the relevant Government bodies and made operational. In the case of Mali, for example, the President himself felt that the people of Mali must assume responsibility for their own development and that a democratic process could not be achieved without the participation of the rural people, thus underlining the importance of communication. Accordingly, he asked FAO and UNDP to assist in the preparation and implementation of a national workshop to define a communication policy for development.

4) There should be a national focal point, with a secretariat to initiate the process. In the case of Mali and Guinea Bissau the Ministries of Information and Communication took the lead. Funds should be available to carry out the preliminary studies and organise the meetings required to define the policy. Donors may be interested in financing such an activity.

5) A series of preliminary studies are essential to provide the basic data and background information. These should include: identification of communication needs and priorities with the various stakeholders and in accordance with development priorities. Identification of different audiences. Survey of existing communication infrastructures and media suitable for development purposes (such as rural radio, television, rural press, video, traditional media, interpersonal communication, the potential, challenges and constraints for the use of new communication technologies such as telecommunications, electronic and digital technologies, etc.) Survey of existing development communication institutions, services and partners, both in the public, non-governmental and private sectors. Survey of existing qualified personnel available and requirements for further training. Then there should be preliminary studies on existing communication governing bodies and legislation as well as alternative proposals for appropriate institutional frameworks to implement the national communication policy. All these studies can be carried out by national consultants. However, it has proven useful to have a preliminary workshop to brief them on the exercise, provide them with guidelines for the studies and ensure that there is a common understanding on the role and functions of development communication.

6) It has also proven useful to organize preparatory meetings at regional or local level within the country, to validate the communication needs and priorities of different stakeholders, including farmers associations, NGOs, field workers, etc. These workshops are also useful for advocacy and to brief the various stakeholders on the role and functions of communication for development.

7) Finally, a national workshop is essential to define the development communication policy, as well as an action plan for its implementation. Experience so far has confirmed that the national workshop should be attended by representatives of all the stakeholders involved. At the same time, participation should be limited to those who are really familiar with the various aspects of communication for development. In addition to the preliminary studies prepared by the national consultants, there should be a basic background/position paper summarising the main findings and recommendations of the studies for the definition of the policy and an action plan. This documentation should be made available well in advance to enable the participants to analyse the recommendations and alternatives. The results of the national workshop will also depend on the quality of the inputs made by the different preparatory meetings at the regional or local level.

8) The national workshop should define the role and functions of development communication, its objectives, different audiences and stakeholders, appropriate media channels and media to be applied, an appropriate institutional framework and coordinating mechanisms, any new legislation required, responsibilities for participating institutions, requirements for training of national staff and training institutions. It should also approve an action plan with a time frame for the implementation of the national policy.

For example, both workshops in Mali and Guinea Bissau analysed existing media channels and structures, constraints and made a series of recommendations to improve their potential for development purposes. These included: decentralisation of materials production, when appropriate, in the local languages and with the participation of the rural people; legislation to allow private sector institutions to develop and public sector institutions to have more autonomy and generate income; more coordination and integration between public sector and private sector activities. High on the list as media channels for use in rural areas were: rural radio, traditional media, audio-visual media, video, the rural press and face to face communication as a basis and an interface for all media.

Both workshops recommended upgrading the status of the profession of communication for development as well as training of specialists ranging from communication skills training for field workers to higher level academic training for communication planners and managers.

Institutional frameworks

With regard to the institutional framework, both workshops recommended :

a) The establishment of a high level intersectoral commission, for policy development, research, legislation and monitoring and evaluation. In the case of Mali it was decided to establish an intersectorial coordinating committee under the "Conseil superieur de la Communication" the highest policy body dealing with communication in the country. In the case of Guinea Bissau, a similar coordinating committee was established within the Prime Minister's Office.

b) The establishment of an executive Secretariat to supervise the implementation of the policy and action plan, and with coordinating functions. In Mali a parastatal national development communication institution, CESPA (Centre de Services de Production Audiovisuel) was established as the focal point, while in Guinea Bissau an Executive Secretariat was established within the Ministry of Social Communication.

c) Individual sectors and ministries with already existing development communication units will maintain responsibility for identifying sectoral communication needs, developing sectoral communication strategies and producing some communication materials for their own sector. They will also have responsibility for training of field staff in communication skills and the use of communication materials.

The action plan should envisage the necessary government actions required to make the policy operational, including legislation and financial provisions. In addition to national coordinating mechanisms it is useful to foresee also coordinating the activities of donors to avoid duplication of efforts and ensure that all inputs to communication for development are in line with the national policy. In Mali, UNDP undertook to coordinate inputs from multilateral and bi-lateral donors.

The workshops emphasised the need to carry out action research on different communication approaches as well as to develop monitoring and evaluation indicators and methodologies to assess the impact and cost effectiveness of different approaches. Documentation centres and data bases should be established. Finally, both workshops recommended that all development projects and programmes include communication components, with the necessary resources to implement them.

Towards policies in other regions

The above are some of the lessons learned as a result of our first experiences in West Africa. We hope that they may be relevant also to countries in other regions as they move towards more systematic, coordinated and effective approaches to communication for development. It could be useful to foresee an exchange of experiences among countries within regions and possibly between regions through a series of workshops. One or more donors could be approached to provide support for the preparation of national communication for development policies, and for an exchange of experiences and lessons learned.


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