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Theme: Behavioural or Social Action

Learning Objective: To develop participants' ability to understand the relation between individual behaviour change and structural/social obstacles or supports to that change.


Before reading the ICCADES experience, please review the information in the following two boxes. Each highlights an approach to communication and change. After reviewing them, note in the blank box your intuitive feel for which of these two explanations is correct, and any elaboration or change you would make to that theory. Then review the ICCADES experience, noting as you go through the communication and change principles, the theory on which it is based. There are small boxes at regular intervals through the text to prompt you.

Theory of Reasoned Action

"...there is one primary determinant of behaviour, namely the person's intention to perform it. This intention is itself viewed as a function of two determinants:

  1. the person's attitude toward performing the behaviour (based on his/her beliefs about the consequences [and benefits] of performing the behaviour...); and
  2. the person's perception of the social (or normative) pressure exerted upon him or her to perform the behaviour."32

Theory of Community-Level Structural Models

"Environmental forces beyond the control of the individual constrain or help the knowledge-behaviour link: (for example)

  • Presence or absence of legal restrictions
  • Wage scales - which define what proportion of people will have the resources for making behaviour changes such as improved nutrition, travel to health clinics for immunization, or keeping children in school.
  • Access - for example to services such as health clinics, schools, and affordable transportation.
  • of these would make it either harder or easier for an individual who learned about a practice to realise it."33

Your Preference? Why?



ICCADES is a Central American effort to facilitate at the local level participatory communication towards sustainable development. It synthesizes several communication experiences and innovations in Central America. It functions as a regional network bringing together individuals, communication centres and media organisations from the whole region of Central America, to unite their efforts, and exchange information on the role of communication for local development.ICCADES has been supporting the creation of an alternative development model for the San Juan River Basin between Costa Rica and Nicaragua by helping local communities to design and implement their own strategies for the sustainable development of the basin. Funding for this support has come primarily from the FAO's Forests, Trees and People Programme in Central America, and the Agriculture Frontier Programme of the European Union.

We will use the context provided by the San Juan River Basin experience to shed light on the larger ICCADES project.


The San Juan River Basin serves as a natural border between Costa Rica and Nicaragua. It is an ecological and social unit with its own cultural identity resulting from strong links among the inhabitants. Despite its natural potential, the area is economically undeveloped. It is far from administrative centres, politically isolated, and exploited by private business interests. It is recognized as an area of natural beauty to be conserved for its bio-diversity, but local communities have not felt in control over its development.

The situation is characterized by social and economic marginalisation that has led to very weak communication links between the communities and government institutions. The only time the area makes the news is when there is a natural catastrophe or violent crime. This has strengthened the "outside" perspective that local people are objects to be pitied and helped, or controlled. The area's potential its rich social dynamics have become invisible to decision makers in the cities.

Yet the basin is of obvious regional importance to both countries, and over the years different development projects have been attempted. In the 1980s, the Integrated System of Protected Areas for Peace (SI-A-PAZ) was established to work with local communities to protect the area's natural resources. Local proposals however, met with indifference from both national governments. The result was an expansion of unsustainable activity by private investors, who established citrus plantations, logging and strip mining, creating considerable environmental degradation, with few benefits flowing to local residents.

Responding to this failure, local producers, NGOs and government, decided to come together to create a strong local initiative to save SI-A-PAZ. Processes on both sides of the border have produced converging proposals for a sustainable development model. In Nicaragua, the Consejo para el Desarrollo Sostenible del Rio San Juan (CODECO) is coordinating the effort. In Costa Rica, it is the Plataforma Campesina para el Desarrollo de la Zona Norte.

In 1998, ICCADES began supporting this process of dynamic communication between local communities, government and similar initiatives in Central America. The goal was to further the discussions and set the stage for the development and implementation of local plans for sustainable development of the basin.


  1. The area is important as a border, a river basin, and for its wealth of natural resources.
  2. It forms a natural ecological zone and its inhabitants share a cultural identity.
  3. It is isolated, underdeveloped and overexploited, which has led to economic, political and social marginalisation of local communities.
  4. National government indifference, coupled with a lack of confidence in the local communities' ability to implement sustainable development plans, has furthered the marginalisation.
  5. Unregulated private investment has created high levels of environmental destruction and little local benefit.
  6. Attempts to create sustainable development initiatives have been made without success since the 1980s, but the experience has more recently led to the emergence of promising local proposals.

Considering the 2 theoretical approaches to communication and change what do you think are the key obstacles to change in this initiative and which theory would you find most appropriate?



ICCADES works with local communities, organisations and government, along with national and regional bodies. It works with individuals, communication centres, and media organisations from the entire Central American region. In the San Juan River Basin, it works with local communities, government and media (mostly radio); cross-border organisations; and national groups and government.


At the local level, communities and organisations are brought together in dialogue, using locally-trained facilitators and radio stations.

At a bi-national level, communication activities spread information about local initiatives "upwards and outwards" to influence political, legal and technical decision making processes. They also work to raise awareness in both countries, about the need for legislation that supports the sustainable management of natural resources, and local economic development.

At a regional (Central American) level, ICCADES supports improved exchange of community experiences through peasant gatherings, systematisation of activities, and the evaluation of communication processes and their political, legal and technical effects.

Is the change process in this initiative oriented around individual behaviour change or social/structural change or both? What elements of the initiative lead you to this conclusion?


ICCADES objectives are:

  1. To encourage communication processes among organisations at local, regional and national levels, so they contribute effectively to decision making in the region.
  2. To make visible the dynamics and proposals of local efforts for sustainable development, giving priority to shared experiences and processes.
  3. To strengthen the communication capacities of ICCADES' partners.
  4. To help organisations build a common agenda for local sustainable development within Central America.

To achieve these objectives, ICCADES works with partners to:

  1. Highlight the need for collaboration among communication organisations.
  2. Integrate local residents into sustainable development communication processes.
  3. Promote information services and technology.
  4. Coordinate the exchange of experiences, and provide assistance for participatory communication.
  5. Systematize and publish the results of successful local experiences, so these can be shared and known.
  6. Monitor and evaluate the results and impact of communication activities in the communities.

The principles and values guiding the collaborative work of ICCADES' partners include commitments to:

  1. Balance people's needs with long-term sustainable natural resource use.
  2. Strengthen people's participation in local sustainable development.
  3. Support local decision-making processes guided by residents' own cultural values, and respectful contributions from foreign agents.
  4. Respond to the needs and interests of local organisations through participatory communication, and active participation in all initiatives.
  5. Be confident and share what we are and what we have, with all our limitations and potentials.
  6. Share information and working spaces.
  7. Strengthen local partners' work, by basing all activities on agreements among the partners of each country.
  8. Recognize the residents as the main leaders who remain prominent actors in the training, production and systematisation of all our activities.


  1. Community leaders.
  2. Local facilitators trained by the project.
  3. Local environmental NGOs and producer, peasant and community organisations from both countries.
  4. Local radio stations.
  5. National legislative leaders and institutions.
  6. Regional groupings of peasants, communication centres and media organisations.


At the level of the San Juan River Basin

The ICCADES strategy in the river basin is to work with communication activities, guided by goals that have been established by local people. The belief is that such strategies make local development needs clear while providing mechanisms to verify the work according to agreed goals.

In this way, local communication strategies can evolve, and become tools that help consolidate community interests, and identify related issues that require attention. Such local communication strategies form the roots, from which can grow regional processes of participatory communication for sustainable development. They provide a basis for "convergence and wide coverage - like a strong trunk that supports the branches of a great tree".

One of the main lessons drawn from the experience of ICCADES in the Rio San Juan area, is that radio stations have a tendency to focus on technical aspects of radio communication, and lose focus on the social importance of their work. It is therefore important to work simultaneously on strategies for local development and communication, so as to keep radio organisations in phase with local community organisations.

Based on this lesson, ICCADES is initiating a training programme in communication and rural development for local facilitators. This will be implemented by one of its members, the Centro de Comunicación Voces Nuestras, based in Costa Rica. These facilitators will help to implement the communities' strategies. Improving the capacities, both technical and social, of the nine local radio stations of the river basin, will complement this approach.

At the level of the Central American Region

ICCADES' strength is derived from the association of various communication and other Central American organisations. The main challenge will be to consolidate, and continue to coordinate the work of these organisations at a regional level. At national levels, the challenge will be to continue to promote associative and collaborative processes, such as partnerships and strategic alliances between various communication organisations, and actors involved in local development, such as community-based organisations.

Examples of how ICCADES plans to meet these challenges are:

  1. In collaboration with La Universidad de las regiones Autonomas del Caribe (URACAN), training and capacity building in communication strategies, to assist the local development of radio stations, and Afro-Caribbean communities on the Atlantic coast of Nicaragua.
  2. A Central American regional training programme in communication, for local development of local facilitators. Voces Nuestras, the communication centre that will implement this programme, is expected to train facilitators in each country of the region.
  3. Investigating the possibility of building upon and developing at the regional level, the concept of radio novels as a pedagogical tool.
  4. Replicating, through radio stations across Central America, a competition to promote innovative local sustainable development initiatives. This was started several years ago by the Nicaraguan radio programme, La Hora de la Naturaleza.

ICCADES recognizes it is a relatively recent initiative, and will look to learn from similar experiences around the world. It welcomes discussion and opportunities to share ideas and experiences with others.

Considering the ICCADES initiative, what assumptions does it make about how social change occurs and what are the main elements of the initiative that support this change?


In what ways is the initiative similar or different from the Theory of Reasoned Action and the Theory of Community-Level Structural Models?


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.


Luz Marina Rizo, Juan Carlos Cruz, & Lyes Ferroukhi. "Communication for Sustainable Local Development in Central America: An Experience of Working with the Communities' Perspective in the San Juan River Binational Basin". Forests, Trees and People Newsletter No. 40/41.

Luz Marina Rizo is an environmental journalist from Nicaragua. On two occasions she has received the National Prize of Environmental Journalism. She currently acts as the ICCADES' facilitator in her country.
E-mail address: [email protected].

Juan Carlos Cruz is a Costa Rican environmental journalist, aasociated to Centro de Comunicación Voces Nuestras. He presently works as consultant for UNICEF.
E-mail address: [email protected]

Lyès Ferroukhi has worked as Associate Professional Officer for FAO and is presently working as free lance consultant on community forestry issues.
E-mail address: [email protected]

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