Radio and Video for Development

Pat Norrish
Agricultural Extension and Rural Development Department (AERDD)
The University of Reading
United Kingdom

Radio and video for development

Over the last couple of decades we have seen many changes in the use and role of media for communication in development. These have been fuelled from two directions. First, there has been a revolution in the technologies which can be used for communication. Video and audio technologies, for example, have become smaller, cheaper, more reliable and easier to use, making them accessible to many organizations and to individuals, and usable in many different contexts by a wide range of people. Running parallel to this has been a change in development thinking towards sustainability of livelihoods and the participation of rural and urban communities in decision making about their own lives. Moves towards participatory development and the desire to make development a reality for the disadvantaged, especially women and the "poorest of the poor," have necessarily meant changes in approaches to media: to its role, the technology used, the skills needed, who it is for, and the role of the community and the media professionals.

The polarization of media into professional and people-based media (Linden, 1989) with opposing characteristics is now breaking down and being replaced by a continuum of participatory approaches involving different groups of people with a range of skills able to respond to changing needs and contexts. The "professional media" end of the continuum is still with us, but more and more examples are now available which show that there is a wide range of use and users.

Media communication is no longer seen as simply a top-down flow of information, exemplified by the delivery of messages through the national press, radio and television to health and agricultural extension services or to mobilize populations behind government development programmes. Nor are populations regarded as one mass to be blanketed with the same message, but rather as communities with differing needs and perspectives on the world (Mody 1991; Melkote, 1991). It is no longer considered good enough for media professionals to isolate themselves from the audiences they are supposed to serve. Now they can be found working with local populations to determine their needs in relation to the broadcast media; they are involved with trainers and trainees in the development of training materials, and are facilitating community use of media to explore situations and make development decisions. Their working practices share many of the "salient techniques and characteristics [which] should be considered as elements in a paradigm designed to be useful to community radio projects" (Fisher, 1990). These include:

Changes in working practice have been facilitated by the development of participatory methods such as "rapid rural appraisal" which enable outsiders and communities rapidly to share experience and learn together. Where once the questionnaire survey and statistical analysis were the main means of investigation and analysis, there is now a mix of methods which are not dependent on literacy and high levels of numeracy.

For organizations seeking to practice participatory development, in which the development of communicative capacity and horizontal and upward flows of information are emphasised, new technologies that rely less on technical skills and more on sophisticated but easy-to-use equipment can be dynamic tools. Such technologies have enabled non-professionals to become skilled at using media (particularly video), opening up great opportunities for them to have access to, and control over, the tools for information and communication generation and exchange.

However, although participatory approaches to media have been around since the 1960s and new approaches are constantly being pioneered, their sustained use in development programmes and projects is still some way off. Melkote (1991) has suggested that a task for the 1990s should be to "come up with a set of core ideas and principles of participation and communication... ." Such a core set is really dependent on the exchange and analysis of a wide range of practice and experience. However, until recently this was something that those involved in work with the media were not very good at. Indeed, as Adam (1996:3) has noted, " there is a lack of institutional memory... : many of us work in isolated places, reinventing the wheel... with no way of communicating or consulting with like minded colleagues." Although he was writing of radio, we could apply this to media work across the board. Articles on individual projects or personal approaches can be found scattered amongst the journals, but there was little in the way of collected and analysed experience.

Documented experiences and resources on media for communication development

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, this situation started to improve. The resources listed here are a only small part (but some of the best known) of a movement to codify experiences and make them accessible to others. Starting in the late 1980s, the World Association for Christian Communication produced several issues of Media Development, each devoted to a particular theme (Communication for community, Video for the people, Women's perspectives on communication, etc.). Melkote (1991) pulled together communication and development theory, Mody (1991) provided us with a model for an audience participation approach to designing messages for development communication backed up by a wealth of personal experience, and Francois Querre built on his many years of experience to produce a handbook on rural radio. More recently, in 1996, a conference on Creative Radio for Development was held in the UK, bringing together practitioners from around the world. This has led to the establishment of a Creative Radio for Development network on the Internet. Books, rather than articles, on participatory video are now starting to appear. Participatory video: a practical guide to using video creatively in group development work, by Jackie Shaw and Clive Robertson came out in 1997, and OXFAM UK will be publishing an account of participatory video work in Vietnam written by Su Braden and Than Thi Thien Huong early in 1998.

Although there is now a wealth of experience around, and people are starting to share it, we still are lacking a good, universal mechanism for dissemination. This is the second challenge for the last years of the 1990s, and one which those involved in radio are paying a lot of attention to due the formation of a new think tank called the Creative Radio Initiative headed by Gordon Adam.

A recent edition of the Rural extension bulletin (No. 11, 1998, University of Reading) is devoted to articles on a wide range of approaches to, and use of, radio and video. What they have in common is that they all use some kind of participatory working practices and approaches. The work of Su Braden, Jackie Shaw and Clive Robertson presents us with examples of new approaches designed to help in the development of "a community's cultural identity, or serve as a tool for diagnosis of a community's problems" (Melkote, 1991:270), although the role of the professional is different in each case. For Braden there is a role for the professional media team, trained in participatory approaches such as PLA (Participatory Learning and Action), to act as facilitators with local communities. Shaw and Robertson have based all their work on the handing over of media skills to the community itself. All media operate within political and cultural contexts, locally and nationally, which is raising issues of representation and of conflict resolution which are seen as critical within the new participatory communication paradigm (Chin Saik Yoon, 1997; Braden 1997).

The processes of production for a training course based on video by the Agricultural Information Centre (AIC), Kenya, shows what might be called a conventional training institution media unit operating in a participatory way. Their working practice enables them to provide training materials based on short "trigger videos", which help people to examine actions directly related to their working life and, through discussion, decide on ways to improve things. This work is linked to programmes in which trainers are trained to use the trigger videos. Video is increasingly being used in this way to "... entice people to reflect upon their own thoughts and actions as well as to actively explore new ideas with others" (Uccellani and Rosales, 1992).

The radio work described by Kate Lloyd Morgan, Jared Mukarebe and Mary Myers shows conventional broadcast mass media production being informed by and responding to community needs and preferences. Interest in the use of radio is very high at the present time, and considerable effort is being placed on training in new ways of working. However there are many obstacles which can mean good training goes to waste as the new skills cannot be put into practice. Participatory work necessitates a close interaction with communities and money has to be found to visit and if necessary stay in rural areas. Lack of infrastructure can mean that only those living near roads and cities are reached for consultation and evaluation work. Outside agencies, such as the AIC in Kenya, may find that the cost of air time is prohibitive and that they have no control over dates and times for broadcast. In these situations, some people are now suggesting that advocacy workshops involving decision makers in all the relevant agencies are essential.

Lessons learned

Radio and video have been part of development communication for many years and their use has changed in response to the new approaches to development and to changes in technology. Are there any lessons to be learned from the participatory use of radio and video when trying to introduce the new ICTs? As I have suggested earlier, although there is a wealth of experience around, people are only just starting to share it. But there are some lessons learned:

Funding is crucial. It may seem obvious, but short-term projects that take no account of the local ability to pay once the project is over lead to dead technologies around the world (local radio stations falling into disrepair, video equipment not used, etc.).

The need for local skills and therefore for training. Training remains a critical issue. In relation to equipment there is a need for maintenance and trouble-shooting skills. In relation to use there is a need for people to be able to create as well as use information and education materials, which calls for other skills, and possibly new kinds of training (Braden, 1997) An approach to training which focuses on job related skills can result in new skills being released into the commercial marketplace rather than being used to benefit the organization or community in which they were trained. In the short-term, the answer may be to find ways of rewarding those who work with technologies.

The danger of creating new exclusion zones. This can be the result of several different factors, all of which need to be taken account of in planning. Among the most important are:

The participatory approach to development will, it is hoped, lead to political empowerment of communities and permanent reductions in poverty. Better access to media communication may not guarantee this, but it can enable the poor to use the information revolution to help reinforce the processes of democratization and social reform. The most important change may be that the poor are increasingly able to use communication and information technologies for their own needs instead of just receiving messages.


Adam, G. 1996. Conference summary. Creative radio for development. Workshop and Conference Report. May 12 -16. London: Health Unlimited.

Braden, S. 1997. Representation and representation: participatory video with communities. Participatory communication: one approach to sustainable development. On-line conference, November 1997. .

Braden, S. Research work for PhD currently being written.

Chin Saik Yoon. 1997. Personal communication.

Fisher, H. A. 1990. Community radio as a tool for development. Media Development, 1990:4, pp. 19-24.

Linden, A. 1989. Communication assistance for Third World communities: going Dutch. Media Development, 1989:3, pp. 34-36.

Melkote Srinivas R. 1991. Communication for development in the Third World: theory and practice. London: Sage Publications.

Mody B. 1991. Designing messages for development communication: an audience participation-based approach. London: Sage Publications.

Myers, M. 1997. Representation and democratization: is local radio helping to liberate the peasant voice? Participatory communication: One approach to sustainable development. On-line conference, November 1997. .

Pretty, J., et al. 1995. Participatory learning and action: a trainer's guide. London: IIED.

Richardson, D. 1997. Training community animators as participatory communication for development practitioners. Participatory Communication: One approach to sustainable development. On-line conference, November 1997.

Robinson, C. 1997. Participatory development and language. Participatory Communication: One approach to sustainable development. On-line conference, November 1997. .

Shaw, J. and C. Robertson. Participatory video: a practical guide to using video creatively in group development work. London and New York: Routledge.

Uccellani, V. and M.C. Rosales. Date unknown. Training videos: the next best thing to being there. Development communication report, 77: 12-13.