Previous PageTable of ContentsNext Page

2. Communication and sustainable development

2.1 A history of Communication for Development

In their paper Communication and Sustainable Development: Issues and Solutions Jan Servaes and Patchanee Malikhao outline the main trends in Communication for Development since the 1950s. They trace the initial enthusiasm for development communication, which was seen as a social system that could transform individuals and societies from `traditional' to `modern'. Development was seen as a unilinear, evolutionary process.

They note that in the mid-1960s, this perspective was challenged by Latin American social scientists, and a theory dealing with dependency and underdevelopment was born. Implicit in the analysis of the dependistas was the idea that development and underdevelopment must be understood in the context of the world system. This dependency paradigm played an important role in the movement for a New World Information and Communication Order. Emerging nations moved to form the Non-Aligned Movement, which defined development as political struggle.

Today, since the demarcation of First, Second and Third Worlds has broken down, there is a need for a new concept of development which emphasizes cultural identity and multidimensionality. As countries and communities become more interdependent, a new framework must be sought within which both the Centre and the Periphery can be studied separately and in their mutual relationship, at global, national and local levels. A new viewpoint on development and social change has come to the forefront. The common starting point here is the examination of the changes from “bottom-up”; from the self-development of the local community. More attention is also being paid to the content of development, which implies a more normative approach.

Another school of thought questions whether “developed” countries are in fact developed, and whether this genre of progress is sustainable or desirable. It favours a multiplicity of approaches based on context and basic, felt needs, and the empowerment of the most oppressed sectors of various societies.

2.2 The diffusion model

The paper notes that although development strategies in developing countries diverge widely, the usual pattern for broadcasting and the press has been predominantly the same: informing the population about projects, illustrating the advantages of these projects, and recommending that they be supported. A typical example of such a strategy is situated in the area of family planning, where communication means like posters, pamphlets, radio, and television attempt to persuade the public to accept birth control methods.

This model sees the communication process mainly as a message going from a sender to a receiver. Modernization is conceived as a process of diffusion whereby individuals move from a traditional way of life to a different, more technically developed and more rapidly changing way of life. This approach is therefore concerned with the process of diffusion and adoption of innovations in a more systematic and planned way. Mass media are important in spreading awareness of new possibilities and practices, but at the stage where decisions are being made about whether to adopt or not to adopt, personal communication is far more likely to be influential. Therefore, the general conclusion of this line of thought is that mass communication is less likely than personal influence to have a direct effect on social behaviour.

Newer perspectives on development communication claim that this is a limited view. They argue that development will accelerate mainly through active involvement in the process of the communication itself. Research has shown that, while groups of the public can obtain information from impersonal sources like radio and television, this information has relatively little effect on behavioral changes.

2.3 The participatory model

Jan Servaes and Patchanee Malikhao point out that the participatory model stresses the importance of cultural identity of local communities and of democratization and participation at all levels—international, national, local and individual. In order to share information, knowledge, trust, commitment, and a right attitude in development projects, participation is very important in any decision-making process for development. This model stresses reciprocal collaboration throughout all levels of participation.

Also, these newer approaches argue, the point of departure must be the community. It is at the community level that the problems of living conditions are discussed, and interactions with other communities are elicited. This principle implies the right to participation in the planning and production of media content. Participation is made possible in the decision-making regarding the subjects treated in the messages and the selection procedures.

One of the fundamental hindrances to the decision to adopt the participation strategy is that it threatens existing hierarchies. Nevertheless, participation does not imply that there is no longer a role for development specialists, planners, and institutional leaders. It only means that the viewpoint of the local groups of the public is considered before the resources for development projects are allocated and distributed, and that suggestions for changes in the policy are taken into consideration.

2.4 A question of power: cultural freedom

The authors believe that more is at stake here than attitudes. It is also a question of power. Policy-makers cannot legislate respect, nor can they coerce people to behave respectfully. But they can enshrine cultural freedom as one of the pillars on which the state is founded. Cultural freedom differs from other forms of freedom in a number of ways.

First, most freedoms refer to the individual. Cultural freedom, in contrast, is a collective freedom. It is the condition for individual freedom to flourish. Second, cultural freedom, properly interpreted, is a guarantee of freedom as a whole. It protects not only the collectivity but also the rights of every individual within it. Third, cultural freedom, by protecting alternative ways of living, encourages creativity, experimentation and diversity, the very essentials of human development. Finally, freedom is central to culture, and in particular the freedom to decide what to value, and what lives to seek. “One of the most basic needs is to be left free to define our own basic needs”, says De Cuéllar.

Therefore, in contrast to the more economic and politically-oriented approach in traditional perspectives on sustainable development, the central idea is that there is no universal development model which leads to sustainability at all levels of society and the world, that development is an integral and multidimensional process that can differ from society to society, community to community, context to context.

2.5 Trends, challenges and priorities

The paper continues by pointing out a number of the main trends, challenges and priorities in Communication for Development.

2.5.1 The growth of a deeper understanding of the nature of communication itself

The perspective on communication has changed. The emphasis now is more on the process of communication (that is, the exchange of meaning) and on the significance of this process (that is, the social relationships created by communication and the social institutions and context which result from such relationships). With this shift in focus, one is no longer attempting to create a need for the information disseminated, but rather disseminating information for which there is a need.

2.5.2 The trend towards participatory democracy and changes at national and international levels

Democracy is honored in theory, but often ignored in practice. Governments and/or powerful private interests still largely control the world's communication media, but they are more attuned to, and aware of, democratic ideals than before. At the same time, literacy levels have increased, and there has been a remarkable improvement in people's ability to handle and use communication technology. As a consequence, more and more people can use communications media. They can no longer be denied access to, and participation in, communication processes due to a lack of communication and technical skills.

And yet the disparity in communication resources between different parts of the world is increasingly recognized as a cause of concern. The plea for a more balanced and equal distribution of communication resources can only be discussed in terms of power at local, national and international levels.

“Internal” and “external” factors inhibiting development do not exist independently of each other. In order to understand and develop a proper strategy one must have an understanding of the class relationships of any particular peripheral social formation and the ways in which these structures articulate with the Centre on the one hand, and the producing classes in the Third World on the other. The very unevenness and contradictory nature of the capitalist development process necessarily produces a constantly changing relationship.

2.5.3 Recognition of the impact of communications technology

Some communication systems have become cheap and so simple that the rationale for regulating and controlling them centrally, as well as the ability to do so, is no longer relevant. However, other systems (for instance, satellites, remote sensing, transborder data flows) remain very expensive. They are beyond the means of smaller countries and may not be “suitable” to local environments.

Information has been seen as the leading growth sector in society, especially in advanced industrial economies. Its three strands – computing, telecommunications and broadcasting – have evolved historically as three separate sectors, and by means of digitization these sectors are now converging.

Throughout the past decade a gradual shift can be observed away from a technological in favour of more socio-economic and cultural definitions of the Information Society. The term “knowledge society” better coins this shift in emphasis from ICTs as “drivers” of change to a perspective where these technologies are regarded as tools. These may provide a new potential for combining the information embedded in ICT systems with the creative potential and knowledge embodied in people: meaning is not something that is delivered to people, people create and interpret it for themselves.

2.5.4 Globalization and/or localization: thinking outside the media box

Discussions on globalization and localization have challenged old ways of thinking about sustainable development. In Lie and Servaes (2000) a convergent and integrated approach was adopted in studying the complex and intricate relations between globalization, social change, consumption and identity. Such an approach would allow problems to converge at key crossings or nodal points. Researchers then are rid of the burden of studying linear processes in totality, eg, production and consumption of global products and their relevance from a sustainable perspective, and instead are allowed to focus on the nodal points where processes intersect.

The Thai concept of community development

The TERMS model of Rural Community Self-Reliance is an integrated framework. TERMS stands for Technology, Economic, Natural Resource, Mental and Socio-cultural. It is the result of extensive research, which the Thai National Research Council commissioned from the Science and Technology Institute. More than 50 academics, from government bureaus, universities, the private sector, and community leaders from five villages were involved. It took them more than seven years to arrive at what now is being called the Thai concept of community development. It views self-reliance of a community as a goal of community development. Self-reliance of a community can be established if in addition to TERMS, the following dimensions are taken into account:

A development and self-reliant process based on Balance, Ability, and Networking (BAN). These three factors run together with the balance of each element in TERMS and community management. Participatory Action Research (PAR) as the process in which the facilitators and villagers collaborate through discussion, planning, evaluation or research at all times. A re-socialization and conscientization process (in Thai: Khit pen) which makes the people value Thai identities, Thai culture and folk wisdom to benefit the Thai style of living.

2.6 Priority areas for communication organizations and practitioners in relation to sustainable development

Jan Servaes and Patchanee Malikhao point out that communication has become an important aspect of development initiatives in health, nutrition, agriculture, family planning, education, and community economics. They believe there are three general perspectives on Communication for Development:

1. A first perspective could be of communication as a process, often seen in metaphor as the fabric of society. It is not confined to the media or to messages, but to their interaction in a network of social relationships. By extension, the reception, evaluation and use of media messages, from whatever source, are as important as their means of production and transmission.

2. A second perspective is of communications media as a mixed system of mass communication and interpersonal channels, with mutual impact and reinforcement. In other words, the mass media should not be seen in isolation from other conduits.

The digital divide is not about technology, it is about the widening gaps between the developed and developing worlds and the info-rich and the info-poor.

While the benefits offered by the Internet are many, its dependence on a telecom infrastructure means that they are only available to a few. Radio is much more pervasive, accessible and affordable. Blending the two could be an ideal way of ensuring that the benefits accruing from the Internet have wider reach.

3. A third perspective of communication in the development process is from an intersectoral and interagency concern. This view is not confined to information or broadcasting organizations and ministries, but extends to all sectors, and its success in influencing and sustaining development depends to a large extent on the adequacy of mechanisms for integration and coordination.

2.7 Different approaches and strategies at UN agency, governmental and NGO levels

The paper continues by pointing out that distinct development communication approaches and communication means used can be identified within UN agencies, governmental and non-governmental organizations. Some of these approaches can be grouped together under the heading of the diffusion model, others under the participatory model. The major ones could be identified as follows:

In an extensive annex, the paper gives examples of many of these approaches in different countries. Three of these are briefly explained in the box below.

ICTs for development; Ambassador of Knowledge in India

Gyandoot (Hindi for `Ambassador of Knowledge') is an internet-based network linking villages in the Dhar district of Madya Pradesh, India. Established in 2000, the project had a high level of community participation in the planning process. Young, previously unemployed high school graduates were selected and trained by each village council to run Internet kiosks for their own income. They pay a service charge to the council, which uses the money to fund more kiosks. New private institutions opened for computer and IT training. The network has helped the farmers with information on potato crops, and to voice their problems in the community. More money was allocated to set up kiosks in more than 3,000 schools for e-education.


Social marketing in Honduras and the Gambia

Social marketing is the application of commercial marketing techniques to solve social problems. It involves a multi-disciplinary approach. To fight infant deaths caused by diarrhoea, one of the social marketing “products” in Honduras was a package of Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS) powder which is meant to be dissolved with one-half or one litre of clean water. In Gambia, due to the problematic distribution system and no capacity to manufacture ORS, the concept of “home-made mixture” became one of the products. The other products are the concept of taking fluids while having diarrhoea, good feeding practices for sick children, the importance of breastfeeding, the importance of feeding solid foods during and after diarrhoea, and keeping the family compound free from faeces. Comprehensive mediated campaigns were launched. Radio and pictorial print media were carefully planned to reach illiterate target groups. Interpersonal communication in the form of community volunteers, traditional birth attendants, community health workers, and midwives was also effective.


Development Support Communication

The Development Support Communication (DSC) is the systematic utilization of appropriate communication channels and techniques to increase people's participation in development and to inform, motivate and train rural populations. In the late 1980s, FAO started the CATs (Community Audio Towers) and UNICEF, the ComPAS (Community Public Address System), in the late 1990s. Both are similar communication strategies based on community audio towers. At the heart of both projects is the support for rural communities to use this narrowcasting technology for community communication and social development. The local communication system aims to raise and discuss local issues and mobilize community members on children's rights, health and nutrition, child protection, education, livelihood, agriculture, etc. A Community Media Council may vary from one place to another, but generally includes equal representation from farmers, women, elderly people, youth, health workers, educators, local authorities, religious leaders and so on. It is important to note that women make up half of the representatives at the CMC, and are very active as broadcasters.

2.8 Communication strategies for the implementation of sustainable development

The paper picks up the three main strategies for Communication for Development that were discussed during the 8th Roundtable on Communication for Development. These can be identified at three levels: behaviour change communication; advocacy communication and communication for social change (sometimes called communication for structural and sustainable change).

1. Behaviour change communication

This category can be further subdivided in perspectives that explain:

  1. Individual behaviour The Health Belief Model (HBM) is based on the premise that one's personal thoughts and feelings control one's actions. It proposes that health behaviour is therefore determined by internal cues (perceptions or beliefs), or external cues (e.g. reactions of friends, mass media campaigns, etc.) that trigger the need to act. This model further explains that before deciding to act, individuals consider whether or not the benefits (positive aspects) outweigh the barriers (negative aspects) of a particular behaviour.
  2. Some theoretical frameworks that explain interpersonal behaviour are the Social Cognitive Theory (SCT), the Social Experience Model (SEM), the Social Network and the Social Support Theory.The Social Network theory explains the mechanisms by which social interactions can promote or inhibit individual and collective behaviour. An understanding of network theory enables programmers to better analyse how friends, families and other significant people might impact on the same individuals and groups that they are trying to influence. The Social Support Theory, on the other hand, refers to the content of these relationships – ie. what is actually being shared or transmitted during different interactions. As such, assistance provided or exchanged through interpersonal and other social relationships can be characterized into four types of supportive action: Emotional support, instrumental support such as tangible aid or services, appraisal support such as feedback and constructive criticism, and informational support in the form of advice or suggestions etc.
  3. The best-known theoretical framework that explains community or societal behaviour is the Diffusion of Innovations (DOI) approach. There are others as well, such as the Conceptual Model of Community Empowerment.

2. Advocacy communication

Advocacy communication is primarily targeted at policy-makers or decision-makers at national and international levels. The emphasis is on seeking the support of decision-makers in the hope that if they are properly “enlightened” or “pressured'”, they will be more responsive to societal change. A general definition of advocacy is:

“Advocacy for development is a combination of social actions designed to gain political commitment, policy support, social acceptance and systems support for a particular goal or programme. It involves collecting and structuring information into a persuasive case; communicating the case to decision-makers and other potential supporters, including the public, through various interpersonal and media channels; and stimulating actions by social institutions, stakeholders and policy-makers in support of the goal or programme.” (Servaes, 1993)

Advocacy is most effective when individuals, groups and all sectors of society are involved. Therefore, three main interrelated strategies for action can be identified:

3. Communication for structural and sustainable change

Behavioural change communication and advocacy communication, though useful in itself, will not be able to create sustainable development. This can only be achieved in combination with, and incorporating, aspects of the wider environment that influence (and constrain) structural and sustainable change.

In sum, the paper says, there are a variety of theoretical models that can be used to devise communication strategies for sustainable development. However, as each case and context is different, none of these have proven completely satisfactory in the field of international development. Therefore, many practitioners find that they can achieve the greatest understanding by combining more than one theory or developing their own conceptual framework.

Previous Page Top of Page Next Page