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Communication for development - recognising the need and deciding on its implementation

The vital role of communication in the development process has long been recognised, but progress in achieving effective communications within and about projects continues to disappoint. The United Nations hosted its 9th Roundtable on Communication for Development at the FAO headquarters in Rome 6-9 September, with participants from UN agencies, bilateral and multilateral donors, NGOs, academics and practitioners invited. The objective, as always at these biennial events, was to share news of good practices and progress, and to harmonize approaches. In addition, the 2004 Roundtable was to set priorities for future directions in this field, and to identify areas for possible collaboration. A selection of quotes from the presentations and interventions reflects the range of opinions expressed.

Need for effective communication

"Change cannot happen without communication. Projects cannot achieve success without communication. We want to make communication a pillar of development."
Paul Mitchell, Director, Development Communication Division, World Bank

"Communication is a process that permits the powerless to prevail and the powerful to concede."
Eve Crowley, Senior Officer, SDAR, FAO

"There is a growing coalescence between development agencies around core objectives and strategy: MDGs, Poverty reduction, NEPAD, Budget support. Ownership is said to underpin all these. Fostering ownership is, in essence, a communication process."
James Deane, Managing Director, Communication for Social Change Consortium

"People are not poor because they have no knowledge - they do have knowledge. We must make good use of communication to spread this knowledge."
Oumy Ndiaye, Head of Communications Channels and Services Department, CTA

"Communication is a means to sustainable development, not an end in itself."
Wijayananada Jayaweera, Director, Communication Development Division, UNESCO

The context for communication in development

"Following September 11th, there has been a fragmentation of media audiences and growing suspicion, distrust and loss of credibility of western global media. What communication initiatives are happening to foster cross-cultural communication?
A transformed media environment reveals:

  • Liberalisation and commercialisation of the media, particularly broadcast media
  • Concentration of media
  • Continuing and growing dominance of international broadcasters in shaping global news agendas (with exceptions such as Al Jazeera)
  • Decline of national broadcasters
  • An ever more complex and 'noisy' communication environment, making it difficult to have a message heard
  • Radio continues to be by far the most accessible ICT"

James Deane

"Farmers are essential for building a stable society and they face new challenges: it's no longer enough to accept new technology and live happily ever after. They have to face climate change, competing claims on natural resources (for example water), globalisation leading to price-squeeze and competition, and the inability of agri-systems to deliver past yields."
Niels Röling, Emeritus Professor, Agricultural Knowledge Systems, Wageningen, Netherlands

New priorities for communication

"A frequent complaint made by the communication community over many years is that communication strategies are designed as an afterthought, rather than integrated from the start into development strategies; they are accorded too few resources and implemented with too few personnel. Certainly, the central development strategy designed to meet the primary development objective of our time - halving poverty by 2015 - appears to back up the complaint."
James Deane

"In Ghana they have legislated that every development project must have a communication component in it. We have persuaded The Bank that they should provide lending for communication as a stand-alone activity, just like any other."
Paul Mitchell

"Increasingly, bilateral agencies are coming to us for advice on strengthening the communications element in their activities. These include DFID, SIDA, DANIDA, the Inter-American Bank, and others."
Paul Mitchell

"It is important that donors apply pressure to help build national communication policies. While we can accept that, in many areas, we do have clear policies (some of them presented in nice, glossy documents!), what is missing is concrete action! We need real partnerships or coalitions for implementation of policies."
Dominique Hounkonnou, Consultant, Cotonou, Benin

"There is an urgent need to refine existing structures, or find new ones, to communicate effectively."
John Monyo, Assistant Director General, FAO

"After four decades we need to focus not on the 'what' but the 'how' of communication."
Rina Gill, Senior Programme Officer, UNICEF

"We have no focal point for communication for development. We have focal points for gender and policy and others, but not for communication for development."
Sandra McGuire, Director of Communications, IFAD

"Experience from the 'FAO needs assessment of ICT in Romania' shows that the need for raising the awareness of policy-makers to allocate resources for sustainable communication is essential. There must also be formulation of a coherent national information strategy with all stakeholders. And efficient feedback mechanisms must be developed from farmers to knowledge and information providers."
Karin Nichterlein, Research and Technology Officer, FAO

Implementing communication

"We shouldn't underestimate the role of mass media. The mass media continues to offer many opportunities."
Robert Bisset, Spokesperson for Europe, UNEP

"Addressing a general audience such as 'the community' or 'the farmers' does not really help involve people in communication. Various sub-groups make up any community. Each sub-group has its own way of perceiving a problem and its solution, and its own way of taking actions."
Guy Bessette, Senior Program Specialist, IDRC

"It is more difficult to get across poverty and development issues to the media. There is therefore need for more local content and local languages, which points to the importance of community media. I hope that this Roundtable will come up with major support for true community media."
Colin Fraser, Communications Consultant, Rome

"What we are discussing is people not media. We need to start at the level where people matter - community. There is need for more than information, there is need for persuasion. Communication is no longer one-way but two-way, encouraging dialogue."
Jan Servaes, University of Queensland, Australia

"Communication for development should not be technology driven. It should be based on social issues and concerns. Technology is at best a facilitator and tool."
Jan Servaes quoting Declaration WSIS 8/12/03

At the conclusion of the four days of Roundtable discussions, it was announced that FAO together with UNESCO will coordinate the follow-up on the practical action points arising from the meeting, and will prepare a proposal for the Plan of Action. However, it was admitted by UNESCO that the resolutions and recommendations of the 9th Roundtable would probably not be presented to the UN General Assembly for consideration until September 2006, the General Assembly only now in 2004 considering the recommendations of the 8th Roundtable held in 2002.

Date published: November 2004

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