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Development as Communication: Understanding The Importance of C4D

Unlike its other forms, communication for development should not be regarded solely as a communication strategy. With a shift to a more participatory approach, C4D has gained popularity among agents of development, as social institutions are now more concerned about increasing the involvement of communities and civil society. This applies especially well when it comes to communities’ rights, in ways that they acquire a higher role in advocacy, and transmit their needs and concerns in spaces that are created for such purposes. The key remains in the pursuit of political and social transformation, rather than merely reporting the results of institutions and their development programmes. C4D is thus a means to which development can be achieved, by creating the right environment for communities to engage with such projects at hand. 

Communication for Development (C4D): A Participatory Approach

Naturally, communication plays an important role in our daily lives. It influences our understanding of social issues, promotes public debate, and can help us in the social process of idea generation. But when it comes to human development, communication can also become a means to empower certain groups whose freedoms are threatened by any social, economic and political constraints, or rather function as an attempt to expand people’s opportunities. As such, C4D entails a wider social process that involves both communities and influential decision-makers, where the former seek to increase their influence by participating in interventions with the latter, especially when discussing issues directly concerning them. Whether in the form of interpersonal, print or online communication, C4D is therefore usually achieved with different methods and channels, preferably interactive.

In principle, C4D is ‘people-centric’. Accordingly, communication comes mainly in the form of dialogue and interpersonal communication, which is pivotal for the success of this communication process or negotiating any goals that emerge resultantly. The shift away from vertical forms of communication has also meant a change in communication thinking and practice, where the flow of information is now more inclusive and multilateral involving more parties at hand. Communication for development thus seeks to establish a bridge between influential and non-influential social actors at different levels, where the goals surround the promotion, development and implementation of policies or programmes aiming to improve their quality of life. 

Communication for Development as Means of Change

If ideas are notions and beliefs that individuals and organizations hold, ideas communicated and exchanged can potentially influence attitudes and actions towards economic and social development. In other words, if members of society – whether NGOs, individuals or communities – want to help to improve people’s social conditions, the least these communities would need is to have access to discussions surrounding them. For this task, communication practitioners also play a key role in establishing initial trust with such communities, to identify their needs, assess the outcomes, and after all, ensure that they feel heard.

Communication for development thus creates such public spaces for inclusive debate, and thus aids them in the process of attaining participatory freedoms as a result of them. 

As Amartya Sen in his book ‘Development as Freedom’ points out: “With adequate social opportunities, individuals can effectively shape their own destiny and help each other. They need not be seen primarily as passive recipients of the benefits of cunning development programs”. To become the agents of their development, communities must therefore participate in the process of programme development and implementation as advocates of their freedoms, and not be merely receivers of its benefits. Communication for development thus creates such public spaces for inclusive debate, and thus aids them in the process of attaining participatory freedoms as a result of them. 

When we talk about the process of development, it is likely that the work of an array of institutions, organizations and markets which pursue social change come to mind. Even institutions like the United Nations have attempted to raise the importance of C4D over the past two decades, but still with nuanced success. Nevertheless, what the following words from Robert Agunga notably recognize is the utmost importance of communication as the vehicle which will enhance communities’ participation and the success of these efforts in the long run: “The development problem, however complex, will not find solutions unless they begin and end with communication”. After all, for individuals to reach sustainable agency, effective communication must always take place at all levels, more importantly if significant outcomes in development programmes are sought to be accomplished over time. Those who fund or advocate for institutional reforms cannot overlook the voices of those who will be affected by its outcomes. 

Certainly, development is an ongoing process that requires time and effort from different stakeholders to reach effective outcomes. Of course, social change and development are complex in nature, and this has created certain challenges that must be addressed by C4D practitioners, especially in terms of evaluating and implementing development interventions and their corresponding methodologies. But if those who are directly affected by such development problems do not communicate their needs and interests, nor organizations developing programmes account for the contexts in which they work on, any intervention unclearly defined is ultimately at risk of failure. As Agunga points out, “If development is to give poor countries control of their own societies, then the emphasis must be on the human dimension, that is, on empowerment, participation, integration and capacity building”. C4D strives for all that.

Why C4D Matters?

We must realize that the ultimate goal of communication for development is to achieve social changes – whether attitudinal or behavioural –, and in turn, these increasing participatory freedoms will be translated into other freedoms, whether social, economic or political. 

To understand why C4D matters, I believe that Amartya Sen’s words can serve as a reflection to relate communication as an enhancer of development: “The exercise of freedom is mediated by values, but these values are in turn influenced by public discussions and social interactions, which are themselves influenced by participatory freedoms”. We must realize that the ultimate goal of communication for development is to achieve social changes – whether attitudinal or behavioural –, and in turn, these increasing participatory freedoms will be translated into other freedoms, whether social, economic or political. 

But more importantly, communication for development matters because it identifies how communication processes tend to reflect power relations, and as such, it seeks to solve this issue by “enabling people’s capacities to understand, negotiate, and take part in decision-making that affects their lives”. Manuel Sager, Director-General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation SDC points this out clearly: “Communication tools are vital for the political dialogue and awareness-raising required to bring about social and institutional reforms”. But for that, a sustainable dialogue and exchange of ideas with the population at stake and the respective authorities must be enhanced. 

Cover: Geralt

Edited by: Rajal Monga

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Andrea Valdivia
Andrea is a writer in Medium, who currently studies her second year in the Bachelor of Communication Science. Born and raised in Lima, Peru, she learns about photography independently, and enjoys art-related subjects. By coming from a country with several political crises, Andrea is very interested in political communication and photojournalism, for which she writes articles related to them.

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