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Promises of Change: Reconciling Reality and Expectations in Fragile States

Nicholas van Praag's picture

Go ahead, make your case
Photo © Nick van Praag

I was listening to a report on the radio last week about winning hearts and minds in Afghanistan.  You know, all the stuff about moving from the number of insurgents killed and hectares of poppy fields destroyed to how many miles of roads can be travelled in safety and the number of people benefiting from agricultural extension projects. 

The journalist ended the dispatch by saying that these new ways of looking at progress are all very well, but what matters most are people’s perceptions of what the future holds. 

Afghanistan has many problems and skepticism over the war continues to grow. But there are also some objective reasons for hope. There has been an explosion in cell phone use and measures of maternal health and child mortality show progress.  More girls are in school and more women in parliament. But to the average man and woman, these incremental changes have not been enough to overcome a pervasive sense that prospects for improvement are dim.

As governments in Afghanistan and other fragile states pursue the tortuous business of reform, they cannot rely on promises of better security, improved livelihoods and more social justice to impose their own logic on people’s minds. The rationale of reform will not spontaneously emerge for war torn citizens without the connections made through consistent, disciplined communication.

After years of insecurity and hopelessness, you have to actively persuade people to suspend their disbelief and invest themselves in the future.  Evidence shows that purveying raw information and data is not enough.  Rather, it is about changing perceptions through carefully crafted and targeted messages that address people’s concerns directly.

Finding ways to communicate persuasively is not a silver bullet.  It takes more than smart communications to challenge vested interests or deter insurgents bent on resisting changes in the status quo. But communication can play a powerful role in consolidating support from allies, winning over the doubters, and reassuring the fearfulas well as undermining the credibility of opponents. 

Meeting the ‘Conflict Community’

Sarah Cliffe's picture

The World Bank’s upcoming World Development Report on Conflict, Security and Development is an opportunity to reflect on lessons from experience in preventing and resolving conflict. For me personally it is also an opportunity to work with people I have come to respect a great deal—in government, civil society, international institutions and academia.

We have just completed a first round of brainstorming meetings—with our Advisory Council, with researchers who work on conflict, and with reformers from governments and civil society who are fighting to overcome the legacy of conflict or combat conflict risks in their countries right now.

I had a concern when I took on this project that we would end up producing yet another bureaucratic report and holding a lot of meetings on a crucial issue without delivering any action. Our first brainstorming sessions helped me to see that there is a huge demand for a process which brings real action on conflict and development.