Communication is not just about communicating, at least not in the development context. My personal experiences, where I applied communication in a number of projects in different areas, such as agriculture, environment, rural development, etc., confirm what is cited also in relevant studies. Many of the failures in the development context can be attributed to two major factors: the lack of or insufficient involvement of stakeholders from the beginning of the initiative and the lack of or insufficient use of communication in the project activities. Both issues are actually communication issues. The first deals with the function of two-way communication as a way to bring together stakeholders to assess the situation and agree on the proposed change and the second refers to the use of communication as a way to transmit information about the activities and the scope of a certain initiative.
In the development context, communication functions can be divided in two main modalities one-way communication (also referred as monologic communication) and two-way communication (also referred to as dialogic communication). In one-way, monologic approaches the objectives of the communication intervention are usually pre-defined in a specific way; e.g. raise awareness, inform or change people’s behavior. For instance, a campaign to raise awareness about the risks of contracting avian flu, would be a good example of a monologic mode of communication.
In a dialogic approaches, instead, the objectives are defined very loosely as they serve as guidelines to guide the process, rather than defining specific outputs. For instance, in a community-driven development the initial objective of a certain communication program is to improve the quality of the water services. The community, with the facilitation of communication specialists, will then be engaged in dialogue, consultation and other two-ways approaches to assess what is the problem, what are the main causes, what are the best options available and how can communication help to achieve the desired change. Communication, hence, becomes instrumental in facilitating a joint search for best available option, which is likely to be more sustainable, given the fact that will be shaped by the local stakeholders themselves. This use of communication carries wider implications, as dialogue and dialogic approaches require from all parties the flexibility and openess to adjust to unexpected outcomes. That is why is important that whenever the team consider using communication, they make sure to have clear in mind the scope of the intervention and which kind of communication is needed.