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The use of communication in development projects #1

Paolo Mefalopulos's picture

When I was asked to be one the blogger for the Development Marketplace I accepted without being too sure what was expected from me. I was told I should write something about communication, since this is not only my professional field, but something I am passionate about, I decided to start with two blogs about two key challenges that I have been facing and dealing with in the last few years of my professional life. These two entries will provide an introduction for the subsequent blogs on communication. The first issue, is about the different types, functions and competencies that constitutes communication in the development context. The second issue, which will be dealt in the next blog, is about the differentiation between two basic modalities of communication, meant to broaden the traditional conception of communication seen exclusively as a way to transmit information and message.

Probably each one of you has heard the phrase that everybody can communicate, hence, everybody can be a good communicator. This is probably true at an interpersonal level, but being able to express clearly and efficiently our thoughts and ideas does not make us necessarily professional experts in communication, a skillful manager in public relations, for instance, might not be equally efficient in designing a communication strategy for a community-driven development project. First of all, we should be aware that the term communication has a very broad connotation, which makes it difficult to reach a consensus on a specific definition, and even when used in more specific settings, such as the professional or the academic one, it can still be conceived, used and applied in different ways. It is enough to check any of the many communication programs available in United States Universities, for instance. There a candidate can choose among public relations, journalism interpersonal communication, political communication, corporate communication, marketing, and many more. They are all part of the communication family, but all of them required a specific body of knowledge and skills.

This richness is one of the strength of the discipline of communication but it is also its weakness as it has often led to confusion, ambiguities and improper use of communication competencies. This is especially evident in the field of development communication (or communication for development), which many managers wrongly confuse with the use of common communication media and methods used in the development context. This field instead, has its own specific theoretical framework and its specific set of techniques and tools to be adopted not to inform and transmit messages but also to truly communicate; i.e. to share experiences and generate new knowledge. But I shall talk more about this in my next blog.

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