- Media Development
The third of the ten key issues about development communication is a crucial one and it asserts that there is a significant difference between development communication and other types of communication. What is the difference and why is important? Let us start by defining communication’s most renowned function; i.e.
Close to 30 government officials from seven Asian countries* recently participated in CommGAP’s workshop on communication and governance reform. Entitled People, Politics, and Change, the workshop was held in Manila, Philippines from April 20 to 23. The participant pool included a few high level officials, both cabinet ministers and national parliamentarians. Also in the group were governance specialists from the Asian Development Bank (ADB), Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), and the World Bank’s newly established regional governance hub in Bangkok. Observers included representatives from the Asian Institute of Management and the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication.
There is a global debate going on concerning why the global financial crisis erupted. The technical debate is what it is; so far there is far more heat than light. But in addition to the technical debate is a debate about how certain underlying assumptions about human nature entertained by economists and even famous central bankers have turned out to be incorrect. It turns out that human beings - as consumers, investors, bankers, stock traders - have not behaved in precisely the ways "rigorous" economic theories predicted that they would. Even Alan Greenspan, former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, showed his surprise at human nature at a congressional hearing late last year: "I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such as that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms."
"Public opinion seems to achieve integration: the individuals trying to avoid isolation are ready to compromise, thereby furnishing society with some common ground which, as is generally acknowledged, is a condition for the society's survival. Public opinion seems to stabilize societies. Partly this is a consequence of integration but it is more. Political scientists interested in developing societies complain that the lack of public opinion, or of an infrastructure of consensus among persons interested in the political sphere, leads to extreme and frequent upheavals. Public opinion establishes priorities. In the field of communication research, this is called the agenda-setting function. It dictates what problems society deems to be its most urgent tasks. Public opinion confers legitimation. It is striving for consensus (exerting strong conformity pressure on the individuals), defending established norms, or creating those which in turn will be legally sanctioned. This is the meaning of 'all governments rest on opinion.'"
Numbers alone do not confer strength, and if that can happen in an advanced democracy just imagine how tough it is to make numbers count in a poor, developing country.
A reader's comment to the blog post Whose Will Constitutes 'Political Will'?
"Political will" is surely one of the more elusive terms in the international development community. Sina captures much of its ambiguity well in his posting. In addition to what it is, we might also ask where political will comes from. In some cases it originates with an individual, generally situated somewhere within the state apparatus (best if at a high level) who becomes the "champion" that Sina refers to. But political will can also stem from civil society advocacy that puts enough pressure on the state to develop the political will needed to bring about action. The civil rights movement in the USA had champions over many decades, and they made some progress (e.g., Eleanor Roosevelt and the Marian Anderson singing controversy of 1939, recently commemorated on its 70th anniversary at Lincoln Memorial this past Easter in Washington). So there was some political will in high places that helped. President Truman's desegregation of the US military in 1948 offers another example. But it took another 20 years and a huge, sustained civil society effort to accumulate the pressure needed to strengthen political will sufficiently to pass the landmark civil rights legislation of the mid-1960s. So it was a combination of political will on the inside and civil society on the outside that moved civil rights along over the years, with each reinforcing the other. More recent examples abound (e.g., environment, women's movement). Analyzing the synergy involved and crafting ways to support it should be a critical focus of CommGAP.
There's nothing worse that can happen to a young scholar at her first conference presentation than having one of the big founders of one's academic field sit in the first row and stare intently at her poor little PowerPoint presentation.
“Opinion, queen of the world, is not subject to the power of kings; they are themselves her first slaves.”
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1762, Lettre à d'Alembert sur les Spectacles
Protests are erupting in many parts of the world. Television screens are filled with images of restive citizens challenging power. Now, a debate has erupted on-line regarding whether or not the protests of today matter as well as the fabled efforts of movements past - Gandhi in India, King in the United States and so on.
For the record, I don’t believe the hype that people are only interested in bad news. I think as humans we are intrigued by “dramatic” – but not that this has to be necessarily “negative”. I proved it to myself recently.
"Research on political participation has identified a number of deep-seated norms and values that are positively associated with the amount and quality of democratic engagement. One of the most central of these is political efficacy, or the sense that one's participation can actually make a difference (internal efficacy) and that the political system would be responsive to this participation (external efficacy)... Although political efficacy is affected by a number of demographic, contextual, and cultural factors, the media plays an important role in its formation and expression."
Michael X. Delli Carpini (2004)*
Photo credit: Jim Roese photography
*Delli Carpini, M. X. (2004). Mediating Democratic Engagement: The Impact of Communications on Citizens' Involvement in Political and Civic Life. In L. L. Kaid (Ed.), Handbook of Political Communication Research (pp. 395-434). New York: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
“Global problems require global solutions,” a newspaper editorial recently asserted in its analysis of the current economic crisis. From a communication studies perspective, stressing a particular aspect of an issue – in this case, the global nature of the crisis -- is called “framing.” To further one’s position, advocates frame an issue by emphasizing some aspects of the phenomenon and deemphasizing others. Contrasting frames on economic issues have been ubiquitous in the media for some time. Compare, for example, the ways in which The Economist and CNN’s Lou Dobbs Tonight interpret economic realities. Given the current crisis, the framing battle is even more apparent. Protectionists might prefer to focus on a country’s deteriorating local job market and claim that the most pressing need is for government to protect domestic employment or a “domestic jobs frame.” In contrast, those who believe in free markets might argue that protectionist policies will lead to contracting national economies and that the solution is greater liberalization or a “free trade frame.”
In this blog I am addressing the second of the ‘Ten Key Issues on (Development) Communication’ that states that there is a sharp and profound difference about a good everyday communicator and a professional communicator. I apologize to those of you who have this distinction clear in your minds and find this an obvious point. Unfortunately, many, too many, managers and decision makers in development institutions do not always seem to understand the difference between the two.
I have heard many times the sentence ‘He/she is a good communicator’, a seemingly positive statement. However it is a statement that can be rather frustrating when used interchangeably to denote a person skillful in presenting ideas and points of view and a person with a professional expertise in the field of communication.
In discussing governance reform efforts that have not worked, the phrase 'political will' comes up a lot, usually in the formulation 'lack of political will'. But it appears that the phrase is so elastic it is becoming meaningless. So, what really is 'political will'? Or, better still, whose will constitutes 'political will'?
In international development, 'political will' tends to mean this: we got the government to agree to a program of reform, either to accept a grant or take a loan designed to pay for the program. The leading government official involved in the process is known at 'The Champion'. Soon enough, in most cases, 'political will' means 'we have a champion in place'. This is what I call The Lone(ly) Champion Syndrome. Comes implementation and problems crop up. Is 'The Champion' influential enough to see the reforms through in the specific context? Is 'The Champion' even going to survive in office long enough to be helpful? As a colleague of mine likes to say, the champion at the beginning of the reform effort is not likely to be the champion at the end...assuming you still have a champion.
A reader's response to the blog post, If Force and Incentives Fail...Then What?:
'Asked if he believed in clubs for women, comedian W.C. Fields replied, 'only if all other methods of persuasion fail.'
Governments can and do use brute force, but if governments want the active support of coalitions of stakeholders, rarely can they rely on top-down commmunication alone.
Metternich said 'you can do everything with a bayonet except sit on it,' meaning force has its limits. Consensus is built by dialogue, ensuring that every stakeholder gets some benefit, or at least enough stakeholders. Yes, that means persuasion to show people how they stand to benefit from change. But also it often requires adjusting our offers to suit their demands.
A reader's response to the blog post, Time to Learn How to Act 'Macro' while Talking 'Micro':
'Happily, we have an active international economic forum on economics that is micro and macro. It is called the marketplace. In it, billions of people communicate every day in billions of transctions where they vote with their nyra or dollars or yen. In what nobel laureate F.A. Hayek called spontaneous order, this establishes priorities and values based on supply and demand. A billion people cannot be bested by a handful of even the smartest planners.
Schooled in macro, planners learn in university to tweak their computer models to get the right outcome, when in the real world they are far less capable of tweaking the incentives to manipulate the decisions of multitudes. Increasing savings rates, to take a very crude example, is easier to do on a computer than across a nation or a planet. So the market tends to outguess and outperform planners.
As follow-up to CommGAP's workshop "Generating Genuine Demand for Social Accountability Mechanisms" we're working on publishing an edited volume on this issue with Berkeley-Professor Taeku Lee. Looking through the chapters for this book I puzzled over a quite original approach to accountability: information processing. Arthur Lupia, one of our authors and Professor at the University of Michigan, takes a cognitive approach and explains how people's beliefs have to be changed in order to make them demand accountability.
A reader's response to the blog post Balancing Results-Based Management with People-based Processes:
"I fully agree that the focus on results should not be so obsessive as to lose the enduring value of Communication for Development (C4D), namely its ability to facilitate and promote engagement between real people and communities, as a process. The World Bank's Development Communication team has been quite successful in selling this to the Bank mandarins, but on the basis of communication’s ability to help deliver concrete results, not on the basis of communication as a process. The array of tools and innovations your team has developed (communication-based assessment, etc) and the concrete proposals it has made towards integrating communication into the Bank’s operations provide others with a strong basis for making the case in their respective agencies.