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Development Results Require Program Communication

Paolo Mefalopulos's picture

This is my first blog since I left the World Bank and relocated to New Delhi to work for UNICEF. Different cultures, different contexts, different communication challenges. Every change implies dealing with unknown and unexpected situations and it usually also entails refining a different way of thinking in approaching new challenges. In this case, the change I went through allowed me to see even clearer the critical role of communication for development (C4D), or program communication as it is also called in UNICEF, for achieving sustainable change.

The current trend in most international organizations towards results-based management planning is a further element confirming the crucial role of C4D. Results are now defined basically at outputs level and outcomes level. The former refers to results directly related to activities carried out as technical solutions (e.g. production of infrastructure or provision of services), but outcomes are results of a higher level, capable of achieving a greater impact, linked with institutional or behavioral change. That is where C4D becomes a sine-qua-non for the success of most development initiatives. No matter what is the technical solution to be adopted; i.e. latrines, water irrigation schemes, a new kind of crop, children immunization or better governance, these can only be achieved through a professional and systematic use of communication for social and behavior change.

It would come hardly as a surprise to anybody that academic and training centres dealing with technical topics such as engineering, environment, or health do not provide much know-how on how social or behaviour change takes place. That is why C4D is needed to ensure that the technical solutions are not only appropriate and well-received, but also adopted. Many of the past failures in development initiatives can be traced back to the lack of social and behavior change communication or to the limited use of communication simply as a means to disseminate information about activities.

C4D includes the professional and systematic use of social and behavior change communication approaches, usually based on dialogue, to explore options among stakeholders, reconcile differences and agree on the best possible solutions. It is becoming increasingly clear that any organization that is focusing on the corporate side of communication, without paying due attention to social and behavior change communication, is likely to fail in its attempts to achieve long-lasting results.

UNICEF has divided communication in two different fields, positioned in two different departments: 1) communications, dealing with advocacy, media and external relations; and 2) program communication, or C4D, using communication to engage stakeholders, enhance the design of programs and projects and promote the intended social and behaviour change. I strongly believe that such institutional distinction between these two main areas of communication; i.e. the corporate one and the more operational one, is a model that should be adopted by other organizations.

C4D has been the missing link for ensuring sustainable results in development initiatives. There is enough evidence to clearly acknowledge its key role in ensuring sustainable change, as it is not only uniquely capable of promoting the adoption of needed behaviors and practices but it is also the best way to give voice to all key stakeholders, including the most marginalized and the voiceless, and allow them to take part in decisions concerning their own lives. Without those voices being heard no sustainable and meaningful change can ever be achieved.

Photo Credit: © Simone D. McCourtie / World Bank

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