The reason I chose such a title is due to the difficulty of mainstreaming (i.e., understanding and institutionalizing) the emerging conception of communication in development required to support and address the challenges in the current process of democratization, especially when dealing with governance issues.
In last week’s blog I argued that to ensure survival on a crowded planet, technical solutions and their economic viability are important – but that changing governance at many levels is a key hinge for enabling societies across the globe to take the necessary decisions and to make the major adjustments that are needed. This week’s blog looks further at possible solutions.
An important domain for experimenting with better governance are cities. About 50 per cent of the world’s population is now living in cities, and 70 per cent are expected to do so by 2050. Air and water pollution are often concentrated in and around large urban centres. Improving governance of cities could make a huge contribution to addressing the challenges of a crowded planet.
I was asked to join forces with other bloggers to blog on Blog Action Day (October 15) and write about Poverty. What better platform than the World Bank’s People, Spaces, Deliberation blog? I encourage others to do the same.
I need to explain how this came about. I was in London recently and I wanted a fabulous example of English prose style to read on the flight back to Washington. I have always believed that the golden age of English prose style is somewhere between the 18th and 19th centuries. So I went to Waterstones, the booksellers, and bought a copy of Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay's (1800-1859) magisterial History of England, specifically the condensed Penguin Classics version of it. As a masterpiece of English prose style it has not disappointed me. The work itself tells the story of how James II, King of England in the late 17th century, lost public support and William of Orange was able to come over from Holland to replace him, almost without firing a shot in anger. The revolution is known as the Glorious Revolution of 1689, and it more or less resulted in the constitutional system that is still the basis of government in the United Kingdom today.
In March, Jeffrey Sachs published his latest book Common Wealth: Economics for a Crowded Planet – an urgent plea for societies across the globe to reduce and better manage their impact on the earth’s ecosystems if we want to survive and prosper in an ever more crowded world.
As Sachs warns, continuing ‘business as usual’ will make life on our planet increasingly unsustainable. Air pollution and global warming present the biggest risks. But as humans have come to use almost any natural resource intensively, there are also major risks related to the availability of water and of fertile top-soil. At the same time, Sachs argues that we have the technical tools and the economic means to save the planet and to accommodate a rising global population – as well as increasing global wealth and rising consumption in today’s poorer countries.
If one were to believe all these surveys that ask people about their media use, then people who are found to be “in the know” regarding public affairs are usually those who read newspapers and, to a lesser degree, watch the news. People who primarily consume or self-report a preference for entertainment usually score lower on these political knowledge questions (themselves controversial) than news junkies.
The World Bank office in Sydney has established a Facebook group called "Young People for Change" for youth in the Pacific, Timor-Leste and Papua New Guinea to air their thoughts and ideas on how they could help spur change.
I love this innovative approach that seeks young people where you find them these days: on social network sites. One could argue that the respective cultures of the Pacific, PNG and Timor Leste are rather distinct, and yet, the views and concerns of these young people might prove to be remarkably similar and indeed provide valuable food for thought for politicians and policy-makers. For governments, and development institutions supporting them, integrating youth in their strategic planning and addressing their hopes and grievances has been notoriously difficult and often simply overlooked. This shortcoming has come at a high price at times; high youth unemployment and a sense of social and political alienation have long been recognized as a proximate cause for political instability.
In both the developed and developing world, I've come across people in varying positions of power either hinting or stating in no uncertain terms that I would not receive a government service without "greasing the wheel." Despite wide disparities between low- and high- income country contexts, these experiences left the same bad taste in my mouth. But corrupt practices, including bribery, aren't equal and, in a larger sense, understanding the differences among them puts us in better stead in the global fight against corruption. In a previous post, CommGAP requested feedback on an anti-corruption learning event jointly organized with the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. One of the themes of the event will be the role of communication in shifting social norms toward condemning corrupt everyday practices.
My attention has been tickled by the news that at the recent High Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, Ghana, donors apparently agreed to launch an initiative known as the International Aid Transparency Initiative. Under the initiative, according to the DFID press release on the subject, donors have agreed to give:
- Full and detailed information on all aid in each country affected
- Details and costs of individual projects and their aims
- Reliable information on future aid to improve planning by recipient governments.
I hope the initiative will be seriously implemented. But it will not be easy. And the main reason it will not be easy is that the instinct of the technocracy that dominates every aspect of international development is to be non-transparent.
Development communication (or Communication for Development, as it is also known in United Nations circles) is a growing field in the international development context. Every two years the various UN agencies hold a roundtable to share experiences and further promote the adoption of this discipline, or interdisciplinary field.