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Institutional Takes on Communication for Development

I returned from my two weeks of traveling with a more optimist outlook about Communication for Development -C4D- and the way it is being considered and applied around the world. I went first to Lisbon, Portugal, where I was invited to be a guest speaker in a week-long workshop on communication for social change sponsored by the Objectivo 2015 - UN Millennium Campaign in Portugal and hosted by the Lisbon's School of Communication and Media Studies.  The course was directed at Civil Society Organizations managers and program officers. It has been very encouraging to see not only the high level of interest of participants, but also to realize that C4D principles and concepts can be and are applied effectively in the context of more developed countries.

After Lisbon I flew to Cairo, Egypt, where UNICEF held a global network meeting on C4D, attended by over 120 people, most of them C4D managers and specialists from around the world. The meeting highlighted UNICEF leadership in the application of C4D to enhance development results. This is even more striking considering that a few years back C4D in UNICEF was considerably downsized. However, its value and the demand for its functions helped C4D bounce back stronger than before and there can be little doubt UNICEF is currently leading in this area.

These two events made me wonder what it would take for international organizations to understand and apply C4D in their daily routines. After all it has been proven that participation is necessary to enhance results, and there is also a significant body of evidence indicating that to achieve sustainable results any development intervention needs to address individual behavior changes as well as broader social changes. All of these elements are the basis of communication for development. What is the best way to ensure that communication for development, or operational communication as it is defined at the World Bank, will be used indeed to enhance projects and programs rather than simply to provide information on activities or to diffuse crisis?

A worthwhile approach can be seen in what FAO did in the past and in what UNICEF is doing now; dividing in a neat way the two main modes of communication. C4D at FAO was originally placed within the Public Information Division but in the early 1990s was placed moved in the Sustainable Development Department. UNICEF followed a similar approach establishing two different structures, one named communication, dealing with external affairs and corporate communication, and the other named communication for development, placed in the policy and practice groups, thus closer to the operational programs.

Those who had the opportunity to use C4D in the field can have little doubt that this is an essential element of any development initiative, especially in the cross-cutting ones, such as governance. There can be also little doubt that C4D specialists are required to have a set of skills and competencies very different than those mastered by specialists in external affairs or corporate communication. This is not a conceptual distinction, but a practical one, that when not applied has often led to less than satisfactory results. Only when development polices and institutional structures will fully understand the role and value of C4D, and will be shaped accordingly, development processes will become truly participatory and able to address poverty in a concerted manner; i.e. engaging all key stakeholders rather than relying predominantly on the outside experts’ point of view.

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