What if communication did not envision sending messages or persuading people about adopting our ideas or proposals? What if communication were no longer about transmitting information, but about generating information?
Such an approach would have a number of implications, including the way communication would be used in development projects and programs, not to communicate activities and results, but to engage stakeholders in addressing problems and defining objectives. This in turn would affect the whole communication learning approach, which should be no longer based on media and messages, but should include the use of two-way communication to engage stakeholders, prevent conflicts and address key issues leading to change.
Such an approach, even if widely advocated, is rarely implemented. Why? In many cases it is due to the OAMS factor, that is Only Apparently Making Sense. Experience teaches that often it is more convenient to adopt what is easier to use and understand, even at the risk of oversimplifying reality, than engaging with more complex models that, even though they are more effective in reflecting and addressing the challenges of the social reality, require a higher degree of complexity and risk.
Let me give you an example from the real world, which is also mentioned in the Development Communication Sourcebook. It is about a group of experts who witness the women of a certain village having to walk a long distance to fetch water. They quickly decide that a well is needed and proceed to provide the funds for such a well. The well is built and the problem is solved. Or so it seems. When another group of experts goes back to the village, they realize that the well is not being used. Why? Because that walk to fetch water was one of the rare moments, if not the only moment, that women had to socialize among themselves. If the "experts" had not returned to the village, the solution would have been perceived as a success, even if in reality it was a solution that only apparently made sense -- an OAMS.
The same often occurs in communication applications and capacity building where linear approaches which make sense in certain situations, such as media campaigns, are applied as a sort of one-size-fits-all. Naturally these approaches are easier to define and apply since they basically require a broader understanding of the behavior to be changed and often assume that information will be enough to bring that change. However, such approaches often make sense only apparently, because reality is more complex and change requires a higher level of stakeholders’ engagement than what is assumed in traditional, linear communication models. That is why I invite you to try ‘to invert the pyramid’, exploring what happens when communication is conceived and applied as a bottom-up process aimed at engaging and empowering stakeholders seeking a sustainable and meaningful change.
Photo Credit: Flickr user wallyg