Dumping and intermediation – that doesn’t even sound similar, does it? Nevertheless, information intermediation is often misunderstood to mean a dump of lots of technical information on unsuspecting audiences. Do you know those websites that provide all the information you can possible imagine, and a lot you can’t imagine besides, about a certain issue or project or initiative – and that’s then called “reaching out to the public” or even engagement? Well, it’s not. It’s dumping. And it’s not useful.
The true basic role of communication in development is information intermediation. Everything else follows from that. Information intermediation means to act as a bridge between the public – a lay audience – and technical development experts. It means to select, package, contextualize, and interpret technical information in a way that it useful for the intended audiences. You want a community to know how that road project is going that is supposed to improve their lives by improving mobility and access to resources? Well, don’t put the project documents on a website and think that will help anybody besides the website designer. You need to explain and you need to engage. A few ground rules for information intermediation:
- Design messages that are useful to the audience by telling them what you are doing and how it will affect them.
- Forgo the technical jargon. Entirely. You can talk about project evaluations with your colleagues.
- Tell people how they can find out more about the issue if they are interested, but don’t make them work their way through a lot of materials.
- Chose a channel that actually reaches your audience. If Internet penetration in your country is at about 10% of the population, don’t use a website as your only means of communication. Use traditional media, in particular radio, community media, community events, pamphlets.
- Provide a feedback mechanism through which your audience can get back to you. Ideally, engage in dialogue. Providing an option to send an email to the project team is not engagement, especially when nobody ever checks that email account.
The news media are very typical information intermediaries. Newsrooms choose among vast amounts of news and information every day and pick relatively few issues to report on. They rarely report the bare facts, but rather embed the information in context and make it relevant for their readers, listeners, or viewers. There is no reason why communication in a development context shouldn’t follow this standard – on the contrary, there are a lot of reasons why they should. News media provide a service to their audience, and communication in development also needs to be about providing a service to the public. Information dumping is no service, it creates a burden for the audience that, you can be sure about that, the audience will simply reject. Information dumping is not going to create an informed audience, it’s not going to mobilize any audience, and it’s not going to contribute to accountability or development effectiveness. It’s just a dump of resources that could have been used better elsewhere.
Picture: Flickr user D. Bjorn, Catchin' Up
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