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. These roundtables often result in the networking of organizations and communication professionals sharing similar challenges and objectives. The event that took place in Geneva from September 15 – 17 -- the experiential workshop on communication for development -- originated from such networking. This event was hosted by the International Labor Organization (ILO) of the United Nations and attended by ILO communication staff and other UN agencies, such as UNICEF, UNDP, UNCHR, WHO, FAO and UNIDO. I was the main facilitator with a co-facilitating team that included colleagues from ILO, UNICEF and UNDP.
The workshop had a two-folded function: presenting basic principles and methods of development communication and also advocating for its added value in the current conceptual and practical development reality. The experiential approach was a highly interactive learning mode where the main facilitators would present and frame various issues and participants would supplement them with their own experiences, questions and/or concerns. The workshop made it clear that to be applied professionally and strategically, development communication needs to follow a rigorous investigative and analytical process, well beyond the common sequence of identifying audiences, designing a message, and selecting appropriate channels to disseminate information.
In the new development paradigm, both the role of the communication specialist and the manager adopting communication require specific skills. The communication specialist, in addition to the usual set of communication skills, needs to have strong analytical and listening skills to uncover perceptions and perspectives of different stakeholders groups. He/she needs to be able to adopt dialogue in a professional manner to facilitate problem-analysis and problem-solving leading to the desired change, supported by a wide consensus. Clearly, in the new role of the communication specialist, one of the major challenges consists in using two-way communication to engage stakeholders in the definition of key issues and the relative concerted agreement of the objectives. On the other hand, a project manager needs to supervise and monitor the progress of the communication objectives and this can be done through a simpler template that defines the objectives, the audiences, the expected change, the messages, and the channels to be used.
Photo Credit: Paolo Mefalopulos