As a first-time blogger on this site, I will focus on bringing experiences and reflections on how communication plays a key role in initiatives related to governance, a role even more fundamental than that played in other kinds of development programs. Before digging more into this, I would like to illustrate and hopefully clarify one term that, due to its broad and multifaceted connotation, is used too frequently in an ambiguous manner: communication. Most dictionaries and basic textbooks define communication basically as the act of sending messages or, more specifically as a sender transmitting messages through channels to one or more receivers.
Very few textbooks, if any, would define communication as a two-way process not used exclusively to send message or pass information, but to explore, discover and generate knowledge and consensus. And yet, the semantic root of the word communication is the same as in communion and community and it is about sharing.
Adopting such a conception would have important implications in many dimensions of social life, especially in the development context. It would imply that communication should not be restricted to informing people and persuading them to change certain attitudes or behaviors, but it should be used also to facilitate dialogue, build trust and ensure mutual understanding. This might not seem much to policy- and decision-makers used to measuring development effectiveness in terms of quantitative outputs, but without trust, mutual understanding and broad consensus no durable change can be achieved or sustained.
Good governance can be achieved and sustained only through building a wide consensus and agreement about the interests, duties and rights of all parties. This can only happen through two-way communication. Such communication, also referred as dialogic communication, and its effects are more difficult to control and predict than one-way, or monologic, communication approaches where the objectives and the outputs are set from the start, needing little or no flexibility for adjustments due to other stakeholders’ input. That is why dialogic communication can raise concerns among those who would like to have everything under control. However, in governance initiatives, where transparency and accountability are key, both monologic and dialogic communication need to be used strategically. Indeed, dialogic communication is fundamental to establishing and maintaining a functional public sphere.
Photo Credit: Eric Miller (World Bank)