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What’s the Link Between Social Development Practice and Communication? Some Techniques and Approaches

Sabina Panth's picture

In development practices, the process of information gathering and dissemination has remained in the domain of social development.  While the process itself contributes to social development through knowledge transmission and critical consciousness (topic for another blog post), the tools and techniques required for effective use and dissemination of information comes from the communication school.  Yet, rarely do we find social development experts with communication training and vice-versa.   My recent exposure to CommGAP’s work and my decade long experience as a social development professional have impelled me to examine areas where communication and social development are intertwined and where they complement one another.  In this blog post, I wish to sketch an outline of a research work that I wish to undertake on the subject for feedback and suggestions from readers and practitioners in the field.

1. Project Design and Social Safeguards:  While designing a development project, a social and environmental impact assessment is carried out to enhance positive impact and mitigate negative impact of the project.   The information required for this analysis is obtained through primary and secondary sources.  Primary data is generated through census, which records socio-economic information and environmental inventory of the affected community.  Secondary data is collected through literature reviews and consultative meetings with relevant stakeholders and affected people in the community.   It is evident that the process necessitates a systematic acquiring and recording of information.  Yet, the significance of communication and the techniques required for information gathering have remained undefined in social safeguard practices.

2. Survey Design and Data Collection: Generally, an external agency is retained for survey design and data collection work.  The external agency is recruited based on its technical knowledge of the project and not necessary on its expertise on the processes involved to effectively collect and generate the required information.  Survey design and data collection methodology remains a top-down approach, where the enumerator facilitates the interview with a set of ready-made questionnaires to which the subject responds within the limited scope of the questions.  While this model is practiced more in quantitative data gathering, the enumerators generally lack technical skills in data collection in a way that the process becomes participatory and transforming. Tools such as Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) and Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) surveys have been developed for qualitative assessment but unless the enumerators internalize the objectives of these exercises, the technique, no matter how participatory it may be, remains  a mechanical, top-down intervention.

Also, different social groups have different needs and expectations from a project and the project may have differential impact on the social groups (men, women, youth, elderly, farmers, fisherman, indigenous peoples) based on occupation and other livelihood means and requirements.  In many instances, the enumerators are not aware of the sub-grouping technique in data gathering.   For example, in a focus group discussion, it works better to separate men and women in different groups, so women feel free to participate more actively and effectively, which otherwise may be restrained due to norms and practices of a given cultural setting.  Also, interviews should be conducted in a manner that retains the dignity of the affected population.  Otherwise, it may generate negative side effects that undermine or eliminate existing ways of life that are considered positive.  This brings us to the topic of transparency in data collection and recording, which is rarely addressed in development practices.  

3. Project Implementation and Social Mobilization:  Communication becomes more important during the project implementation stage, where timely and continuous flow of information regarding the processes and procedures involved in implementation work (physical infrastructure, resettlement, procurement, labor work, compensation, wage payment, skills training) needs to be disseminated, both internally and externally for transparency and inclusive participation.    Effective communication strategies also contribute to the analysis and mobilization of external stakeholders (NGOs, labor groups, contractors, local government officers, village elites) toward building partnerships and coalitions to facilitate the implementation process.  Communication-based Assessment is an effective stakeholder analysis tool, which allows understanding of the perceptions and contributions of different interest groups towards the project. 

4. Community Empowerment and Strengthening Demand Side of Good Governance: Social mobilization contributes to strengthening voices and collective agencies of targeted beneficiaries of the project and empowers them to demand transparency, accountability and quality in services that correspond to their needs and priorities.  Effective communication techniques in household surveys, focus group discussions, deliberation meetings and workshops add value to facilitate a two-way process of engagement, where information is shared about the project and views are sought from the affected populations to better inform the design and delivery of project services and satisfy beneficiary requirements.

These are just outline sketches of a research project that I wish to undertake on the role of communication in social development work.  Contributions from readers and practitioners on the topic choice and content elaboration would be appreciated.

Photo Credit: Karinandgreg (Flikr)


Whenever we are working on development front we need to put communication at heart place. Worldwide past experience suggest that modernization approach of development communication fail to sustain impact on stakeholders due to its vertical one way format based on prejudice which fix responsibility of being backward on under develop class. Also efforts initiated with expected switch effect behavioral change, outcast trust from communication. Last decade observe substantial shift in paradigm of development communication. Your article had nicely accumulate significance of development communication. Best luck for your future writing..

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