You are on page 1of 7

Development Communication:

Communication for or of Development?

Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee

Indian Institute of Mass Communication
Dhenkanal 759 001, Orissa, India

What is ‘development’?
Development can and does have several definitions. Development as a concept has several
elements. However, for general understanding it can be defined as ‘Activation of a country’s
human and material resources in order to increase the production of goods and services, thereby
leading to the general progress and welfare of its people’.
What is ‘Development Communication’?

There are broadly two schools of thinking over this question. One school believes development
communication should be communication for development, while the other school believes it
should be communication of/about development.

Here is what World Bank website says: 1

“Development communication is the integration of strategic communication in development


Strategic communication is a powerful tool that can improve the chances of success of
development projects. It strives for behaviour change not just information dissemination,
education, or awareness-raising. While the latter are necessary ingredients of communication,
they are not sufficient for getting people to change long-established practices or behaviours.

All development requires some kind of behaviour change on the part of stakeholders. Research
shows that changing knowledge and attitudes does not necessarily translate into behaviour
change. In order to effect behaviour change, it is necessary to understand why people do what
they do and understand the barriers to change or adopting new practices. It is not enough to raise
awareness of the “benefits”, it is critical to understand peoples’ barriers or the “costs” they
perceive such a change would entail.

Meaningful communication is about getting information out to particular audiences, listening to

their feedback, and responding appropriately. Whether discussing a development project or

broader economic reforms — from health, education or rural development to private sector
development, financial reform or judicial reform — the idea is to build consensus through raising
public understanding and generating well-informed dialogue among stakeholders.”

This is one view of Development Communication: a development project centric view. It looks at
Development communication as communication for development. But, Development
communication can also be communication about or of development besides being
communication for development. This is often the course development journalism traverses.
About that later. First, a look at the history of Development Communication.

The field emerged in the late 1950’s amid high hopes that radio and television could be
put to use in the world’s most disadvantaged countries to bring about dramatic progress. Early
communications theorists like Wilbur Schramm and Daniel Lerner based their high expectations
upon the apparent success of World War II propaganda, to which academia and Hollywood had

Also with World War II came dozens of new, very poor, countries, left by their former colonial
overseers with little infrastructure, education, or political stability. It was widely accepted that
mass media could bring education, essential skills, social unity, and a desire to “modernize.” Walt
Rostow theorized that society’s progress through specific stages of development on their way to
modernity, what he termed “the age of high mass consumption.” Lerner suggested that exposure
to Western media would create “empathy” for modern culture, and a desire to move from
traditional to modern ways. Early development communications, especially that sponsored by the
U.S. government, was also seen as a means of “winning hearts and minds” over to a capitalist
way of life.

These early approaches made a number of erroneous assumptions, and have been largely forsaken
in contemporary approaches to development. Obstacles to development were naively seen as
rooted in developing countries, not as products of international relationships. Modernization was
presumed to equate to Westernization, and to be a necessary prerequisite to meeting human
needs. Development was seen as a top-down process, whereby centralized mass media could
bring about widespread change. Producers of development media often failed to ask if the
audience can receive the message (television penetration in developing countries is minimal and
radio penetration in the early days of development communication was light), understand the
message (a problem in countries with dozens of languages and dialects), act upon the message
(with the necessary tools or other forms of structural support), and want to act upon the message.

And because it was based upon a propaganda model, development communications efforts were
often seen as propaganda and distrusted.

Projects embodying these philosophies have enjoyed little success. In the 1970s and 1980s, a new
paradigm of development communication emerged which better recognized the process of
deliberate underdevelopment as a function of colonialism, the great diversity of the cultures
involved, the differences between elite versus popular goals for social change, the considerable
political and ideological constraints to change, and the endless varieties of ways different cultures

But in some instances mass media technologies, including television, have been “magic
multipliers” of development benefits. Educational television has been used effectively to
supplement the work of teachers in classrooms in the teaching of literacy and other skills, but
only in well designed programs which are integrated with other educational efforts. Consumer
video equipment and VCRs have been used to supplement communications efforts in some small

Some developing countries have demonstrated success in using satellite television to provide
useful information to portions of their populations out of reach of terrestrial broadcasting. In 1975
and 1976, an experimental satellite communications project called SITE (Satellite Instructional
Television Experiment) was used to bring informational television programs to rural India. Some
changes in beliefs and behaviors did occur, but there is little indication that satellite television
was the best means to that end. The project did lead to Indian development of its own satellite
network. China has also embarked on a ambitious program of satellite use for development,
claiming substantial success in rural education. When television has succeeded as an educational
tool in developing countries, it is only when very specific viewing conditions are met. For
example, programs are best viewed in small groups with a teacher to introduce them and to lead a
discussion afterwards.

A variety of types of organizations work with local governments to develop communications

projects. The United Nations provides multi-lateral aid to governments. Non-profit non-
governmental organizations (NGO) conduct development projects worldwide using U.N.,
government, or private funding. And government agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID) provide assistance to developing countries, but with political
strings attached. There are three common types of development campaigns: Persuasion, changing
what people do; Education, changing social values; and Informing, empowering people to change
by increasing knowledge. This third approach is now perceived as the most useful. Instead of

attempting to modernize people, contemporary efforts attempt to reduce inequality by targeting
the poorest segments of society, involving people in their own development, giving them
independence from central authority, and employing “small” and “appropriate” technologies. The

emphasis has shifted from economic growth to meeting basic needs.2

Goals of Development Communication

Development Communication, be it communication for development or of development can have
several goals. For example, the goal can be:
• To determine the needs of the people and give credibility to the expression of
those needs
• To provide horizontal and vertical communication linkages at all levels of society
• To raise people’s awareness of development projects and opportunities
• To help foster attitudes that contributes to development and motivation
• To provide relevant information
• To support economic development through industrial linkage
• To provide support for specific development projects and social services
including health care, agricultural or vocational skills training, etc.

Who will communicate?

Obviously, the answer will be institutions that have a stake in development, like:
a. The Government
b. Civil Society
c. Media
Media again can be sub grouped like:
a. News Media
b. Entertainment Media
c. Education Media

All the stakeholders have different objectives and goals for communication development. For the
Government the objective is to discharge its constitutional duty of welfare of its citizens. This
will ensure public support. In a democratic country, it is necessary to keep public in the loop in
every manner possible. For civil society, the objective is to have equity in the society. For news
media it is their social responsibility. Profit is the objective of entertainment media. Homogeneity

in society would yield more profit. Therefore entertainment media engages in development
communication to have homogeneity. For educational media the objective is social welfare. There
can be overlapping in the objectives. But as each stake holder has different objective, the way
each approach development communication is different. There is also difference in the concept
and form of development.

Problems of Development Communication

Despite its noble purpose, development communication has some problems in communicating
with the target audience. Some of the problems relate to:
• Often it is perceived as govt. propaganda
• It is not sensational
• The result does not show instantly
• Often it is considered as boring/too academic
• Activism mode often makes it one sided.
Effective Development Communication is to talk about development not in the ideological sense
but in tangible and measurable terms- communication that leads to actual development.

What is Development Journalism? Is it different from Development Communication?

The term ‘Development Journalism’ was coined in Mid-1968 at an international gathering of

Journalists in Philippines.
In 1971, Development Journalism was described as: The art and science of human
communication applied to the speedy transformation of a country and the mass of its people from
poverty to a dynamic state of economic growth that makes possible greater social equality and the
larger fulfilment of human potential.
In 1981, the concept of ‘Making people Masters of their destiny’ without ‘doing violence
to the natural and cultural environment’ was introduced. (Vimal Dissanayake)

Even before the concept of ‘Development Journalism’ originated, Mahatma Gandhi

practised it through Harijan, Swadeshi, Navajeevan, etc. for an integrated rural development.

Development Journalism is not different from development communication. In fact it is

well within the domain of development communication. However the difference is in the
technique of dissemination of information. Development Journalism employs the technique and
tools of journalism.

3 Questions that are often asked:

1. How is it different from Economic Journalism?
Development Journalism is wider in its embrace. Development n ecessarily has a mass dimension
which economic growth may or may not have. Development takes place only when economic
growth is accompanied by or causes or flows from a social change which looks towards mass

2. Is it propaganda?
If ‘propaganda’ means propagation of an idea, then it certainly propagates ideas which motivate
people and governments. But it is also an independent investigator and honest critic of
‘development’. Credibility is, therefore, more important here.

3. Is it a poor a dull cousin of event-based journalism?

Event is more interesting than process. Development Journalism is more often process-based.
Event-based news or hard news is different from process-based news in several ways because of
the following factors:

a. Timeliness is of prime importance in case of event-based news, while urgency of time

is not that pressing in case of event-based news. Relevance is more important here. Development
journalism requires deeper understanding of the issues. Issues are important here not the
particular event. For example, if a farmer commits suicide, more than the news of a particular
farmer committing suicide, the causes will be dwelt by development journalism.

b. In case of event-based news, deviant is the news, while representative is the norm in
process-driven news.

c. The treatment of event-based journalism is often sensational, while process based

journalism emphasises ‘cause and effect relationship’ treatment suggesting remedial effect.
d. In event based journalism the emphasis on prominent persons, while in process based
journalism the emphasis is on common person doing uncommon work.
e. Event-based news tend to be value-neutral, while event-based news tends to be
value-added and goal-oriented
f. While event-based news tends to pose problem, event-based news tends to go beyond
that. It poses problem and tries to find a solution
g. While event-based news aims to inform, event-based news aims to educate

It is often said that development news is not interesting reading. However it can be made
interesting, if treated with care and skill.

How to write a Good Developmental Story

Here are some thumb rules.
• Talk about common people. Keep ordinary people at the heart of your story. Let them tell
their own story.
• Take a representative case. Look for the Dramatic element.
• Understand the issue. Collect relevant facts and figures.
• Do sufficient legwork.
• Write with empathy

• Don’t sermonise. Suggest.


Retrieved on August 18, 2007.