Communication for Another Development: Listening Before Telling

Communication for Another Development: Listening Before Telling


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Communication for Another Development: Listening Before Telling by Wendy Quarry, Ricardo Ramirez

This lively book argues that in the development process, communication is everything. The authors, world experts in this field as teachers, practitioners and theorists, argue that Communication for Development is a creative and innovative way of thinking that can permeate the overall approach to any development initiative. They illustrate their argument with vivid case studies and tools for the reader, drawing on the stories of individual project leaders who have championed development for communication, and using a range of situations to show the different possibilities in various contexts.

Free from jargon, and keeping a close look at how development is actually being implemented at ground level, this book is an important contribution to development studies not just for students but also for development practitioners and policy makers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781848130098
Publisher: Zed Books
Publication date: 08/13/2009
Pages: 168
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.40(d)

About the Author

Wendy Quarry and Ricardo Ramirez are both independent consultant practitioners in Communication for Development, they have worked together on field projects, evaluations and publications over the last years, and they have been involved in relevant academia and development circles.

Read an Excerpt

Communication for Another Development

Listening Before Telling

By Wendy Quarry, Ricardo Ramírez

Zed Books Ltd

Copyright © 2009 Wendy Quarry and Ricardo Ramírez
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84813-550-5


Communication for Development: setting the scene

For centuries, several groups of Inuit have roamed the Canadian Arctic. They depended on the native caribou (wild reindeer) as a source of food, using their hides for clothing and shelter. The hunt was not only a means of survival; success as a hunter was an indication of recognition as a man.

Since the 1950s, biologists from southern Canada have spent millions of dollars observing the habits of the caribou. They monitored the state of the different herds in the Keewatin area of the far north, part of what is now known as Nunavut. They usually didn't bother to report their findings to the people of the north. When they did, it was in a scientific language quite foreign to the Inuit.

In the 1970s, mining exploration began extensively in the Keewatin district, bringing with it people, equipment, aircraft and noise. The Inuit became alarmed. They believed that the noise was hurting the caribou, driving them from their traditional feeding areas. The miners and biologists thought otherwise. Public hearings took place with Inuit filing lawsuits to stop the mining. While these failed to halt the mining operations, more rigid conditions were put on mining activities to protect the caribou. At the same time, the biologists gave information suggesting the government also impose strict quotas on the hunting of the Kaminuriak herd. An angry impasse occurred. The crisis came to a head when an Inuit leader reacted to new game laws and declared a state of war between his people and the biologists and game wardens. There was a call for the Inuit to defy new game quotas. Hostilities heightened on both sides.

Alarmed at the gravity of the situation, a government official called in Donald Snowden – the man who had pioneered the use of video as a communication method to facilitate community dialogue. Snowden proposed a solution. He suggested that each group be videotaped in their own domain in the appropriate language. This would allow each to give full rein to feelings and explanations in the language of choice. He stipulated that every tape produced be available to all groups and that editing rights be vested only with those who appear on tape – not in Inuit organizations, nor with senior government officials.

Two production crews were assembled – Inuit and non-Inuit – and training was given to augment the crew experience. A system was put in place to select community representatives from each of the Inuit communities to act as spokespeople for the communities. Four biologists were selected to speak on behalf of the scientific community. Following production, all videotapes were versioned into the second language for playback. The tapes were then collected and played back to separate discussion groups of Inuit and government people. Each group could experience the tapes in their own language.

So rich was the material on the tapes that they were taken back to the communities for screening and discussion. People met in homes, schools, community halls and at social gatherings to watch, to learn and to comment. Over time major changes of attitude were seen to take place and people expressed a willingness to work together with government in resolution of problems around the Kaminuriak herd. Similarly biologists screened tapes. So impressed were they by the tone and content of Inuit knowledge that there was an agreement that a new understanding had been reached where both groups could work together.

Initially, the government extended an invitation to the Inuit leaders to sit on the already formed government committee. This invitation was rejected. Instead, Inuit leaders formed their own committee and invited government to sit with them. There was a realization that this was an important turning point in the debate and soon government agreed to abolish the old system and join the newly formed Inuit committee. Today, more than twenty years after that first initiative, the Beverly and Qamanirjuaq (Kaminuriak) Caribou Management Board is still operational; its website ( opening note is a testament to the enduring impact of that first intervention: 'Welcome to the Beverly and Quamanirjuaq Caribou Management Board, a group of hunters, biologists and wildlife managers working together to conserve Canada's vast Beverly and Qamanirjuaq caribou herds for the welfare of traditional caribou-using communities and others.'

We use this example, from almost forty years ago, to illustrate the power of Communication for Development. The story is compelling: you can see the Inuit and the biologists watching each other's videos. You can imagine how they began to change their understanding. You can appreciate how the medium (video) made it possible for each side to listen to the other's story in their own language without interruption – for once. The Kaminuriak Caribou Herd case shows how a cultural, social and economic disagreement between traditional users of resources and scientists was overcome. This is communication at its best.

A field known by many names

While we like to use such examples to introduce the term 'Communication for Development', we stress that this is only one approach among many variations and numerous definitions that go by that name. Like a chameleon, communication is embedded in international development. It changes colour to reflect the development thinking of the day: Development Support Communication, Development Communication, Communication for Human Development, Social Communication, Communication for Social Change, Strategic Communication – the list goes on.

These labels also work as markers of international development eras, each trying to capture its relevance and reflecting the dominant thinking of the day (Nederveen Pieterse, 2001). The term 'Communication for Development' was prominently used as the title of the first World Congress on Communication for Development (WCCD) in 2006 organized by the Communication Initiative, FAO and the World Bank. Now even this is being supplanted by the formulistic-sounding C4D (UNICEF) or DevCom (World Bank). The different names have caused exasperation and confusion among practitioners and students in this field. So, too, do the variety of communication approaches and methodologies that have emerged. One communication colleague mocked the confusion by drafting this fake letter:

Dear Professor

As a student of yours over the past year, I must confess that I am confused: I don't understand what the subject of your course is really all about. You are now talking about social communication.

Last week, it was communication for social change – I thought I knew what that was. By the way, which is correct: is it communication or communications, with an 's'? I'm really perplexed by that one.

I read the background literature you gave me and it refers to development communication, well not always, sometimes it's 'communication for development' or when I read that UNDP paper, it's 'development support communication'. I thought I understood what that was all about until I read Neill McKee's book. He said that communication for development (or was that development communication?) sometimes involves TRAINING. TRAINING, what's that got to do with communication?!!

Speaking of training, I understand that you are conducting a workshop on 'participatory communication' in June here in Ottawa. Is that the same as 'social communication' or is it more like 'communication for social change'?

I read the book by Kotler that you recommended. It was all about 'social marketing.' I learned that some communication practitioners sell social products and behaviours in the same way that Madison Avenue ad firms market fashion and cosmetics. Hey, that's a neat idea.

But then I went to the Johns Hopkins website and I really got confused. They were talking about using 'info-tainment' and 'enter-education' to control population growth. (Boy, I can't wait until I 'exit-education' – this is too confusing and a bit scary.)

I went to the World Bank for enlightenment and found many references to 'BCC' – Behavioural Change Communication. That has a World Bank ring to it, doesn't it? It reminded me a little of what I saw on CNN recently – how the US military used communication to convince Iraqi troops to surrender. But they called that 'PsyOps', Psychological Operations.

By the way, Professor, what is the difference between BCC and IEC? And while you're at, how do BCC and IEC relate to ICTs?

Your perplexed and bewildered student,

[Name withheld]

A bit of history

In the early 1970s, while Don Snowden was in Canada using video to foster dialogue and facilitate conflict-resolution, Nora Quebral, professor emeritus from the University of the Philippines and pioneer in this field, was applying communication techniques to disseminating agricultural information to poor farmers in the Philippines. Erskine Childers picked up the idea. Childers, an Irish communication specialist, brought the idea of development communication to the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and to UNICEF, through his successful work in combating bilharzia in Egypt. In the late 1960s Childers and Thai sociologist Mallica Vajrathon established the first UN-funded Development Communication Support Service for Asia in Bangkok (Fraser and Restrepo-Estrada, 1998).

Soon after, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) set up a Development Support Communication Branch at its headquarters in Rome. Since then, other UN organizations (UNICEF, UNFPA, WHO) have established development communication units supporting the dissemination and adoption of health practices. Often known as Information, Education and Communication (IEC), these initiatives have mobilized communities around childhood immunization, family planning and nutrition. UNESCO in particular emphasized the importance of the mass media and sought to enhance public service broadcasting.

At present, UN organizations and other donor agencies are pouring money into communication initiatives to combat the spread of HIV/ AIDS and eliminate polio. Development agencies, like the UK Department for International Development (DFID), are allocating funds for communication across all research projects. Each agency interprets communication to suit its particular interests. Come to think of it, we have two reasons to explain why the field goes by many names: academics and practitioners contest its theoretical foundations, and development agencies use it for different purposes. No wonder it is hard to explain.

In their book Communicating for Development (1998), Colin Fraser, the first head of FAO's communication for development unit, and Sonia Restrepo-Estrada, a Colombian communication specialist, provide what in our view is one of the more comprehensive definitions to date:

Communication for development is the use of communication processes, techniques and media to help people toward a full awareness of their situation and their options for change, to resolve conflicts, to work towards consensus, to help people plan actions for change and sustainable development, to help people acquire the knowledge and skills they need to improve their condition and that of society, and to improve the effectiveness of institutions. (Fraser and Restrepo-Estrada, 1998: 63)

What do we like about it? The definition begins by emphasizing process over product. It places techniques and media at the service of development where what counts is enhancing people's ability to manage their own lives. It acknowledges the different objectives that drive communication. It places communication for development squarely in support of another approach to development.

Entering the field: which door to choose?

We entered this field through work and applied projects in the field. Wendy got her start with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Canada and continued with an internship with Radio Sutatenza in Colombia in 1981. Ricardo began by making drawings with farmers about new agricultural practices – as it happens also in Colombia in 1983 – and went from there to work in the FAO unit in Rome. Each practitioner we know has a similar story: each has entered through a different door.

If you are a development planner, you will be interested in media management, how to connect with different audiences using different media combinations, how to develop a communication campaign. You will wonder what percentage of a project budget needs to be allocated to communication and how to evaluate its effectiveness. You will probably take a short course offered by a consultancy firm in this field.

If you are a field practitioner, you will be attracted to a specific medium and set of skills: video or digital photography, popular theatre, scriptwriting for radio or graphic art for printed materials. You might be attracted to participatory approaches where the audience is involved in both choosing the content and preparing the materials. You will be keen to try out different communication aids in support of training or using media to listen to what people already know. If you have a background in participation you will be pleased to discover an overlap with some communication approaches. The emphasis on learning what people already know is common to both. In communication we go a step further to investigate existing ways in which people already exchange information, and we are on the lookout for methods and media that can be improved or introduced.

If you are a journalist you may be wondering how to adapt your knowledge of radio and television into the development field. You might well think that producing a programme on a development theme is what it will take. Then you sit down and think through what it is you are actually trying to do and realize that providing information is but one step, among many, in a long process.

If you are a student at university, you will be introduced to the theoretical underpinnings and the foundational authors and books, such as Daniel Lerner's The Passing of Traditional Society: Modernizing the Middle East (1958); Everett Rogers's Diffusion of Innovations (1962); and Wilbur Schramm's Mass Media and National Development (1964) (see McAnany, 2008). No doubt you will discover the debate between diffusion and participation. You will be introduced to the many writings around the issue, culminating in the giant tome produced by the Communication for Social Change Consortium: an anthology with a collection of historical and contemporary teadings to take you on a journey from Bertolt Brecht to the present day (Gumucio-Dagron and Tufte, 2006).

No matter what door you use to enter, you will soon find that your role as a communication professional is that of understudy to the main star – water and sanitation, irrigation, natural resource management, health and so on. Often we are called in to 'fix' a problem when the first approach has not worked well. In development banks, communication is relegated to the back seat (Mefalopulos, 2008). Silvio Waisbord describes communication as always playing 'second fiddle' in international development (Waisbord, 2007). He dubs it a 'guest discipline' that functions in organizations pursuing other goals (health, agriculture etc.) and as such is seen as only offering tactical support. It commands, he says, as much respect as cocktail piano music among jazz cognoscenti.

So much communication and so little understanding

The irony in this field is that the word 'communication' has many interpretations. This leads to the confusion so evident in the letter to the professor. The different interpretations stem from a variety of myths: (i) communication can be improvised any time; (2) communication is the same as medium; (3) communication units in agencies have a clear mandate; (4) communication is about sending information; and (5) information will do the job. We have separated these for clarity although in reality they tend to merge. You will notice how each feeds on the other.


The idea of actually having to plan for a communication input, researching different audience perspectives and 'packaging' the message (or product) began to take hold in the mid-1960s. The world was by then used to the power of advertising, but the idea of using advertising techniques to market social change was a new concept. One of the many ideas borrowed from the commercial world was the need to research the intended audiences.

In the commercial world, the marketer must know the audience in order to gain some small advantage over the competition. He or she does not aim at an amorphous mass but learns a great deal about the audience – facts such as gender, ages, income levels, social class and lifestyles – in order to price and promote the product in a way that is consistent with these characteristics.

(McKee, 1992: 10)

McKee's example shows how the international development world adopted marketing methods for social development. Social marketing became popular among agencies and projects where behaviour change was the main purpose of their communication (Kotler and Roberto, 1989). This implied that the agency had something to 'sell' and the audience needed to listen and learn about the benefits of the idea. In some cases – the global polio eradication campaign, for example – it can work well when people understand the message, are willing to change behaviour (allow their child to be inoculated) and have easy access to a vaccination clinic. Even this does not always work, as we shall see later in the book. There are other cases – HIV/AIDS, for example – when this approach is much less effective, as described further in Chapter 7.


Excerpted from Communication for Another Development by Wendy Quarry, Ricardo Ramírez. Copyright © 2009 Wendy Quarry and Ricardo Ramírez. Excerpted by permission of Zed Books Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

About this book
1. Communication for development: Setting the scene
Part 1: What We Know
2. The meaning of Another Development
3. Planners and searchers: Two ways of doing development
4. Why communicators can't communicate
Part 2: What We Learned
5. Working in the grey zone
6. Early champions: Uncovering principles
7. New activists: Principles that travel
8. The forgotten context
Part 3: What We Can Do Differently
9. Training and negotiating in the grey zone: A collection of touchstones
10. Searching and listening: Good development breeds good communication
Postscript: Cultivating common sense on the farm

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