Communication for Development is an interdisciplinary field of study and practice, combining studies on culture, communication and development and integrating them with practical field work. It explores the use of communication – both as a tool and as a way of articulating processes of social change – within the contexts of globalization.
In this programme, where the form of study strives to be conducive to the course content, progression lies in the group dynamic process as well as in the coursework itself. The multidisciplinary nature of the subject means that the same content should provide in-depth knowledge for students with different backgrounds. One major point of this pedagogical approach is to bring together different experiences. The group diversity should allow students to deepen their knowledge of their own major as well as gain a sufficient overview based on the academic backgrounds and practical experiences of other students. This will allow them to be able to work both interdisciplinary and transculturally in their future professions.
You can find out more about this master’s program on http://www.edu.mah.se/HACFD/
What is the relationship between development communication and the emerging, influential nexus of communication for social change, and where does social communication fit in?
Regardless of what one calls it, communication and media strategies have been utilized in development cooperation for well over sixty years. From an early emphasis on mass media in agricultural extension work, communication for development has grown to encompass a wide array of approaches and methodologies, and has gradually increased in stature to become a key driver of contemporary debates in development. Initially, communication interventions were largely oriented around the use of mass media, and existed within a principally modernizing, top-down and technocratic paradigm. Among other complex forces at play, the New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO) debates in the ’70s and ’80s and the rise of critical and alternative approaches to development stretched the definition of the field. In addition to mass media, practitioners began to evaluate the need for richer interpersonal communciation approaches that highlight the importance of power and culture in the success of development initiatives.
Dialogue, participation and the sharing of knowledge
Some of the most significant changes to global development cooperation have come about as a result of this critical field of study. As a discipline, Communication for Development embraces a broad range of functions and practices which centre around dialogue, participation and the sharing of knowledge and information, all with a view to creating empowerment and sustainable social change. Development communication is no longer an emerging discipline but one which has established itself as an integral part of development planning. Labelled part science, part craft and part art, its multidisciplinary nature draws on aspects of anthropology, sociology, psychology and the behavioural sciences, and its implementation depends on flexibility, creativity and an understanding of communication processes. An awareness of the role media and communication have to play in development cooperation and diversity management have transformed the way development is perceived, mapped and implemented, and the field has pioneered some of the most ground-breaking improvements in global development undertakings. As the recent surge in new communications technologies demonstrates, it is not the tools themselves that make good communication, but rather a rich and theoretically informed understanding of the political, social and cultural contexts in which media and communications interventions occur.
Despite the fact that every year vast amounts of money are donated to developing countries, the chasm between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ continues to widen as billions of people around the world continue to live without running water, sanitation, adequate nutrition or access to basic education.
While the poor and the marginalised have always been at the centre of development, they have been the subjects rather than the objects of communication as traditional development practices overlooked a fundamental truism: that the poor, themselves, are often the best experts on their needs. Marginalised communities, historically denied access to communication tools and channels, have traditionally been passive bystanders to their so-called development as top-down, one-sided mass communication programmes delivered information without taking into account the very important specificities of context – the cultural norms and beliefs, knowledge and folklore of target populations, and how these impact the uptake of information and the potential for social change. Due to this lack of participation by target communities, most development programmes failed to achieve their goals, and a dramatic shift in paradigm was necessary to improve the efficacy and sustainability of development cooperation methods.
Social processes rooted in the communities
This shift towards participatory social processes, rooted in the customs and traditions of communities themselves, is the most fundamental premise of communication for development. Participatory processes aim to utilise cultural specificity as a tool rather than an obstacle, starting at ‘grass-roots’ level and developing methods which are grounded that take local and indigenous knowledge seriously. These processes comprise an interchange of knowledge and information, empowering individuals to make choices for themselves, and place communication at the forefront of the planning process while at the same time feedback and consultative processes ensure that communication is ongoing and efficacy is maximised. Through the creation of ‘bottom-up’ processes, individuals become fundamental initiates in development schemes, a factor which is strongly linked to their long-term sustainability.
ComDev adresses the gap
As the divide between the ‘connected’, developed world and developing countries grows, so does the need for new, innovative methods for addressing global inequality increase, and Communication for Development is the field devoted to the study and implementation of these processes. The power of media and the potential of Information Communication Technology (ICT) to educate and to address global crises such as the spread of HIV have led to exciting and creative innovations in development cooperation, and this dynamic field continues to grow and develop. As globalisation and the development of ICTs change world markets and pose an increasing threat to developing countries and their more vulnerable communities, practitioners schooled in contemporary mass communication theories and concepts have become a vital part of development across the globe.
Despite the wider acceptance of community-driven and participatory approaches to development by large multilateral and bilateral development agencies, the field continues to struggle for institutionalization, and to be granted sufficient resources by managers and funding agencies.
In the past ten years, however, there have been signs that communication for development is making headway and being taken increasingly seriously. From donor support of the Communication Initiative – the largest Web-based portal for academics and practitioners in this area – to the 2006 World Congress on Communication for Development held in Rome, the field is gaining in recognition and legitimacy. Still, many working in this field arrive at their posts with disparate academic preparation and skills, and professional titles that vary widely. While students of journalism, social communication or those pursuing specializations within traditional social science disciplines could study aspects of this field, for the majority of ComDev’s history, adequate academic training programmes did not exist.
The New Communicator
This lack of preparation for what Alfonso Gumucio-Dagron calls the ’new communicator’ – one who combines a unique synthesis of personal traits and academic training – has played a part in perpetuating the conceptual confusion that still exists among development practitioners around the boundaries and definitions of communication (read Gumicio-Dagron’s article here). Often ’communication’ is seen principally as the means of planning and disseminating institutional messages, while in many organizations, development communication is a catch-all term covering public relations, publication of development project outcomes, and brand management for the organization. The move toward utilizing communication and media tools as programmatic elements – where trained communicators are central to development – may still seem far-fetched to many development programme managers, but this is changing, due in large part to the pioneering work of several communication for development graduate programmes, the first of which was started by Nora Quebral at the University of the Philippines Los Baños in 1971.
ComDev Malmö is accessible to students unable to relocate
While this and a handful of other programmes have served as regional, and to some extent, international catalysts for the development of the field and continue to train competent practitioners, in 2000 Malmö University was the first to pioneer the use of an Internet-based distance-learning platform to make the education available to students globally. With its mix of online collaboration and discussion, paired with Webcast seminars held in Sweden, the ComDev course continues to this day to stand alone as the only graduate programme accessible to students unable to relocate for the purpose of education.
Since the entire course can be conducted over the internet (including the seminars) students from all corners of the globe can participate, work in their own time and attain this specialised education. Taking advantage of the latest developments in ICT, what makes ComDev extremely innovative is its use of the Live Lecture function in its seminars where students, equipped with microphones and webcams, are able to participate in lectures and discussions online, resulting in a ‘virtual classroom’ scenario. This way, students in New Zealand and South Africa can communicate and work on projects with classmates in Fiji and India, sharing ideas, gathering input and working together towards the common goal of improving development practices.
ComDev fosters teamwork
As a relatively new degree, students embarking on this specialised course have the advantage of being schooled in the latest theories and philosophies, while being given the opportunity to apply these theories and concepts to real-life projects and problems in human development through individual assignments and group projects. Geared as it is towards individuals working in the fields of journalism, media and development, ComDev fosters teamwork and facilitates the exchange of knowledge and perspectives between participants.
Final project and field-work
The final project, required of all students, has always been an important element of the course, and this remains unchanged in the new programme. Over the past 10 years, students of ComDev have had the opportunity to apply what they have learned theoretically to a broad range of contexts and scenarios in the process of completing their projects, and field-work has been conducted in India, South Africa, Mozambique, Kenya, Croatia and Sarajevo, to name but a few. During their project work, students have the opportunity to explore a particular research area or topic of concern at a deeper level, and the accompanying written dissertation provides a fantastic opportunity to consolidate and further the knowledge and skills gained in the course. This project work also demonstrates a solid foundation in research, which will aid those students who wish to continue into doctoral level studies. In choosing the topic for their projects, students are free to ‘think outside the box’, and employ innovation and creativity to their field-work endeavours, and project works have included documentaries, short films, photo essays, and a wide array of dissertations presented in interesting and original ways. Students are also encouraged to join forces and collaborate on projects, as team-work is regarded as a vital part of effective development cooperation.
The global demand for media and communication skills continues to increase as organisations such as UNICEF have made it a policy to hire ComDev practitioners, not only for international development schemes, but for diversity management and other forms of transcultural cooperation.
The UN Inter-Agency Round Table of Communication for Development has played a big role in institutionalising the field by bringing together UN agencies and international partners to discuss and debate the broad, challenging and essential role of Development Communication has to play in worldwide development cooperation. The 11th United Nations Inter-Agency Roundtable on Communication for Development had as its theme “Moving Communication for Development up the International Development Agenda: Demonstrating Impact and Strengthening the Institutional Position” (read more about it here), prioritising the implementation of a common strategy for making communication a fundamental component of development. UNESCO recognises the importance of communication, and has included it as part of its mandate and vision, integrating communication in its policies, budget and hiring policy, reflecting the growing need for skilled communication professionals.
As is evident from the alumni profiles provided in these pages, ComDev practitioners end up working in a truly diverse variety of settings. Some of the UN agencies placing hiring ads seek ‘communication for development’ practitioners by name. More commonly, though, practitioners are working in positions such as information or communications officer, where their roles may include a variety of tasks, not all of which would be strictly considered ComDev. Some practitioners are able to make a living as consultants working on projects with NGOs and CSOs, bilateral aid programs (such as Sida or DFID), or with the UN and World Bank. Since skills, knowledge and aptitudes gained through an education in ComDev are relevant to a variety of job functions within the development sector, you may also find alumni working in a range of allied positions, such as conflict resolution positions or as a learning and outcomes coordinator, to name but a few.
As communication for development and social change continue to cohere, new themes and problems emerge, and some of the most pressing issues of the day demand the skills and perspective offered by ComDev thinking.
The ØRECOMM consortium, launched in 2008 as a collaborative endeavor of Malmö University and Roskilde University, provides an interesting window into the future of the field. In its incubation as a cutting-edge knowledge exchange between two countries that are leaders in progressive development cooperation, the ØRECOMM consortium has identified key emerging issues in the field that require further research:
A series of new development challenges are now becoming growing fields of action where communication for development, empowerment and social change have a role to play. The growing focus upon climate change and sustainable development is rapidly becoming a massive area of action, but still with scarce research being conducted. Equally incipient is peace communication (which is the use of communication and media in preventing and mitigating conflicts) as well as ‘human security communication’ which, on one hand, is a cross-sectoral area and on the other hand is connected particularly to the discourse around ‘war against terrorism’ and the socially and culturally polarising processes articulated by that discourse.
Leading researchers and practitioners in the field continue, as well, to explore the sustainability of social change initiatives. Jan Servaes, one of ComDev’s leading academics and exponents, recently formed Communication for Sustainable Social Change, an independent center at the University Massachusetts at Amherst, his academic home. This center has convened a conference in Bangkok in December, 2010, in order to gather global thinkers who will consider the future trends in the field. While ComDev practitioners will continue to recommend and implement a variety of appropriately chosen mass media and more participatory processes in their work, creative new thinking is required to reconcile the field’s emphasis on qualitative evaluation with funders’ preferences for quantitative and linear data. As an important element of rendering sustainable and accountable ComDev interventions, practitioners continually need to advocate for a realistic assessment of the costs, time and evaluation methodologies needed to successfully develop programmes with intended social change outcomes.