Participatory Communication

The discourse of participatory communication gathered momentum in 1970s as dissatisfaction mounted with top- down communication approaches to social change. However although all the participation is communication driven, not all the forms of communication are participatory. In fact participatory communication means working with and mainly by the people, as opposed to working on or working for the people.

Participatory versus non-Participatory Strategies

  • Horizontal lateral communication between participants vs  Vertical top down communication from senders to receivers
  • Process of dialogue vs Campaign to mobilise in short term without capacity building
  • Long term process of change vs Short term planning and quick fix solution
  • Collective empowerment and decision making vs Individual behaviour change
  • With community involvement vs for the community
  • Specific in content, culture, language vs Massive and broad based
  • People needs are the focus vs Donors’ must are the focus
  • Owned by community vs Access determined by social and political and economic factors
  • Consciousness raising vs Persuasion for short term

Source Gumucio Dagron (2001)

In 1990s the new consensus has put participation at the center stage of social initiatives. I will risk oversimplification now, but there seems to be two approaches to participatory communication. One is drawn on the dialogic pedagogy of Brazilian educator, Paolo Freire and the second one is shaped by the UNESCO New World Information Order debates from 1970. To Paolo Freire dialogic pedagogy enhanced the role of a ‘teacher as learner’ and ‘learner as teacher’, where learning is never ending and fully transformative process. True participation for transformation and social change does not involve subject –object relationship but subject-to-subject one. However Castells (1997) criticises Freire’s concept of information as too simplistic and linked to oppression, rather then a re -centring a traditional central -peripheral power dynamics. He is also criticised for the universalisation of the oppressed and oppressor as it ignores the nature of the connections between those two categories and it victimises the oppressed local people (Srinivasan, 2006).  Although existing criticism , Freire opens up the new ways of perceiving development , not as information transfer , but a process where communities develop and articulate their own visions and goal of information access (Srinivasan, 2006).

Castells M(1997) The power of identity. Oxford: Blackwell
Freire P (1970) Pedagogy of oppressed. NY: Continuum
Gumucio Dagron (2001) Making waves – Stories of participatory communication for social change. New York: The Rockefeller Foundation
Singhal, Harter, Chitnis & Sharma (2007) Participatory photography as theory method and praxis, Critical Arts 21 (1)
Srinivasan R (2006) Where Information Society and Community Voice Intersect, The Information Society 22 (5)

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