Talking C4D

C4D and I hit it off fast and hard. Towards the end of my undergraduate studies, I was struggling to decide if I want to pursue my interest in conflict and development or return to my roots in photography and media. This is when I came across a simple sentence: “C4D is part art, part craft, and part science” on Malmö University’s website. Suddenly, I no longer had to decide between my creative ambition, my communication skills and my academic interests. C4D felt like a magic solution that was just made for me.

However, the deeper I dug the less I felt that I actually understand what C4D is. Even the word itself became a riddle. Am I really interested in C4D? Or rather in Media for Development? How is this different from Media for Social Change? What about Development Communication? DevCom? ComDev?

As if this was not confusing enough, each of these conceptualizations came with its own set of sub-categories: Linje Manyozo differentiates between Media for Development, Media Development and Participatory Community Communication. Martin Scott agrees with Media Development but adds Media for Development, Participatory Communication in Development and Media Representations of Development to the equation. Thomas Tufte takes a chronological approach and came up with a three-generation model. Meanwhile, June Lennie and Jo Tacchi make their life easy and swing along with the UN’s definition of C4D strands: Communication for Social Change, Communication for Advocacy and Strengthening Media.


We should try harder

According to Scott (2014): “there is a strong sense within the C4D community that the field is unfairly neglected in international development interventions” (p.3). Let’s be honest: It is pretty easy to neglect a field that scares you away with a jungle of acronyms and differing definitions.

But is that really a problem? Can’t we just be happy floating in our C4D bubble alongside a handful of other C4D practitioners who actually know what we are talking about? Should our colleagues from other sections of development really care what we are doing? I mean as long as there is funding we can just keep doing our isolated communication projects and make everyone happy if we drop a nice promotional video that they can share on social media, right?  Wrong!


Screenshots of Quotes about C4D in the Practical Manual published by the Swiss Development Cooperation


C4D was never intended as isolated communication projects. Instead, it can, and it should be embedded into all stages of development projects, whether they deal with community mobilization, conflict transformation or public health care.

In his article “Cognitive dissonance: an unspoken qualification for aid work?” John Favini, a young professional in the development sector recalls how hard it was to explain what he was doing to a barber in his hometown. If it is already so hard to talk about your work in development aid, imagine how hard it is to talk about what the hell you are doing as a communication for development professional. At the lack of one simple, continent and all-encompassing definition, over time we all develop our own ways of talking about C4D (or however you want to call it). Here is how my coauthors from the Quartet4Development explain C4D, I think they are doing a pretty good job:


Maia: Communication for Development has many definitions and applications; one example is using communication tools to change behaviors and social norms for progress toward development goals in the global South.

Jamie: Comdev can be many things but includes NGOs talking about their work to the public but also their work in using media/communication to assist development projects.

Alex: C4D is when you use communications tools (eg traditional and new media, print materials) to help you reach development objectives anywhere in the world


I for one noticed that people in the development sector become way more interested when you give them concrete examples of what C4D can be in practice. “Ahhhhh” they say, “so it’s like when we did that project where we …!”. Turns out many people are doing C4D without actually knowing it.


Find Own Understanding of C4D – and Keep Talking about it!

Over time, I developed a repertoire of simple examples that help me to explain what C4D is. You can read about some of these practices in my last blog “4 C4D Practices that make you a Smart Advocate”. But be aware, these four examples are by no means representative of the full spectrum of C4D practices. As you can see in the answers of my colleagues from the Quartet, each of us has different things in mind when we think of a C4D intervention. Maia, is into behavior change communication, while Jamie likes communicating development and Alex is mostly interested in advocacy communication. Our ideas depend on our background and the issues we aim to tackle with these communication tools. Therefore, these four C4D practices serve merely as an inspiration for you to be creative within your own niche.

Just like with choosing examples that represent C4D to you, finding the right guide to understand the field is a highly personal quest. Those who are hungry for theory might turn to Mayozo’s “Media, Communication and Development”. Others may value the UN’s interagency guide to Communication for Development. I personally found many of the answers I was looking for in this beautiful handbook by the Swiss Development Cooperation.

Ultimately, it might not so bad that C4D has no ridged “one fits them all” definition. After all, this is what makes it such a diverse and inclusive field that we can each approach from an angle that best fits our skills, interests and understanding of development at large. What is important is that we, as C4D practitioners find ways in which we can convey our passion for this unique field and keep advocating for a better integration of C4D, ComDev or whatever we may call it, into each phase of development projects.


What do you think? How do you explain the field to your friends family and coworkers? Let us know in the comments below!


Offline Sources

Lennie, June and Jo Tacchi (2011) United Nations Inter-agency Resource Pack on Research, Monitoring and Evaluation in Communication for Development. PDF

Manyozo, Linje (2012) “Media, Communication and Development: Three Approaches”. London: Sage

Scott, Martin (2014) “Media and Development”. London: Zed Books

Tufte, Thomas (2017) Communication and Social Change: A Citizen Perspective. Cambridge Polity


  1. Maia Barmish

    This is such a useful, concise overview of the mini moment of panic I get before explaining to people what my master’s is in. It’s so tough — but this gives me food for thought. Thanks!

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