Breaking the barriers of under-development through communication for dev’t

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Tehn-Lennox AKPETEY

Any nation that wants to attain desirable development must make use of effective communication which is a major tool of mobilisation. Every development programme/project has a communication strategy.

Several scholars have posited that any reasonable growth and desirable development may be an elusive fantasy without a good development communication strategy. There are steps in designing a communication strategy for every project. These steps help in finding solutions to any development problem.

The following are the steps in a communication road map to change.

  1. Become acquainted with the situation and stakeholders

This requires reviewing available documentation and conducting interviews with relevant individuals or groups that have a stake in the problem you want to solve. This is where you identify with the various stakeholders of the intended project, i.e, mothers, children, religious leaders, the community leadership, the district, regional and national political stakeholders, donors, NGOs.

  1. Build trust and engage stakeholders in exploring and assessing the situation

This is where the genuine field research begins by engaging stakeholders to build trust and mutual understanding. Engaging the stakeholders through participatory communication is the surest bet to getting them involved in the project. Once they are part of the decision-making process, it becomes necessary for them to own the project. This helps in sustaining the project because even in your absence, they are available to monitor the progress of work.

  1. Identify, analyse, and rank challenges, problems, risks, and opportunities

Communication is used to uncover risks and opportunities while probing stakeholders’ knowledge and perceptions about the main problem. This is where your communication prowess comes to the fore. You identify the problems, the challenges that you may face in solving the crisis. You also have to identify the opportunities that you can use to enhance the progress of the project.

  1. Analyse causes of major problems/challenges, taking into account different perspectives

A communication specialist is expected to identify the main causes of the problem that need to be solved. Looking at the causes is often more important than accurately defining the main problem because to be successful, the solutions devised need to address the root cause of a problem rather than the problem itself.

  1. Define best options and viable solutions

Where viable options and solutions are assessed and identified in terms of best choices.

  1. Transform the solutions into SMART objectives

Step 6 is critical because based on all relevant data from the previous steps it aims to transform the top Solutions identified into smart objectives that are specific measurable attainable realistic and timely. This marks the end of the research phase or CBA and the beginning of the strategy design phase.

  1. Define and position relevant sciences or stakeholder groups

Requires the definition of primary and secondary audiences of the communication strategy, taking into account their background, knowledge, opinions and ways of life and other relevant information collected in the Communication Based Assessment (CBA).

  1. Define the level/type of intended change

The communication specialist defines the level of change that is targeted by the communication strategy. it is necessary to make absolutely clear the type of change that communication is expected to achieve. it can be knowledge, behaviour, among others. whatever it is it should be defined clearly at this point as each type requires different communication approaches.

  1. Select communication model(s) and approaches

This is concerned with the selection of the communication approaches which are naturally linked with the type of change you want to achieve. Social marketing, information dissemination and community mobilisation are some of the most frequent approaches.

  1. Select appropriate channels and media

The communication specialist can proceed to select the right media and channels for the intended objectives this decision is taken resuming collected during the research phase. The channel here refers to the communication channel ie radio, television, online, community radio, drama and skit etc. A similar approach is required for message design

  1. Package content themes and/or design messages

To be effective messages must be developed having in mind the audience’s needs and ways of thinking. The design of the message no matter how creative should be derived from local stakeholders’ worldview not from that of the specialist. One of the reasons why most development projects fail in this part of the world is due to development /development communication specialists assuming they know more than the stakeholders.

  1. Sustainable change (action plan implementation)

While each step can be different according to the situation and the objective of the initiative most of the time the main teeth to remember is to make sure to analyse the issues properly and not to assume that the best technical solution guarantees the highest rate of success. Quite often sustainable change is about social ownership and local knowledge.

Evaluation is a crucial aspect of development communication interventions; a field still being challenged to demonstrate its value-added with hard data. Measuring and evaluating the impact of social interventions is never simple and in the case of development communication, becomes more difficult, and complex, mostly because of the broader functions of communication.

Why assess programme impact

The reason for conducting evaluation are numerous: to monitor the process and take corrective actions where possible; to learn from past mistakes and make future interventions more effective, to ensure the accountability of the resources dedicated to the initiative and most importantly, to be able to assess, demonstrate and quantify the effectiveness of the intervention.

>>>The writer is a development communication consultant. He can be reached on [email protected]

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