Communication and Development
by Michael Brown
Since the 1950's the role of information and communication in social development has been increasingly recognised, and increasingly questioned. In the 1960s debate centred upon the Global Information Flow; the unilateral flow of information from the 'developed' countries to the 'developing' countries. This primarily comprised of the western concept of journalism, western mass media, western communication technology, popular western culture and language, values and news. The dominant role of western media in news definition was seen as distorting and excluding authentic cultural values and expression from developing countries. This negative treatment of developing countries being ultimately transferred back to them through their dependence on western news agencies and technology. While the debate around the Global Information Flow continued, simultaneously there began to emerge the practice of development. In the aftermath of the Second World War, countries devastated by conflict began to rebuild. Stronger, richer governments sought not only to rebuild themselves internally, but to influence and control the development of poorer countries through aid programmes. Western non-governmental organisations (NGOs) also began to emerge to deliver poverty relief programmes; shifting their attention, a few decades later, from Europe to the so called 'Third World'. Within these social development programmes organisations like UNICEF advanced the role of communication and today 'Development Communication' is a recognised discipline both in academic circles with specialist journals and texts, and in practice. Attitudes towards Development Communication have changed over the decades, mirroring the way that attitudes to development theory and practice have changed. To understand the role of Development Communication it is necessary to understand the paradigms of development theory. Development theory can be broadly generalised under three paradigms; Mainstream Development, Alternative Development and Post-Development.
Mainstream Development is equated with economic development and growth and originally emerged as an attempt by richer countries of the Western World to economically advance poorer countries, raising the material standard of living synonymous with the lifestyles of people in richer countries. Mainstream Development typically included the creation of a stable democratic government, followed by government programmes to improve social conditions. Development interventions concentrated on developing economic growth at the national level, on the principle that benefits would 'trickle down' to disadvantaged levels of society too. Mass media was thought to be capable of compressing the time required for change and of increasing the impact of development programmes. Mass media was supposed to bring about in decades the economic and industrial growth that 'developed' western countries had achieved over centuries. The communication approach married to Mainstream Development evolved from mass media propaganda during the First World War and has been termed both the 'bullet theory' and the 'hypodermic needle', in which a Source sends a Message via a Channel to a Target Audience:This basic model of 'top-down' communication is inextricably linked to industrialisation, and economic growth. From the mid-18th century onwards in western societies, the Industrial Revolution led to the factory system, followed by urban migration and the growth of cities. The strong interpersonal bonds between people that characterised the pre-industrial communities were replaced by an impersonal life in the newly- industrialised societies. Sociologists termed these new communities 'mass society'. It was in these new societies that mass media flourished because its impact was not constrained by other competing social influences on individuals.
However, experiences in many countries showed that despite programmes aimed at economic growth, poverty and its related social problems continued to grow. The 'trickle down' effect did not work. This failure lead to the new paradigm of 'Alternative Development', which became the remit of the growing number of smaller independent non- governmental organisations and breakaway individual development practitioners. However Mainstream Development did not disappear but continued to exist, notably in the development policies of governments, often linked with multinational companies, and large institutionalised non-governmenal organisations, whose motive all along had been to create new markets to exploit for their own national economic wealth. While practitioners of Alternative Development set about grassroot bottom-up development, institutionalised NGOs and governments amended their mass media 'bullet theory' saying that communication had to become a two-way process:Communication planners introduced ways of gathering feedback to see what effects their mass media had produced, and thus, the linear 'bullet theory' became a communication cycle.
In fact, far from establishing a two-way communication exchange, this new communication approach gave even greater power to the Source because, by monitoring the Effects within the Target Audience the Source could adjust the Message or the channel until the desired Effects, predetermined by the Source, were produced. This is the basis of modern day advertising. Audiences within this model are no more participating in their own development than shoppers in tne high street are participating in the choice of goods on the shelf; we are told that market forces are driven by customer needs, but in reality advertising is busy telling us what our needs are.
Alternative Development and Post Development
Alternative Development centred upon concepts of empowerment and participation most notably evolved by paulo Freire in Latin America. The Pedagogy Of The Oppressed (1968) became a classical text for re-thinking development theory. Alternative Development rejected the preoccupation with economic growth in favour of an approach that empowered people to define their own development goals. Freire's Pedagogy articurales the problems of disempowered peopre facing oppression, and the powerful that cause the oppression. He says 'the great task that each individual, and each society, faces is to seek to know what it means to be human... The oppressors continue to dehumanise others while the oppressed struggle to recover their humanity. In order for this struggle to have meaning, the oppressors must not, in seeking to regain their humanity... become in turn oppressors of the oppressed, but rather restorers of the humanity of both... Attempting to liberate the oppressed without their reflective participation in the act of liberation is to treat them as objects which must be saved from a burning building; it is to lead them into the populist pitfall and transform them into masses which can be manipulated.'
The methodology and values of Alternative Development became widely and diversely practised. Indeed, at different levels they were absorbed back into parts of Mainstream Development. The suspicion that Alternative Development has been polluted by traditional economic- growth based Mainstream Development has contributed to a further paradigm, namely Post-Development. The fundamental principle of Post- Development is that it is not interested in development alternatives, but is an alternative to development itself. It is not an evolution of the past but a complete break, with an aversion to any external control, including mass media, that pull people into a global economy. Robert Chambers, a leading contemporary development practitioner, talks of Post- Development as a concept of well-being and personal responsibility. When well-being is qualified with equity and sustainability it becomes responsible well-being. Responsibility has proportion to wealth and power; the wealthier and more powerful you are the greater the potential impact of your actions or inactions. Responsible well-being recognises obligations to others, both alive now and future generations. The object of development is responsible well-being by all, and for all. Responsible well-being places emphasis upon the need for the wealthy and powerful to change. In reference to Freire's work Chambers remarks that what is needed now is a pedagogy of the non-oppressed to think and act differently. So, Post-Development is not about changing others, but is about changing ourselves.
In the first two development paradigms described above, communication and media have played a role in trying to change and influence recipients/participants of development programmes. Development organisations also use communication to advocate for change on behalf of the disadvantaged, and to promote themselves as organisations and raise funds. Today, there are thousands of development organisations all engaged in development programmes both within communites of their own country, and overseas. All have different priorities, different depths of experience, and a different mix of ethos drawn from the development paradigms described. Most governments and large institutionalised NGOs are fixed in the paradigm of mainstream economic development and their communication reflects national propaganda and the advancement of national economic interest. For example, communication produced by Britain's Department For International Development often seems more concerned with the contribution made by British industry to the 'developing' world than of the people who are supposed to benefit. Ironically, many NGOs who are supposed to have broken away into Alternative Development don't appear to have a clear understanding of their own standpoint and this is particularly apparent in their use of development communication, both within actual development programmes, and within their publicity and fund-raising material.
Theory into Practice
I have worked in development communication for 10 years. My progression to Post-Development inclinations came about, not through reading a text book, but through living within disadvantaged communities. I changed from being a 'message producer' to try and become a 'communication facilitator'. In inner-city Kathmandu I worked with a group of young people who were frustrated by their lack of life- opportunities. Together we decided to explore whether communication could stimulate a process of change. We began by using photography as a brainstorming tool. Group members gathered together cameras from family and friends, and a motley assortment of mostly Russian and Chinese cameras emerged. A local photographer in the community gave some simple training, following which the group members spent a week taking pictures of all the things they felt represented problems in their lives. They developed their films in the local bazaar and met to talk about problems depicted in their images. All in all, 35 problems were identified, ranging from piles of rubbish on the streets, to deep rooted gender discrimination. Using their photographs as reference material the group organised a meeting with their community elders, who were seen by the young people as being the main enforcers of cultural gender discrimination. A dialogue began within the community where issues were openly questioned. The group went on to use community drama and community video to initiate wider discussion about gender discrimination, instigating a process of change from within their community of which they themselves were a part. It is important to recognise that photography, drama and video were neither an end in themselves, nor simply ways of putting across a message, but were catalysts of dialogue. Reflecting Freire's principles the group did not seek to overcome their problems by becoming more powerful than their oppressors, but to engage them in a dialogue to restore the humanity of both. I developed the following model to represent this use of communication which I call Community-Centred Dialogue. It is in stark contrast to communication models based upon source, message and audience.
There has long been a debate about the use of negative imagery by development organisations. some organisations like OXFAM and Save The Children Fund are very careful not to use negative imagery, of starving children for example, because such images reinforce stereotypes of dependency and helplessness that are detrimental to the goal of promoting respect and equality. Other organisations deliberately use such imagery, especially in fund-raising appeals, because they say that positive images don't bring in money. This debate is only relevant where organisations continue to speak on behalf of others. When organisational communication truly becomes an integral part of users group empowerment, it is the people who decide how they, and their issues, are presented.
My experiences of working within disadvantaged communities has transformed my approach to working with development organisations engaged in their own advocacy and fund-raising. This applies not only to overseas development organisations, but those who address social problems in Britain and Ireland. Too often, I believe, organisations involved in community empowerment within grassroot programmes either don't see the need, do not know how, or choose not to make their own organisational communication an integral part of the empowerment of disadvantaged and oppressed groups. In failing to do this, they instate themselves as a 'Source' and then speak on behalf of others by sending out their 'Messages'. The macro-level Global Information Flow debate, touched on at the beginning of this article, then becomes an issue at the micro level with the danger that authentic expression and values from disadvantaged groups become distorted and excluded by organisational editing and 'gate keeping'. Over the past 16 months I have worked with residents of Simon Community Northern lreland, raising awareness about homelessness. Using the process of Community-Centred Dialogue, participants have produced their own photography, video, radio- programmes and stage plays in order to build group identity, explore their own understanding of homelessness, and engage parts of the wider society in Northern lreland in a process to bring about a change in themselves and in those who perpetuate problems of homelessness. Significantly, this includes Simon Community NI itself because in the past communication has been more typical of Mainstream Development with the organisation speaking on behalf of homeless people, at times even using images of homeless people taken from photo libraries. Over the past year, residents have used communication to activate a new consciousness which is not only liberating Simon Community's communication ethos, but has the potential to enrich the organisation and engage staff and the wider community in their own process of reflection and change.
I concur with Chamber's principle of responsible well-being and the need for a pedagogy of the non-oppressed. Development, or rather 'Post- Development' is a process where people increase their awareness of their situation and their potential, with the outcome that they can take greater control over their lives and environment in a better way. This is not something done to others but something we participate in, and it is important that, within development organisations, communication approaches reflect this. But on a broader canvass, to live in society is to be part of the Post-Development world and this raises questions for all areas of communication. So much of mainstream media, advertising and journalism is still a Source, Message, Audience affair. While this continues to be the case, we, in our society, reject our own liberation through responsible well-being. More than that, we ignore our responsi bi lity towards other societites, oppressed and non-oppressed, who cannot liberate themselves without our participation.