Chin Saik Yoon
T he participatory communication approach was conceived more than two decades ago. Since then its principles have enjoyed increasing influence over the work of development communicators. Today, these principles drive t he work of a significant number of communicators from the NGOs, and, to a lesser extend, the programmes of government agencies.
The roots of participatory approaches in development communication can be found in the early years of the 1970s when many people in the development community began to question the top-down approach of development dominant in the 1950s and 60s which target ed the economic growth of countries as its main goal. During these two decades the success of the developed countries was held-up as the model to aspire to. Development was thought to be triggered by the wide-scale diffusion and adoption of modern technol ogies. Such modernization was planned in the national capitals under the guidance and direction of experts brought-in from developed countries. Often, the people in the villages who are the "objects" of these plans would first learn that "development" was on the way when strangers from the city turned-up, frequently unannounced, to survey land or look at project sites.
Mass communication played an important role in promoting "modernization" to the people. The radio was one of the main instruments used. National leaders, bureaucrats, and experts broadcasted passionately from the cities about the wonderful differences whi ch the adoption of new and foreign ideas would bring to the lives of the people. They talked at length about methods of farming the land, cures for diseases, importance of sending children to school, advantages of having fewer children, desirability of h aving a stable government, and so on. The mobile cinema-van also became a common sight in the villages It was one of the more popular diversions in rural communities because these vans commonly screened cartoons and comic films first so as to draw the cro wds to watch the news-reels and agricultural extension productions which followed later. It was a powerful tool. It demonstrated graphically the wonders of modern science. It showed the beautiful homes and cars of rich Western farmers, and projected the i mage, voice and charisma of aspiring political leaders. The private sector soon followed suit and sent their own vans to entertain with other cartoons and comedy shows, and most importantly for the companies to screen their advertisements for their wares. Government extension workers trained in the towns became the front-line communicators repeating to farmers in their fields what they had just been taught in the towns. Posters, leaflets and other publications made-up another important instrument used as a part of this approach. It became known as Development Support Communication; a term coined by FAO. The approach had a wide following because much of the earlier development efforts in the South were aimed at farmers. (Read Rogers:1983 )
The overall approach to modernizing the developing world eventually ran into problems. Experts learnt that development was not restricted to just building roads, piping water, and distributing electricity. Nor was it limited to increasing farm yields per hectare nor switching farmers over to cash crops. Many of the agricultural extension projects failed because farmers were reluctant to abandon their time-tested ways for strange new methods. They were also nervous about planting exotic crops which they co uld not eat but had to sell for money with which to buy food from the market . When piped water arrived, it was frequently used for washing rather than drinking and cooking because the people disliked its flavour. The people were asked to stop believing i n spirits and demons and place their trust in science which said things called "germs", which the eyes can not see but is the main cause of most sicknesses and pain. They had also to remember another thing called "nitrogen" which again is invisible but wh ich affects the yield of crops. Didn't all this sound like just another form of witchcraft.?
Over-riding the alien information communicated to the people was a bigger problem. Because the development had been centrally planned without any consultation with people, wrong solutions were often pumped down to startled communities. High yielding rice varieties were pushed when the real problem was the low price of the commodity. Farmers were given detailed instructions on improving soil of land that they did not own and which they were at constant risk of being evicted from. Mothers were lectured on t he bliss of two-child families when fathers were bent on having at least six children to help work the land and tend to the livestock.
Central planning also deprived people of ownership of local development plans. Development became the responsibility of the government. Whereas in the past, farmers would collectively maintain traditional water sharing systems, they became side-lined by w orkers of irrigation authorities who built new channels and dictated the release and termination of water supply. Eventually when the irrigation channels broke down farmers, believing that the system did not belong to them, just waited for these same work ers to turn-up to repair them rather than fix the problem themselves. If they did not, the system was abandoned.
The expensive failures of the top-down, mechanistic approach were noticed in the cities. Activists began to loudly criticize them as focused on the symptoms, not root causes of poverty. They were appalled by the arrogant top-down communication which fract ured fragile developing communities by under-mining indigenous knowledge, beliefs and social systems. They were also furious with development plans which catered more to the interests of the city elites than the people in the villages.
In the meanwhile, other activists started to question the basis of the modernization approach. They said that the solution to under-development did not pivot around the adoption of Western technologies . Instead it rested on the way the whole world was st ructured where the developed countries (also the former imperial powers) progressed and benefited at the expense of the poorer countries (also the former colonies). The developed countries were more powerful than the developing countries and the later had to depend on the former for its well-being.
At the macro-level, the dependency debate led to mass communicators making serious efforts at rerouting information flows-away from the traditional gate-keeping junctions located in London, Paris, Madrid and New York. Third world news networks were establ ished and articles written by people from developing countries for themselves.
Ascendency of Participatory Approaches
The reaction against modernization (and to some extent the realization of global structural imbalances) gave birth to various participatory approaches. They shared the common intent of actively involving people who were the "subjects" of development in s haping the process. But in most cases this is where similarity ends and a diversity of differences begin. People's participation became defined in many different ways and this in turn led to numerous unresolved disagreements.
Generally, four different ways of participation can be observed in most development projects claiming to be participatory in nature (Uphoff:1985). They are:
- Participation in implementation: People are actively encouraged and mobilized to take part in the actualization of projects. They are given certain responsibilities and set certain tasks or required to contribute specified resources.
- Participation in evaluation: Upon completion of a project, people are invited to critique the success or failure of it.
- Participation in benefit: People take part in enjoying the fruits of a project, this maybe water from a hand-pump, medical care by a "bare-foot doctor", a truck to transport produce to market, or village meetings in the new community hall.
- Participation in decision-making: People initiate, discuss, conceptualize and plan activities they will all do as a community. Some of this may be related to more common development areas such as building schools or applying for land tenure. Other s may be more political, such as removing corrupt officials, supporting parliamentary candidates, or resisting pressures from the elites. Yet others may be cultural or religious in nature--organizing a traditional feast, prayers for an end to the drought, and a big party just to have a good time.
Some development initiatives provide people with opportunities to all these four ways of participation. Many do not, and restrict participation to one or two ways.
Most will agree that participation in decision-making is the most important form to promote. It gives people control of their lives and environment. At the same time the people acquire problem solving skills and acquire full ownership of projects--two imp ortant elements which will contribute towards securing the sustained development of their community.
The other three forms of participation--participation in implementation, evaluation and benefit--have been criticised as being false participation by those who believe that participation in decision-making is fundamental and indispensable to the approach. They feel that people are being manipulated through these three forms of pseudo-participation to accept plans made by other more powerful people.
Others who disagree argue that the three ways allow people to build-up capacity to participate in decision-making. They also feel that prematurely mobilizing people to make their own decisions and chart their own development can put the people at risk of conflict with powerful interests and jeopardize their safety. They sometimes go on to say that groups who mobilize people in this way are actually manipulating them towards conflict.
A number of governments of Asian countries which have met with impressive successes at economic development have articulated their reasons for not being in a hurry to promote Western-style democracy and participation:
- Asian societies favour collectivism, while Western societies cherish individualism
- In developing countries, national interests should take precedence over those of individuals
- Diversity of views can confuse people
- People must be educated and mature before they are able to make good decisions from a diversity of views, therefore communities in developing regions require education first before diversity.
Underlining these arguments is a high preference by these governments for a consensus approach towards development. The participatory approach is not favoured because it is considered to be a conflict based model.
Although proponents of participation appreciate more good than bad in the approach, they recognize at the same time that there are limits to the approach. An international conference of practitioners and researchers working in participatory commun ication announced three caveats (White:1994) at the end of their meeting: 1. Participatory communication processes are not a panacea for development. Such processes are not suitable for solving all problems in all contexts or time frames. The mother whose child is dying of diarrhoea does not want to "participate". Short-term s olutions and intervention are also needed. Participatory processes unearth "root-causes" of poverty and oppression and usually involve long-term goals. 2. The apparently opposing concepts of "participation" and "manipulation" can be viewed from many perspectives. The interventionist who attempts to "sell" solutions to "target population" may be accused of being manipulative and may also be bringing alon g a whole set of alien cultural premises. However the participatory social communicator may also enter a village with a particular picture of reality and set of values, hoping the people will come to perceive their oppression the way he or she sees it. Th is may be equally manipulative. 3. The price people have to pay for taking part in participatory processes is often overlooked. It is often assumed that the villager has nothing better to do with his or her time. For every hour spent "participating" there is an opportunity cost; that i s, the fact that the villager may be foregoing more productive activity if the participatory process does not lead to benefits, either in the long or short term. The social communicator should take this into consideration when entering a village or slum.
Participatory Communication Takes Over
Just as during the modernization era, communicators responded to the shift towards participation in development by echoing the new approaches in their work. Participatory communication was born. It turned out to be a difficult birth. The people who had ad vocated for participation had done so mainly at the conceptual and ideological level, there were no suggestions on how participatory communication could be actualized in real development settings. To compound the challenge, much of the seminal thinking ha d focused on interpersonal processesÄthe mass media were not assigned any role in the new approach. Broadcasting technology of that period probably contributed to this side-lining of the big media. Radio and television equipment were marooned in studios l ocated in the cities which were far away from most of the people living in the villages. Outside broadcasting facilities were just being developed and still too expensive at that stage for developing country practitioners to acquire.
Also, for the first time development communication was no longer in the exclusive domain of the professionals. Participatory communication, in the ideal situation, is practised spontaneously by the people without mediation. It was ideally the by-product o f participatory processes and participatory communities.
For the practitioners, communication ceased to be the simple transfer of information. The question of who initiated a communication, how decisions were made leading-up to the communication became more important than what was being communicated. Communica tors were no longer neutral movers of information but were intervening actively to trigger changes aimed at encouraging people's participation. In many ways the "techniques" of communication had not changed. What had changed profoundly were the ideologie s and philosophies behind the practice of the techniques.
The emphasis on interpersonal and traditional methods encouraged the development and use of these communication methods which had been largely ignored until then. Street theatre, folk-songs, speech, and group activities became important and effective cha nnels for participatory communication. Large scale national communication activities were set aside in favour of small. localized and intimate programmes.
Practising Participatory Communication
The stress on interpersonal approaches at first suggested a small-scale, community -based approach to participatory communication. Speech, traditional and folk media, and group activities were considered the most appropriate instruments for supporting the approach. This early thinking ignored the mass media by not suggesting any roles for them. Practitioners in the mass media responded by innovating their own approach towards participatory communication. Community radio scored some of the early successes. The large, centralized model of the city-based station was replaced by small operations broadcasting on low-power transmitters owned by trade unions, churches and other communities. The people produced and voiced the programmes which were focused on loca l issues which were the most current and important to themselves. Such innovations made way for participatory communication to be practised at both the community or village level and at the broader regional or sub-regional level.
A small selection of the methods which have been used by groups working at the community and, regional and sub-regional levels are described in the following sections of this chapter.
Working at the Community Level
Some of the most successful participatory communication programmes were tested at the village community level. The small size of the community permitted the intensive use of interpersonal channels and other folk and traditional media. Described below are the steps followed by many NGOs in implementing their programmes. These steps have drawn upon not only development communication methodologies but also those from participatory development, non-formal education, and participatory action research.
Entering the Community
The first step usually focuses on the identification of a community which will be the partner in a participatory communication project. Many NGOs do this through drawing on their knowledge of the region where they have been working. To minimise risks of f ailure and to shorten the lead time for the start-up of the project, many NGOs select communities with whom they have worked or are working. There are two advantages in doing so, firstly there is an existing working relationship (which may not be totally participatory) and secondly the NGO has a feel for the needs and aspirations of the community and can match these to the organizations' resources and capacities. If a "new" community is identified, a slow process of getting to know each other is initiated . NGO workers, preferably from the area where the community lives and works, or possessing a good appreciation for the life and challenges of the people, and able to speak their language, visit the community with no aim except to introduce the NGO to the people and to meet members of the community. A number of NGOs require their field staff to live with the communities for a long enough period of time (which may stretch over several months or even a year) so that they become accepted by the people and als o acquire at the same time a good appreciation of life in the community. During this period of residency, the potential role of the NGO is allowed to evolve naturally and informally through the NGO workers' interactions with members of the community. The success of this crucial first step rests partly on the NGO workers and partly on the reputation of the NGO amongst the community. NGO workers belonging to credible organizations with a good track-record at the grass-roots will be greatly helped by the goo d-will which such credibility brings. The basic task of the NGO staff at this time is to listen to the people.
Preparing to Plan Action
The period of listening and getting to know each other leads either to a decision to collaborate or not to collaborate. If it is the former, the next step is often the planning of the collaboration. Communication plays an important role at this stage. As many people as possible from the community need to be encouraged and provided with the opportunity to participate in the planning process. Meetings of the community are good starting points. The purpose of the planning exercise can be explained and debate d, the people to be involved introduced to each other, and the methods for planning agreed upon. Formal community meetings maybe alien to the way-of-life of many villages. People in these communities should not be rushed into the holding of such meetings . As much time as possible should be given to informal consultations and discussions; the suggestion to meet should ideally evolve from these consultations. The leaders of the enterprise will probably emerge at this stage. The person facilitating the proc ess should ensure that leaders are eventually elected by a majority and interferences in the choice of the leaders reduced to a minimum. A discussion of the desired attributes of the leaders should ideally precede the elections. After the elections are co nducted, there is a possibility that contenders who have lost may decide to leave the group, taking with them their family, friends and supporters. How the group responds to their departure is important in setting the tone for future interactions between the group and the departing members.
Planning What to Do
A first step may be reflection upon the current conditions, problems, aspirations and resources of the community. Media can plan an effective catalytic role here. Traditional and folk media have been used effectively in facilitating this process of reflec tion in many communities. In some villages, members of the community, or local theatre group, prepare and present to the community a play of a fictitious place which bears similarities to the conditions of the village. The play, however does not have an e nding. At an appropriate time members of the community are invited to act out the ending or to suggest what the ending may be. This method is effective for a number of reasons. It is entertaining. It is easy to participate in because the event is conducte d in an indigenous art form. It is also non-threatening and minimally confrontational because issues are being addressed through proxies offered by imaginary characters in the play.
New technology, such as small format videos, have also been used successfully. The most famous is the "Fogo process" (Williamson:1991) where video is used as a "mirror" to reflect the issues and aspirations of people living in isolated communities. The pe ople take an active part in planning and executing the production of a video of themselves. They also take an active part in the editing process, deciding what to cut and what to include. Besides helping the communities reflect, the videos have also serve d as highly effective communication between the people and outsiders, typically politicians and bureaucrats. Outsiders receive accurate and candid messages from the people through these videos, and because they often convey intense emotions, are also effe ctive in moving outsiders to action. Replies are frequently sent back to the people on a video, promises made for corrective action recorded in this way are hard to break and help the people advance the issues they are advocating.
"Photo novella" are equally effective. People are provided with a still camera with which they are free to photograph anything they want to make-up a pictorial novel about themselves. The pictures shot are displayed and arranged into an order through the collaborative efforts of members of the community. The picture stories help in reflection, communication with outsiders, and measuring progress of cooperative efforts. An example of the latter was provided by a group of villagers living on a mountain side threatened by serious land-slides which were robbing the farmers of scarce arable land. The solution learnt from neighbouring villages was the building of retaining walls with large boulders-- back-breaking and long term project. Photographs of the progr ess of "rock-walling" and the accumulating amounts of rich top-soil trapped by the walls convinced the villagers that the walls must be built and motivated them to complete their daunting task.
A some what surprising success in the Philippines is a method called CIPS--Community Information and Planning System. Surprising because it is a method based on scientific research which many people had first thought alien and not useful to rural communit ies. In this method villagers who have heard about CIPS invite the University where CIPS was developed, to send a trainer to work with the community. It begins with the trainer conducting a short, informal course on the research process. The course is tau ght in the local dialect and presents the research process in a simple, easy to implement way. The people begin their research immediately after the course. They collect data and analyse them as a group. The results of the research are displayed on large charts, in the form of easy to understand graphics and presented to the community during a village meeting. After members of the community have understood the findings of the research, they move on to prioritize problems and plan action to address these p roblems. The action are usually written-up in the form of a proposal to a local government agency. This method has proven to be highly effective in promoting development activities to policy-makers because of the scientific approach adopted and the data b acking requests for action.
It is likely that if the community has advanced to the stage of action, a group of some kind will have evolved within the community to run the communication activities of the community. It will probably comprise opinion leaders such as a religious leader, traditional birth attendant, teacher, folk musicians, actors, and others with a flair and a love of communication and interaction with people. The communicators should ideally be elected by the community, their duties should also ideally be defined durin g the elections. The village communicators may be offered training in communication methods. Such training should emphasize the principles of participation and the supportive role of communication in triggering participation. Traditional and folk media us age should be emphasized. Other media such as wall newspapers, video, and static displays may be also introduced. But the overall stress will probably be on interpersonal methodsÄspeech, group discussions, and presentational skills (to peers as well as to outsiders such as government officials). They may be also introduced to management skills such as the sequencing of communication in the best way so as to support action in the community; the breaking-down of large problems into smaller component parts t o be addressed in order of priority. To be congruent with the goals of participatory communication, all training should focus on communication as an instrument to empower the people rather than as a vehicle for moving information. Communication for the fa cilitation of action may aim at a number of objectives:
- Creating a very clear understanding of the proposed action.
- Gathering feedback to ascertain if the course of action is acceptable and supported by (ideally) all; and if not to discover the preferred alternatives.
- Communicating the finalized course of action.
- Providing support and appropriate publicity as the action is being implemented.
- Keeping members informed of progress and the gathering of their reactions.
- Reporting the impact of the action.
- Gathering and sharing members' reactions to the action taken.
- Planning for the next round of action.
Iterating the process
Action should be taken in a series of steps, starting with the most urgent or most manageable, and then moving on to others after it has been completed. This way of iterating the process provides the community with the opportunity to learn and become fami liar with the process. Iteration also facilitates increasing degrees of participation amongst members of the community as they learn to work with each other, and develop confidence and loyalty for each other.
Withdrawing from the Community
NGO workers who help set-up participatory communication projects should plan their withdrawal from the communities as soon as the people indicate their readiness to take complete charge. The plan for withdrawal may be usefully stated sometime early in the interactions between the community and NGO so that the people can prepare for itÄmore importantly it signals to the community that the NGO is sincere about taking participation to its ultimate level where the people acquire full control. There have been debates in recent times about NGOs deliberately creating dependence amongst the communities they work with so as to protect their continuing role (and sources of funding). The withdrawal should, in most cases be gradually phased-in. It can begin with han d-over of functions normally performed by the NGO worker. The worker can next relocate from the community (if she or he has been living there) and return for visits. The frequency of these visits can be gradually reduced to monthly or bi-monthly calls. So me NGOs stop visiting completely and instead invite members of the community to visit them any time they have a need to, or they happen to be nearby on market-days or at other times. Withdrawal should not mean a termination of interest by the NGO in the c ommunity. As will be discussed in the later section on research, the NGO must keep track of the progress of the community in order to learn from them. The tracking should continue for as many years as possible because participatory communication processes evolve continuously over long periods of time.
Working at a Regional Level
Communicators working with amplifying or mass media have evolved their own methods of participatory communication. Unlike village based NGO projects where the number of partners are limited, the very nature of mass media require a large readership or grou ps of listeners or viewers for the media to retain their cost effectiveness. They realise people's participation by either tracking very closely people's response to their work, or by sharing control of the media with the people.
Participatory mass media organizations usually have some form of strong audience research mechanism. This may not always be in the form of a formal or scientific research unit managed by trained social scientists. More often it takes the form of letters f rom readers or listeners, quizzes, phone-ins, out-side broadcasting units, roving reporters, etc.. The feedback, and feed forward, comes through people interacting face-to-face with media workers and the people sharing their views on the media. Feedforwar d is considered more important than feedback amongst some media workers. Feedback is when people react to stories or programmes conceived independently by the media workers. Feedforward is when people tell the media workers what is important for media cov erage, and which is the best angle and way of covering these issues.
Commercial stations which are caught-up in "rating-wars" and competition for the advertising dollar probably do more elegant audience research than participatory media managers. But there is a very fundamental ideological difference between what they do a nd what participatory media workers do. Commercial stations aim to capture "market segments" which they can then sell to advertisers for a profit. Their loyalty in business is to the advertiser. Participatory media's loyalty is to the people. Their reason for research is to ensure that the people's interests are being reported upon, and that they are provided with an effective forum to state their case.
People in Charge
The other form of participatory mass media places people in charge of programming decisions. They decide what to broadcast, who to do it, where and when it is done. The professionals stay in the background looking after engineering details and assisting i n the creation of the programmes when called upon to do so. New technology has simplified the technicalities of radio transmitters to a point where the people can operate these independently. New technology has also led to the manufacturing of portable au dio and video recorders, and desktop publishing systems which in turn have simplified technical production processes and brought down the cost of operating such media. The availability of low-cost portable power-generators have also helped in the relocati on of many such technologies to rural settings where people have easier access to the media. The main obstacle to the popular use of such technologies are the restrictive media laws in most developing countries which limit media ownership to government or those trusted by government.
Most of these people-managed media broadcast or print material conceived and produced by members of the community. What they lack in professional finesse they more than make-up for in credibility and feeling. Community radio stations often double-up as im portant personal communication tools, sending personal messages to far away places not served by telephone or the post office. They also help to extend the reach of traditional and folk media by recording or broadcasting them "live". Such media also serv e an important purpose of correcting the imbalance of power between the power-holders and the people. When operated by fearless leaders, such media can quickly create awareness about incidents of oppression and mobilize local and external resistance to th e oppression. Community radio was one of the principal "weapons" in the "people-power revolution" of the Philippines which toppled a corrupt administration.
Such dramatic events aside, most of the successes of community broadcasting are to be found in the non-formal education sector (Beltr n:1993). Literacy programmes have been effectively conducted via community radio and television stations. Other subjects covered by these stations include gender issues, farming, health, income-generation, workers' safety and occupational health, land tenure, and religious matters.
Challenges in Practise
The application of the participatory communication concept has proven to be full of challenges in actual development settings. Practitioners have been confronted with either unanticipated effects and problems of the process, or criticism of promoting unde sirable types of participation. The long and loud rhetoric around the subject has generally interfered with efforts by the practitioners to bring to life this idealistic social process. Some of the challenges which practitioners have had to grapple with a re discussed below:
Disagreements on what constituted true participation have troubled the practitioners right from the beginning. The disagreements stemmed partly from differences of ideology and partly from the community settings where work was attempted. The ideological d ebate ranged from those who felt that true participation must put people in charge of making all the decisions, against those who felt that participation at other levels were also valid, and that the process can evolve from these levels towards the ideal goal. The other debates resulted from the wide range of cultural and environmental settings to which practitioners had to respond and adapt. These adaptations created participatory communication approaches which were different enough to cause disagreement s among the communicators.
Another challenge is the conflict which participatory communication frequently causes among the people. Such conflict results from the process's inadvertable effect of adjusting power relationships between those lacking power and those holding power. By p articipating, people are claiming power for themselves, thereby threatening the influence of the power-holders. Conflict also frequently occurs among the people. The community is sometimes split into fractions by disagreements over goals and methods of do ing things, and the involvement or exclusion of certain members of the community. Participatory communication which sets out to address root causes of development tends to cause high conflict. This history of conflict has caused many practitioners to appr eciate the need for equipping themselves and the people with conflict managing skills. The most important of these are skills for negotiation and mediation.
Successes in participatory communication have proven to be difficult to replicate or up-scale. This is a major obstacle to NGOs interested in extending the benefits of participatory communication to a majority of the communities they serve. The challenge appears to stem from a number of factors. The first is the people-embodied nature of participatory communication skills. Some people appear to have special attributes which make them highly effective facilitators of the process. They are the "charismatic leaders" who "make things happen". These attributes presently remain elusive and escape identification or replication through training. The attributes of the communities have also been identified as crucial to success. Certain pre-conditions have been tho ught necessary for the effective working of the process. Up-scaling problems maybe also traced to the special commitments and support usually given to experimental efforts by communities and organizations but seldom available at the same degree in large-s cale projects.
Among all the pre-conditions for success, the type of governance affecting the people may be the most important. People who live in highly controlled states may desire participation very intensely, while at the same time be very reluctant to subscribe to such approaches for fear of reprisal against them and their families and friends. This represents not only a challenge but also a risk for those setting out to promote participatory communication.
Lure of the Private Sector
Privately owned companies are starting to affect participatory processes almost to the extend that local authorities have in the past. They do so by offering money, employment opportunities and other incentives to selected members of communities in order to seek desired cooperation from communities which are not always beneficial to their long-term interests. For example certain timber companies frequently offer jobs with high salaries to community leaders in areas to be logged in order to secure the coop eration of these communities through the co-option of their leaders. People who set-out to fight these companies must first suffer all the painful results of conflict with their own leaders. Threats from the private sector are difficult to address because their methods are subtle and usually very attractive in the short-term.
Whereas most NGOs were generalists in the past, many now work on specialized issues such as water, income-generation, agriculture, gender, etc.. These organizations face difficult problems when working in the participatory mode because people often identi fy issues and problems outside the NGOs' areas of specialization for action. The solution here appears to be a networking of NGOs so that specialist skills maybe shared in response to needs identified by the people.
Coexisting with "Other" Communication
Few communities live in total isolation from the outside world. In terms of communication they maybe reached by entertainment films in cinemas; television, radio, newspapers and magazines from the cities; sales-people from companies; and others who do not practise participatory forms of communication. Facilitators need to introduce ways of coexisting with or countering components of the larger communication system so that people may sharpen their ability to interpret the communication reaching them. One w ay is media education where people are sensitized to the workings of different forms of media and some of the intentions which drive their operation. The other approach is to counter competing messages with alternative information: for example promotional campaigns for harmful chemical pesticides mounted by companies maybe countered with participatory programmes on integrated pest management which require minimal use of chemicals.
Participation takes time. It is a process which cannot be rushed to meet deadlines or fit annual budgets. Two or three year funding cycles which typically govern the implementation of sponsored development projects are usually too short for real participa tory communication processes to take root in communities. Such projects may actually shut-down processes just as they are about ready to evolve into vibrant participatory communication. Long-term commitment is required not just of the funding agency but a lso of the people. Participation takes-up precious time and energies (which are often the only resources) of members of the community involved. Programmes should ideally be designed to deliver sufficient short-term benefits to motivate the people in maint aining their commitment towards attaining long-term goals.
NGOs and their funding agencies must adopt flexible management approaches in the implementation of participatory programmes. They must structure their work plans and budgets in such a way that changes which evolve out of participatory processes maybe quic kly accommodated with a minimum of difficulty. The objectives, anticipated outputs, and work plan described in documentation for participatory projects will probably change as people begin to take an active part in shaping project activities. Such adminis trative changes should be welcomed as indication of success rather than symptoms of poor project design. Funding agencies and NGOs which are run in a participatory manner are the ones which are able to operate effectively with this form of project managem ent.
NGOs embarking on programmes in this area may find it helpful to draw-up in advance an ethical check-list to guide decision-making especially, with delicate and difficult problems. This checklist will likely change with situations, circumstances and growi ng experience. Proposed below are some considerations:
NGOs should never manipulate the people with whom they work, even if it appears to be in the best interest of the community. Instead people should be provided with all the facts and alternatives so that they can make a decision which is acceptable to the majority of those involved. Manipulation sometimes happens in reverse where the people may try to manipulate the NGO. For example people may identify a priority problem within the area of expertise of the NGO just to obtain the organization's commitment t o the community even though the identified problem maybe very low in the people's hierarchy of needs.
Putting People at Risk
Participatory programmes often threaten the interests of power-holders who may then retaliate against the people taking part in such programmes. Facilitators should be mindful of such risks and explain them to the people who should then make their own dec isions on the amount of risk they are willing to bear as a group.
Leaving Communities "Fractured"
Participatory programmes can profoundly alter relationships and the traditional systems of a community. NGOs must commit themselves to working with the people in completing these changes with results which are beneficial to them. NGOs must not abandon the communities in the mid-course of change when the challenges are at their most severe. Doing so will probably leave the communities fractured and in a worst-off condition compared to when they began.
One of the main ways of introducing people and NGO staff to participatory communication is through training. This can happen informally as a part of events organized by the community or through structured courses focused on the subject. Past training hav e concentrated on communicators as master trainers who are expected to train selected members of the community in methods of participatory communication. This has often meant training the people in the communication methods of "outsiders" so that they can interact more effectively with the "outside world". While this will continue to be important, there is increasing awareness that it may be just as important, or even more important for the communicators to be trained in the indigenous communication metho ds of the people so that they can participate effectively in the communications systems of the community. A view has emerged that truly participatory communication is the "natural" communication of the people. It is everyday communication which nourishes the identity of the people as a community. Such communication skills are learnt over a lifetime and are probably difficult to acquire if one were an "outsider". This section will not attempt to suggest training in aspects of "natural" communication. It w ill instead identify some of the skills which are "teachable" to NGO workers preparing to begin work in participatory communication programmes. Such skills maybe broadly grouped into two types. The first relates to participatory communication within sma ll communities; where interpersonal and group methods are most effective and feasible. The second category refers to programmes conducted through the mass media which involves all at once larger numbers of people. In both categories, the training methods used should be congruent with the principles of participation. Top-down, teacher-to-student methods should be avoided where ever possible. Participatory methods should be favoured. Here the division between trainees and trainers are fuzzy and everyone lea rns from each other.
Community Focused Work
Some of the most important skills are listed below. A detailed description of what each of the skills may comprise will not be provided here mainly because such specificities must relate to the culture and ways of life of particular communities where the NGO staff will be working. This section will identify "generic" training areas which may then be "fleshed-out" by NGOs in consultation with members of the community with whom they work:
Language (of the people with whom the NGO will work)
- Negotiation (for conflict management)
- Mediation (for conflict resolution)
- Appreciation of traditional and folk media (the need to conserve traditional media forms need to be emphasised here, some traditional forms maybe corrupted by adaptations to serve development purposes)
- Methods of "entering" a community
- Facilitating participatory planning
- Facilitating cost and benefit-sharing
- Withdrawing from the community
- Keeping-in-touch after withdrawal
"Larger" Focused Work
Training may be provided here to the media "professionals" who are responsible for operating various mass media; and to the people who will take part in the management and production of content to be disseminated by the mass media.
- Training for the media "professionals" should cover the following skills:
- Field-based production
- Negotiation (for conflict management)
- Mediation (for conflict resolution)
Training for the people should cover:
- Production techniques
- Management of community media
- Programme planning (for radio and television)
- Audience research
The scope covered by participatory communication has broadened considerably in recent years. Many practitioners have tried to draw upon experiences from a number of other disciplines in addition to development communication. In the process they have contr ibuted towards the start of a long overdue convergence of experiences in the education, communication and development sectors. This chapter is an attempt to survey a small number of issues in the vast pool of experiences offered by these three sectors. It has set out to raise questions rather than provide answers to the myriad of complexities which fuel participatory processes. After two decades and more of experimentation, many development communication practitioners and researchers believe that they hav e found in participatory communication the most appropriate concept to guide their work in the developing world. However it is a concept that has proven to be immensely challenging in application. We maybe still a long way from translating in full these c oncepts to practice. This is a challenge which practitioners working in close collaboration with researchers should take-up. Some of the critical considerations which this collaboration should aim to study and understand are suggested below:
- Preconditions: are some communities better placed to apply participatory communication than others because of favourable conditions which they enjoy? If this is true, what are these preconditions?
- Leadership: participatory communication come to life when facilitated by the right people. They are the "new leaders" who possess special attributes which nurture participation. What are these qualities? Can they be learnt?
- Conflict: is a frequent "by-product" of participation. What are their causes? And how does one manage and resolve them?
- Impact: on traditional communication systems when participatory processes take over.
- Appropriate application: when, and for what purposes are specific participatory communication methods best suited?
- People's cost: participation is thought to be "expensive" to the people involved, what are the contributions and resources which they invest in a participatory communication programme in order to make it "work"?
- External funding: classical projects are thought to be too inflexible in design and management to nurture dynamic participatory processes; what is the most appropriate mode of funding? And what should donors concentrate on funding?
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This paper is extracted from a chapter in the book
Participatory Development Communication: A West African Agenda