A Theory of Development Communication

(From the book “From the Village to the Medium”, published by the Communication Foundation for Asia: Manila, 1976)


Development communication is founded on an idea. The idea is, to put the modern media of social communication at the service of development. That sounds simple enough, but it needs some explaining.


Development is the big thing these days. Everybody’s talking about it. Big chunks of money are spent in its name. But what is it?

Discussions of development are usually couched in economic terms. The economic goal is often described in terms of an increase in the Gross National Product or GNP, the sum total of goods and services produced by the country annually.

The goal has already been criticized as inadequate. One of the big problems of underdeveloped countries is the maldistribution of available goods and services.

It doesn’t help much to increase the size of the “economic pie” if 90 per cent of it still goes to only 10 per cent of the people while the remaining 90 per cent of the people whose total number increases more rapidly, continue to share in only 10 per cent of the wealth produced. Their condition will not improve, but can only grow worse.

Responsible economists point out that the development goal should be not only to increase the production of wealth but also to improve its distribution. In other words, an increase in GNP, plus social justice, GNP alone won’t do it.

Seen in this light, the problem immediately goes beyond mere economics. And the point we want to make here is precisely that development means more than economic development.

Even plain economic development involves more than economics. It requires an improved social organization. You need better social structures, relative peace and order, disciplined (and highly motivated) people, a skilled labor force, a dedicated civil service, a minimum of graft and corruption, a sensible tax structure, a wise government, etc.

Actually, for real economic development, you also need social justice, because this is what will provide people with their motivation. If people can have a decent share of what they produce, they will work harder.

When you talk about justice, however, you’re talking about moral values, not just economics. In other words, just to achieve economic development, you also need moral development.

To achieve economic development with social justice – without which development won’t make sense to the common people – you need to change a lot of attitudes. People have to add a moral dimension to the way they operate their business, for instance. And workers may need a new attitude towards work, since social justice also requires that workers do justice to their employers, not only the other way around.


In short, development really means developing people. Then the people will change their environment, including their social and economic environment.

We need a total human development approach, even if our immediate goal might be economic development. The latter, of course, is not the end in itself, but only a means to enable human beings to live more humanly. For a man may be rich and still live like a pig. Economic development doesn’t help him.


Now, let’s talk about social communication. First, the word social. We say social communication advisedly. The more commonly accepted term is mass communication. In this book, the terms are used almost interchangeably. But there is really a difference in connotation.

The Social Communicator is interested in “mass communication” not for its own sake, but as a means of serving the development of people.

Mass communication is a technique of reaching a large number of people with a message, all at once. Like many other techniques, it can be used for a-social, even anti-social, purposes. We are for its social use.

One of the banes of modern mass production techniques — despite their obvious benefits — is that they tend to dehumanize people and turn them into “masses”.

Mass communication, as commonly understood, tends to treat people in same way. Thus it is often used as a tool for manipulating “public opinion” as if people were things to be manipulated. There is also a certain cynicism about “the masses” in the entertainment media industry.

People, however, do not develop by being manipulated. They develop by becoming conscious of what they can be and what they can do – and by being helped to be and do what they ought.

With people, the impetus for development must come from within themselves. But the stimulus must come from without. Mass communication can, but does not necessarily, provide stimulus for development. It must be programmed to do so.


Mass communication at the service of development — or “development communication” – should seek to elicit a human, and ultimately a social response in the people whom it seeks to serve. Serve, not “mold” or manipulate, as if people were putty in the hands of the communicator

A human response is one that is conscious and voluntary, not merely a conditioned reflex to the controlled and sophisticated use of media. A communication that cultivates rather than smothers this free human response is what we’re talking about.

Propaganda is a form of mass communication. Not all propaganda is reprehensible, but it is not — or at least not yet — development communication.

Development communication is an educational process. It aims at developing social consciousness, personal responsibility towards one’s fellowmen, one’s community and country. In other words, a social conscience. Hence, the term “conscientization”, a sensitizing of the conscience.

Development communication implies respect for the human person, respect for his intelligence and his right to self-determination.

The role of mass communication is to help, not to take over or substitute for, his thinking. It serves him by providing the facts on which to base a sound judgment, and the inspiration to carry out his resolve.

Thus, development communication is a social process. Social because it seeks the human response of people in society, not exactly to be compared with the reaction to stimulus of a mass of ants in an anthill.

The term “social communication”, therefore, suggests the primacy of human values and human dignity over mere technique, better than “mass communication”. It is the mark of human beings to be social, whereas the concept of mass is derived from an obvious quality of brute matter.


Communication is an art. But not all practitioners of art, alas, are good communicators. Young writers – especially the creative literary types – often equate expression with communication. It is one thing to have something to say; another thing to express it. But it is still another thing to express it in a way that will be accepted and understood by the specific audience to whom the message is addressed.

Too much preoccupation with style and technique can be a hindrance to communication, not to call attention to itself.

The task of communicator is to be like a clear glass window through which people can see (we do not really create anything, we help people to see that is there); not a stained glass window that invites attention to itself but blocks the view. This holds whether we communicate by writing, photography, design or artwork, etc.


The first concern of a communicator – assuming he has something worthwhile to communicate (which does not necessarily follow from knowing the techniques of communication) – is to know his audience.

You talk one way to a grade school child, another way to a university professor. You talk differently to an adult who has not gone beyond grade school, than you would be one who has been to college ( although, considering the quality of instruction in some colleges, the difference might be very subtle).

You write one way for reading, another way for talking. Even for reading, there is a way of writing for readability. Some writing is easy to read; others cause wrinkled brows, not necessarily because the subject is difficult but because the language is abstruse. The language of the man in the street is not the language of the academe.

As mass communicators, we are usually talking to the man on the street – or in his home. We must visualize him in his camiseta, watching TV after a hard day’s work, or his wife, listening to the radio. The more intimately we know our audience, the better we can communicate. (In the editorial offices of some popular magazines in Europe, they have pictures on the wall of the type of people they’re writing for. They know the ages, range of income, educational attainment, their vocabulary, the way they live, etc.)

Communication is not a one-way street. The first thing a communicator must do is “listen” to his audience with a sharp ear; then there is chance that his audience might listen to him. All this is elementary, but easily forgotten.


The point is that in mass communication, nobody has to read what we write, or listen to our radio programs, or watch our TV shows, or go to see our movie.

It’s a highly competitive field. Our audience has a dozen other magazines or papers to choose from, many other programs and shows competing for their attention. This is especially true in the cities.

Unless we catch and hold our audience from the start, we’re lost. Restless hands reach for something else to read, or turn dials to another station or channel. In other words, we don’t necessarily communicate because we’re in print or on the air. We must go on in there to win.

People don’t have to read or listen to, or watch, development-oriented mass communications. They generally turn to media for entertainment, not for lectures. Our problem is how to make that entertainment more meaningful.

Entertainment can be escapist; it can be inane. Our task is to make entertainment contribute to human improvement.

We have two ways of approaching our task. We can make entertainment educational. Or, if we must use a more direct approach, we can make education entertaining. But we can’t educate without being interesting in one way or another. This is true even of classroom instruction.


Development communication is an educational process. It is a type of informal education, as distinguished from the formal education of the classroom. In the long run, the reform of society depends a great deal on what goes on in the classroom.

But for more immediate development needs, it is necessary to reach the decision-makers of today. These are mostly out of school. They are out of school because they have finished schooling, or have interrupted their schooling, or have never been to school. But it is they – not the children in the classrooms – who make today’s decisions. They decide whether there will be another baby in the family. They decide whether to use fertilizer in their fields or not. They decide what kind of food will be on the family table. They form the character of children more than any school can do. Their tastes, their habits of saving and consumption can make or break the economy.

A lot of preparation goes into the subjects taught in the classroom. A lot of preparation must go into teaching informally through mass media.

As much as classroom teaching must be organized and programmed, informal teaching through media must be organized and programmed.

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