Introduction to Development Communication: Its Philosophy and Approach

By Fr. Cornelio Lagerwey, MSC
Founder of the CFA Media Group

Introduction to Development Communication: Its Philosophy and Approach?


(From the book, Monographs on Development Communication, published by the Communication Foundation for Asia: Manila, 1990)

The rationale behind development communication is to place communication and media technology in the service of development.

What is development? What is behind this concept? Development is usually expressed in economic terms such as employment rates, per capita income and gross national product. However, experience tells us that economic growth statistics alone do not constitute development.

Development is a total approach. It does not only involve economic programs. The development of people is the main focus of this total approach.

In any strategy or program of development, people are the target. The needs of the people predicate the delivery of development, whether it be in the form of values education, skills development, livelihood assistance, human settlements, just to name a few.

The heightened awareness of the government, church authority and social development agencies of the many problems that plague contemporary society has brought into focus the ineffectiveness of many well-intentioned development projects. The success of a large majority of planned development programs depends on the preparation of the target group of such programs.

For any real development to happen, there must be an inner change of people to be willing to participate and be involved in matters that affect their very lives. People cannot be manipulated or coerced to develop themselves. The impetus and desire for development must come from within themselves.

But how do we get people into action? Education is the key, communication the tool.

The purpose of communication, as a tool, is getting people’s involvement through education. Both formal and non-formal education involves processes of communication. This systematic process occurs over a certain period of time in which the people are informed, instructed and inspired to participate and be involved.

As a tool, communication should be used for service. In the Philippines, however, the amount set aside for this information service is usually just enough to do some “image-building” which hardly reaches the people for whom the services are intended. It may enhance the image of the Department of Health, Agriculture or Land Reform, but it does not educate or benefit the millions these Departments are supposed to serve.

Example: I’d like to tell a simple story back in the 60’s when the miracle rice was discovered. That time, Secretary Rafael Salas and I went to Los Ba?os to find out what this miracle rice was all about. We went from a doctor in biology, to a doctor in physiology, to so many other learned people sitting around the table, all rice experts from different nations, to find out about miracle rice, etc. I got a few mimeographed papers with some data on miracle rice. Then I said: “Yeah, but what is miracle rice?” I stayed to interview the staff members for a couple of days.

Then I began to ask myself, if miracle rice is intended for farmers, what will happen between the knowledge of the IRRI (International Rice Research Institute) and the farmer in the field; between the knowledge on one side and the ignorance on the other side, and how to bridge this; how to transform this knowledge and make communication a tool to help the farmer develop himself? This was the birth of the “Ang Tao” magazine. Without it, miracle rice would have remained an item in the daily papers or an image on the television screen.

I have nothing against image-building on television. I, for one, understand Secretary Bengzon when I hear him on television talking about generics. But when I think about the common tao, for whose benefit the generics law is intended, then we have the same gap today between the generics law and the tao as we had between the miracle rice and the tao. There is an enormous gap between the aim which is good, and the people for whom it is intended.

What government wants and what non-government organizations want is for people to be involved. If people get involved, it means they understand. When they do, we reach the goal of our service. Many people want instant involvement which is never possible. That is where the process of communication comes in.

Communication is not only advertisements, propaganda, entertainment, public relations and image building. It is an instrument of servicing the needs of the people to attain development.

The science which uses communication to change and motivate people through education and inspiration towards development is development communication or simply, DEVCOM.

DEVCOM brings about a planned growth intended to promote human development, reducing, if not eradicating poverty, unemployment and other social inequalities. It is engaged not only in mere reporting of facts or opinions, but also in teaching the people and leading them to action. It imparts and shares ideas to nurture and cultivate the proper attitudes, skills and values that are needed to develop. In short, DEVCOM is a communication science that assists developmental goals.

DEVCOM was born out of the need of people to be informed and educated. Social inequalities, such as landlords oppressing tenants and poverty, became the focus of political campaign platforms. After the elections, the people were left ignorant of the developments affecting them. Most of them were not informed of the issues that concern them. The result was severe poverty for most and affluence for the few. To counteract the inequality, many resorted to force. Such was the cycle of events that never benefited the people. DEVCOM is meant to break the wall of ignorance, thus, breaking the bonds of poverty and oppression.

Often, we in CFA are asked why we are in the communication service. Many say that providing livelihood to eradicate poverty or community organizing to build self-reliance among the depressed communities are better ways of serving the needs of these groups.

Our answer: for any true development to happen, there must be an inner change of people, for example from stagnation or opposition, to one of involvement and support. People cannot be manipulated or coerced to grow and develop. The impetus and desire for development must come from within themselves.

But how can this happen? Or putting it in another way: Why does this not happen? Is it because the process through which these programs have been developed and implemented is not democratic, not participatory in nature?

A failure to understand this process and its concomitant instrument of development communication can be very costly, like in India at the end of the sixties. The government, in its efforts to control the population growth, received substantial assistance from AID and the World Bank. A team of consultants and technicians was sent to study the situation. Millions were spent. A program was recommended. The recommendations were reviewed, the project was set up and implemented. Health and family planning clinics were established throughout the country. More millions were spent. Just one problem: the women for whom the clinics were intended did not come in. The government had to entice them with, for example, transistorized radios. The program failed. Human rights were violated. Indira Gandhi lost the next elections. What was wrong? The failure to get the involvement of the women through the process of development communication. The government wanted instant involvement. People, however, are not coffee!

And so what happens? From the point of view of the government or the NGO, an ineffective program is tantamount to budgetary loss. On the side of the low-level income groups to whom these programs are targeted, it means lost self-worth, dehumanization. Anyone who is keen enough can sense this feeling of the poor being displaced, of being at the mercy of political and economic forces. They perceive that they do not have a handle on what is happening to them. They do not feel that they are the subjects of the development programs. With their characteristic meekness in front of the affluent and the influential, it is not hasty to conclude that they paradoxically see themselves as objects of the programs geared towards their development.

The science which uses communication to educate, change and motivate people’s attitudes and values leading to developmental goals is development communication or DEVCOM. This, however, costs money.

In the Philippines, as in other developing countries like India, the budget set aside for communication is usually just enough to do some public relations or image-building for the government or the agency concerned. The practice hardly reaches the people for whom the information services are intended. It is cheaper to have a picture and an article in the papers or a spot on radio or television than to make the common people understand fully the issues that affect their way of life. This superficial use of media is more often a deterrent to development than its instrument since it excludes participation from the target audience, the people.

And so DEVCOM was born. The CFA Media Group among others saw the dire need to supply the people with adequate background knowledge for them to make the proper decisions on matters affecting their lives. DEVCOM was meant to tear down the wall of ignorance and so break the bonds of poverty and oppression. In contrast with those who wanted to counteract the inequality with force.

To understand the issues that affect their way of life, there was a need to provide a communication tool. A tool that would do more than image building, more than saying how good a government department performs! A tool that will get the people involved in their own life and destiny. A revolutionary use of communication: the use of communication for development, for people power.

Many institutions, including non-government agencies, have begun to recognize DEVCOM’s importance, values and usefulness. Many have adapted it in their school services.

In our history we have developed the CFA’s methodology of the 5 I’s. The first I is INFORM.

Experience tells us that to inform people through research and study is needed to understand a subject well enough that one can express and communicate it in the level of people’s understanding, aware of their socio-cultural background, and the language they use. This way, the people become part of initiating the program since they are the subject of development, not the object.

To get the people involved, it is not enough that they are informed about the issue and understand what it is about. They also have to know how it works and this is instruction. For this to be understood, illustrations, pictures, drawings and other graphic aids are needed. We call these I’s: INFORM and INSTRUCT.

The main objective of communication is people’s involvement and participation. To achieve this, people are not only in need to be informed about the issue and instructed on how it works but they also have to be motivated to do it. This is the third I or INSPIRATION. This is the heart and core of all good communication. This is why dramas and inspiring stories are used in comics, radio and television While the first two I’s appeal more to the mind, the third I stimulates the heart and the will.

To inspire and motivate people towards involvement is not done only once. It needs to be repeated, for motivation can only come when a continuous sending of persuasive impulses is made. This is the fourth I or INSIST. INSISTENCE removes all the remaining reservations and doubtful feelings to make way for the fifth I, which is INVOLVEMENT. The objective of all communication is to get people involved.

As believers in development communication, we must achieve a consensus in order to improve DEVCOM’s service to the developmental needs of the people. By informing people, DEVCOM tells them where they are and what they are and where they are going. By instructing, DEVCOM provides people the means to go where they want to go. By inspiring, DEVCOM motivates people to move and act. By insisting, DEVCOM reminds people to sustain their actions. By involving, DEVCOM gives back self confidence and human dignity in order that the total liberation of people can be achieved.

How can organizations generate and maximize people’s participation in development? How can government and non-government organizations work together in educating the grassroots about their needs to improve their lives? We could apply the 5 I’s: inform each other of our concerns and priorities; instruct each other on how we can achieve collaboration and cooperation to compliment and synchronize our development programs; inspire each other by mutually sharing our expertise and talents; insist that all development programs must serve the people and so get involved with each other.

DEVCOM comes to a full circle when it begins to serve not only the recipients of development but also us who sought to help by giving us a deeper understanding and appreciation of the plight of the less privileged majority.

Involvement will be the effect on the many marginalized Filipinos when we employ a participatory tool such as DEVCOM, in the total making of development projects, from conceptualization to implementation, even evaluation.

My dear friends, DEVCOM, as a science, is a science of HOPE, expressing belief in the silent majority.

People are made to the image of GOD and redeemed by Christ. So let us continue to work for their liberation through DEVCOM, because DEVCOM is people-communication, DEVCOM is people power.


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