DevCom – An Integral Element in Any Development Model

(Abridged from the book “Communication and Development”, published by the Communication Foundation for Asia: Manila, 1978))

Development Communication or “DevCom” cannot be regarded as a model for development. Development communication, for all its nobility and potency, cannot develop a country and its people. It cannot communicate to people how to develop — the way commercials get people to buy a bottle of coke or to use a particular brand of soap. All that it can really do is to help lay the foundations or to help create the mental or psychological environment wherein people can develop themselves.

Someone once said that a government cannot be a government of the people and for the people, unless it is also a government by the people themselves. Another remarked that all development, if it is truly development, has to ultimately be self-development. In the same way, development communication cannot be what it is, i.e., communication in support of development, unless it ultimately becomes a process which, in the words of the late Mr. Genaro V. Ong (CFA’s first managing director and a pioneer of development communication in the Philippines), “must elicit a human and, ultimately, a social response in the people whom it seeks to serve.” Development communication must serve people, not manipulate or mould or build them. But it can inspire them to mould or build themselves.


Briefly, development communication seeks to place all media of social communications in the service of development. Simple as the statement may be, it, however, needs some elaboration, if not clarification.

First of all, what is development? Development is not an “objective” word. It is indeed a very “subjective” word. It is much very value-laden. It is therefore only as good as the reality it is used to represent.

Some people say: development is economic development, period. I would not disagree with the first four words of their statement. But I will disagree with the fifth. I would perhaps insert the word “also” before the period. Or I may even say that development is, first of all, economic development – since economic needs are indeed the first layers of a human being’s hierarchy of needs, as the psychologist Maslow puts it.

To illustrate what I mean, let me cite an example: There was a group of development workers who wanted to uplift the economic conditions of people in a certain village. So they taught them income-generating activities. Further, they taught them the skills of managing their new-found small-scale businesses and even lent them the seed money to begin them. What happened was — the villagers concerned became economically prosperous as their small-scale businesses prospered. But then, this noveau riche of the village started to lend money to their “less fortunate” neighbors, which would have been very good indeed, except that they did so at the so-called “five-six” usurious rate. Now, is this development? Development does not seek to economically uplift people so they can, in turn, economically exploit other people.

This is why development cannot be equated merely with economic development. Development, aside from being economic, has to be social development as well. People should indeed be developed “to have more” of material goods, but they should be so developed that they “become more” human. This means that people must become what some philosophers term as “beings-for-others” and not only “beings-for-themselves.” In other words, people who are shown concern must, in turn, develop a concern for others.


On a macro dimension, social development also means that the economic benefits that economic development brings about must be more equitably shared by all people in a given society. A village society is one such society.

Aside from being economic and social, development must also be structural, meaning, it must be accompanied by the development of social relationships brought about by changing, among others, the legal and political environment so that people become liberated from inequitable relationships and from internal attitudes of values which have been acquired through the years and which presently bind them and prevent them from becoming truly economically and socially developed.

Only when all these four elements would have been achieved could one really say that “development” — in the sense of “becoming more human” — is truly approximated.

What about the word “communication”? What does it mean? Some people equate communication with expression. Worse, some people even equate it with mere techniques of expression. “It is one thing to have something to say,” wrote the late Gen. Ong, “but it is still another thing to express it in a way that will be accepted and understood by the specific audience for whom it is intended. Too much preoccupation with style or technique can be a hindrance to communication. The purpose of a technique is to facilitate communication, not to call attention to itself.”

People who equate communication with expression forget one thing: namely, that before human beings learn to communicate orally, they first have to learn to communicate audibly. A baby listens to people around him. Because of this, he learns to say things. It is not the other way around!

Unfortunately, the orientation of the child is often already gone in the adult communicator. Now brimming in confidence in the knowledge he has acquired and the skills in expressions that he has mastered, he talks to and at people, but seldom, if ever, really talks with them, much less, listens to them.

He becomes like the man who sought advice from a wise Buddhist monk. When he went to see him, he kept on talking and talking. Then the monk took a cup and began to pour tea into it until the tea spilled over into the saucer. Asked why he did that, the monk said, “I wanted to show you the state of mind you are in. Your mind is like a cup that is already full. It cannot take in more tea unless you empty it first. If you want advice from me, you must first empty your mind of all your biases and prejudices. Only then can I be of service to you.”

Communication is never a one-way street. True communication occurs when two people (or more people) are simultaneously senders and receivers of a certain message or messages via a certain media channel or channels. In its broadest meaning, communication is what holds human society together. Where communication breaks down, society begins to disintegrate.

Most communicators think that the purpose of communication is to effect change. Dr. Paul Hartmann of Leicester University, England, says that this is not so. Some communication, he maintains, seeks to maintain the status quo, not change it. The first batch of communicators advocated the so-called transportation model of communication. Dr. Hartmann speaks of the ritualistic model of communications. Both are important for us to consider.

A research undertaken at Papua New Guinea illustrates both models. Since gaining independence, government workers in PNG have been trying to communicate to the villagers the importance of certain development projects, but without much success.

A certain professor and his students at PNG University tried to find out the reasons for their failure. Among others, they found out that there were two flows of information going on in the village: (a) the first was the formal flow which contained the government’s appeal for change and development; (b) the second was the informal flow of information maintained by the villagers themselves and which was often incompatible with the first.

A news item from Auckland, New Zealand (CCA News, December 15, 1978) spells out the above phenomenon more eloquently. At the first Asian Conference on Race and Minorities, the word “development” itself was both advocated and debunked. The representatives of different governments and the different churches advocated development for the minorities since it was, they maintained, for their (the minorities’) welfare. Strangely enough (but perhaps understandably so), the representatives of the minority groups said otherwise. “Development has no meaning,” said the final report of the conference. “It is not our word… it is an imposed understanding of society and should be ignored!” They claimed that it was an elitist concept which saw from the top down. The plenary session later upheld their view.

This is why development communication must first be a process of listening to the village people’s feelings and aspirations before it can be a process of talking to them. The process of development communication should first be one that begins from the village to the medium and continue from thereon to be, in turn, a process from the medium to the village.


It should by now be clear that communication must be supportive of development. Otherwise, communication becomes “escapist” or “inane” and development becomes difficult, if not impossible to achieve.

But let me end with just one model to show this. I owe this model to an original insight of Dr. F. Landa Jocano of U.P.

The physical environment where people live gives (through experience with such environment) ideas on how they can best cope with it. The best of these ideas are put into practice and, after repeated practice, they become part of the values or what people consider as things-worth-striving-for, considering their physical environment. A cluster of these values soon begin to hang together and soon enough become (what sociologists call) social institutions.

For example, in the rural areas where (and when) machines are not available to “till and subdue the earth,” people naturally develop the idea that “more hands” will mean more “harvest.” So the idea of a big family being beneficial dawns upon such people. In the process, they begin to regard children as assets – economic as well as social, and even for defense against enemies or wild animals!

As this central idea is accepted and practiced and children become valued as economic assets and insurance for a village’s survival, other values begin to cluster with this value. For example, the value of pagkalalaki (masculinity) and pagkababae (femininity) as a means to procreate children begins to reinforce the value for children, for a man is regarded as a man and a woman is regarded as a woman, depending on the number of children they have.

This social institution – together with other social institutions – reinforces the physical environment in turn. The result is that the status quo is simply maintained. In rural villages, this is certainly true! This is the reason why villagers remain unchanging throughout the years.

While it is true that a change in the physical environment should eventually result in new ideas on how to cope with the change, this does not always happen or at least, it does take time for the new ideas to seep into the minds of people. Sociologists speak of a cultural lag between the material elements and spiritual elements of any culture. Changes in the material element (technology) usually precede and outpace changes in the spiritual element such as the values and habits of people.

Looking back at our model, we can now try to understand why this is so. Using the ritualistic model of communication, the prevailing idea, value and social institutional environments involve a communication process that is often contrary to, or at least, incompatible with the intended or planned changes. Examples of this abound. When fertilizers were first introduced, village people reasoned out in the following manner: “Hindi dapat ambagan ang lupa”. (“The land should not contribute”). When sanitary toilets were built for villagers, many refused to use them at first or used them the same old way they used their one-hectare or a toilet in the fields. When nutritious nutri-buns were given to people, they remained faithful to their nutritionally unbalanced meals. When industrialization and urbanization began to seep into a particular village, it took time for people to adjust their life system to new ones more suitable to the changes that occurred.

This is where development communication comes in. First of all, development communication must make the planners and developers of the physical environment realize that the people for whom the “development change” is intended may not see the change as valuable at all. This is, in fact, what has happened in many development projects undertaken by government, civic and church institutions.

Secondly, an over-all planned communication strategy must be made to accompany the corresponding physical infrastructure development project.

Thirdly, if at all possible, the people affected should be involved in the very planning and implementing of the development project and of its communication support.

Fourthly, different media of communication should be used to pave the way for the acceptance of people or the development change itself. Mass media, which is usually stressed, is not enough; while it is good for creating knowledge and awareness, it has been found deficient in fostering acceptance or practice. KAP (knowledge, attitude, practice) surveys show that it is the group and interpersonal media which finally convince people to accept a given change.

By inserting the attitude of development communication in the planners/implementors of development projects and by using all forms of media to inform the people of the beneficial effects of such projects and the changes they bring about, the process of their acceptance by the beneficiaries themselves thereby becomes a lot easier.

Therefore, we find that development communication becomes essential in two areas: (a) in the area of developing the physical or material environment; and (b) in the area of developing the spiritual environment – i.e., the ideas, the values and the social institutions of a given people.

Note, however, that I said that the process of acceptance by people becomes easier. Although easier, it will still involve a lot of patience and efforts on the part of the development worker and development communicator. After all, we did say that development, to be true development, must ultimately become self-development, and that communication, to be developmental, must also begin and end with people themselves. Since people are not computers, they can only be persuaded, not programmed, to accept development. This is the reason why development communication is an essential element of a genuine development program.

The founder of the institution I represent, the Rev. Cornelio Lagerwey, MSC, sums up the difficult process of development communication in what he calls the five I’s of communication. First of all, he said, we must inform people about the planned change – its benefits as well as its defects. Secondly we must instruct people on the ways and means of making it work for them. Thirdly, in order to make people start doing something, we must inspire them to act. Then we must insist (through persuasive means) that they go on with the intended change, before we can truly involve them.

In conclusion, let me reiterate that true development means getting people involved in the very subject matter of development. The only way to do this is to make people subjects and not mere objects of the development effort itself. Development communication, both in theory and in practice, seeks such a “social response” from the people themselves. This is why development communication cannot but be an essential element of any development process.

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