Opinion

Communication: An important tool in social development

Social development means investing in people. It is about improving the well-being of every individual in society so they can reach their full potential. The success of society is linked to the well-being of each and every citizen. It requires the removal of barriers so that all citizens can journey toward their dreams with confidence and dignity.

It is also about refusing to accept that people who live in poverty will always be poor. It is about helping people so they can move forward on their path to self-sufficiency. In development programmes or projects, it involves the need to take a social development approach and invest in people.

Donor agencies such as The World Bank, United Nations (UN) supports social development in developing countries by listening to poor people and promoting their voices in the development process; understanding and addressing their needs, priorities and aspiration; and building formal and informal institutions.

Social Development focuses on the need to “put people first” in development processes. It promotes social inclusion of the poor and vulnerable by empowering people, building cohesive and resilient societies, and making institutions accessible and accountable to citizens.

For organisations such as the World Bank, Social development can be achieved through methods such as;

·Community-driven development (CDD) programs: This operates on the principles of transparency, participation, accountability, and enhanced local capacity. CDD programmes ensure access to information, and appropriate technical and financial support. Given these support communities can effectively organise to identify community priorities and address local problems by working with relevant arms of government and institutions to have a sustainable development.

· Disability Inclusion: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development clearly states that disability cannot be a reason or criteria for lack of access to development programming and the realisation of human rights.

·Social inclusion: This is the process of improving the terms on which individuals and groups take part in the society.

·Sexual orientation and gender identity: This involves the commitments on gender equality and social inclusion.

Development programmes can only realise their full potential if knowledge and technology are shared effectively, and if populations are motivated and committed to achieve success. Unless people themselves are the driving force of their own development, no amount of investment or provision of technology and inputs will bring about any lasting improvements in their living standards. Only with effective communication will programme or project beneficiaries become the principal actors to make development programmes successful.

No matter how great the designs of these social development methods are, they all depend on tool for transmission of these ideas to a group of people and communities for them to become the principal actors by owning the programme or project and make it successful. This veritable tool is Communication.

Communication is the transmission or ideas or thought from one person to another in a way that is mutually understandable. Development communication refers to the use of communication to facilitate social development. Development communication engages stakeholders and policy makers, establishes conducive environments; assesses risks and opportunities and promotes information exchanges to create positive social change via sustainable development. It provides communities with information they can use in bettering their lives, which aims at making public programmes and policies real, meaningful and sustainable.

Development in social development is usually purposive, persuasive, goal directed, audience-oriented, and interventionist by nature.

Development communication techniques include information dissemination and education, behaviour change, social marketing, social mobilisation, media advocacy, communication for social change, and community participation. It starts from finding the best suitable strategies for mobilising people and consequently resources, for development goals. The three major component of development communication are; advocacy, social mobilization and behaviour change communication for the target beneficiaries.

For an effective communication in a social development, the communicator must understand the process of development, the process of communication and the environment in which the two processes interact. The communicators must also be able to design the communication strategy including tools most appropriate to reach the target audience.

According to the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Communication for Development (C4D) goes beyond providing information. It involves understanding people, their beliefs and values, the social and cultural norms that shape their lives. For a communication to be considered successful in social development it must empower individuals and communities to take action to improve their lives.

Communication media and techniques are powerful tools to advise people about new ideas and methods, to encourage adoption of those ideas and methods, and to improve training overall. These communication approaches can respond in a combination of ways. Mass media (traditional and new media) can raise awareness and public understanding of the programme or project while Interpersonal Communication techniques such as focus group discussion, dialogue, counseling and participatory rural appraisal, among others have the capacity to develop coping mechanisms, self-esteem and images of a better future.

Social communication activities based, such as demonstrations, field days, exhibitions, play-back, and using truly participatory methodologies, can pioneer attitudinal changes at the community level. Preparation of Information, Education, and Communication (IEC) printed materials with text, graphics and photographs as well as audio-visual materials, can be highly effective channels for disseminating development information and for stimulating action by the stakeholders.

Traditional and popular media such as folk theatre, dances, puppet shows and popular poetry, as well as rural press are also medium of communicating especially in literacy programmes. The strategic use of communication techniques, activities and media gives people powerful tools both to experience change and actually sustain it. To effectively reach all the audience for sustainable social development, communication mix is usually employed.

Communication techniques go far beyond the simple question-and-answer survey. Meaningful discussion, generated by people trained in interpersonal communication skills, and audio-visual tools, such as video or radio, can help the community to identify its true problems and priorities and where its capabilities and needs lie. This self-analysis can help a community to generate realistic proposals for new development initiatives and stimulates tremendous interest to have these initiatives succeed.

According to Colin Fraser and Jonathan Villet (1994), if development can be seen as a fabric woven out of the activities of millions of people, communication represents the essential thread that binds them together.

Communication has been highly exploited for political and commercial aims. Now is the time for communication to be applied to development.

How best is your project using communication to achieve its development objective?

*Ogunlana-Lawal is the Communication Officer, Lagos State Agro-Processing, Agricultural Productivity Enhancement and Livelihood Improvement Support (APPEALS) Project

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