Development communication can be seen as a thread linking a number of national development initiatives aimed at eradicating socio-economic drawbacks.
As development communication is practiced in a number of spheres in which public policy is exercised – sanitation, health, safety, economic stability, agriculture, land rights et cetera – the approach requires careful co-ordination if it is not to deteriorate into a haphazard and water-down effort – doing the right thing in the wrong way!
Strategic issues are issues that need to be considered in designing the messages, selecting the activities, and identifying the channels or networks through which any communication intervention will operate.
Strategic issues can be linked to socioeconomic, cultural, and political dynamics and to various aspects of a strategic communication intervention.
- Manage expectations of stakeholders, beneficiaries, and politicians. Clear and realistic messages are the key.
- Understand power relations and dynamics. Relationships between development stakeholders within each area can make or break this effort. These relationships should be clearly identified, acknowledged, and addressed through new communication messages and channels. Relationships between communities and local governments are often characterized by mistrust and miscommunication. This legacy must be taken into account in process design. Messages need to be crafted regarding the involvement of each stakeholder group.
- Prevent social exclusion and capture by elites.
- Communicate opportunities for involvement. Messages about involvement opportunities and incentives must be articulated at the initial stages of the process, particularly to groups that are initially excluded.
- Deliver messages in an appropriate manner. All messages must take into account the level of literacy in the community, its cultural symbols and customs, and religious diversity. All messages must be in the language or languages spoken in the community.
- Recognize and work with government incentive structures. It is important to recognize existing incentive structures for government performance and service delivery.
- Clearly identify the sender of a message or the source of information for an activity. All messages need to be clearly identified as coming from the government, a community-based organization, an international development agency, a political leader, or another source.
- Facilitate new communication channels and messages where communication gaps and voids exist. Where necessary, the communication specialist needs to establish two-way, horizontal and vertical communication flows among all stakeholders, not just top-down flows.
- Build credibility and trust. Ensure the credibility of the information provided and identify strategic information brokers.
- Think carefully about timing, momentum, and sustainability. Planning for the right timing of a particular communication activity is crucial for ensuring a regular two-way flow of information. This is particularly important for maintaining momentum to achieve the objectives and sustainability of the operation.