Effective development communication programs require a clearly defined strategy with specific goals established in advance. Communication goals may range from relatively short-term changes in individual behavior (for example, improving health or environmental practices) to relatively long-term changes in social or structural conditions (for example, increased economic opportunity, increased gender equity, improved environmental quality). Goals must align with audience or stakeholder needs and achieving this match usually requires the involvement of stakeholders in the program planning stage, if not all stages of program implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. Unlike many other types of communication programs, development communication demands greater attention to social structural factors (Wilkins 2000) because change typically is sought at the societal level, not just the individual level. Also, longer-term and macro-structural changes usually require greater attention to self-sustainability of communication activities, engaging whole communities and organizations (not just individuals) and creating mechanisms for ongoing participation by and coordination among stakeholder groups at multiple levels of social organization from the international and national level to the local and community level.
Consequently, successful development programs, even more than other types of communication programs, need to follow a systematic, rather than ad hoc, planning process. Numerous approaches, manuals, and toolkits exist as guides to program planning (see, for example, Mody 1991; Piotrow et al. 1997; or McKee et al. 2000). Although details vary somewhat from one system to the next, all describe a similar sequence of planning and implementation decisions.
Before attempting to design communication activities and materials, planners need to understand the context within which a program will operate and the audience or audiences that will be involved in and benefit from the program. Situation analysis describes the existing context and status of issue(s) that the program will address: How prevalent or severe is the problem? What causes it? What social, cultural, political, and economic factors inhibit or constrain change from happening? Situation analysis typically draws on existing data, survey results, and other study findings but may require additional research if gaps in knowledge exist.
Audience and communication analysis consists of identifying primary and secondary audiences and describing their current status in terms of their knowledge, attitudes, skills, behaviors, and access to resources relevant to the development issues at hand. Other aspects of the audience that may be useful to understand include the presence of social networks, socio-cultural norms, and community dynamics that influence individual and collective action. At this stage, planners also analyze audiences’ media access and use and the capacity of local media, traditional media, nongovernmental organizations, and communication agencies to participate effectively in development communication programs.
The second stage of systematic planning involves setting objectives, developing program activities to achieve those objectives, and specifying how the activities will be implemented, monitored, and evaluated. Participation in this stage by stakeholders increases the likelihood that the program will address needed changes. The first step is to establish communication objectives that are SMART (specific, measurable, appropriate, realistic, and time-bound). Many programs falter because their objectives are too broad, unmeasurable, or unrealistic within the limits of time and resources available. Programs should avoid the mistake of setting too many objectives, as this dilutes focus and overburdens available resources. SMART objectives also specify precisely who and what will change as a result of program activities.
Next, planners should specify a causal model for the program by drawing on relevant theories to define why and how the program is expected to result in change. This will help to focus communication activities precisely on factors or processes that are most likely to result in desired changes. Even before messages are designed, planners should determine channels that can be used to reach primary and secondary audiences. The most effective programs (even those that operate at a localized level) typically use multiple channels to achieve change on a larger scale.
For example, mass media can be used to encourage and reinforce community mobilization and interpersonal communication among family, friends, community members, peer networks, professionals, and policymakers. Once objectives and strategies are clear, planners develop an implementation plan, which includes a management plan, budget, and work schedule with regular benchmarks established to monitor progress. The implementation plan should include a list of indicators and data sources that will be used to monitor program implementation and audience reaction to it, as well as a study design to measure program outcomes and to assess impact.
Development and Testing
Only after the strategic plan is clear and agreed to by key stakeholders should the program move on to the development of communication materials and messages. Message and materials development is most effective when key stakeholders (managers, fieldworkers, and members of the intended audience are involved in the process to insure that communication meets their needs. It is unlikely that one message can achieve more than one objective; more often than not a single objective may require more than one message or communication activity, which is another reason not to overburden a program with too many objectives.
As the materials and messages begin to take shape, it is essential to pre-test communication concepts and messages with stakeholders and representatives of the intended audience(s). Even if messages are designed with the participation of key stakeholders, formal pre-testing can still help to avoid costly errors and loss of time. If pre-testing reveals – as it usually does – that some adjustment or redesign is needed, then messages and materials should be revised and retested to insure that they match audience needs before final production of materials or implementation of activities occurs.
Implementation and Monitoring
As for all other stages, involving stakeholders in the implementation and monitoring stage helps insure that the program is responsive to local needs and conditions and increases local ownership of and buy-in to the program. The first step in this stage is production and dissemination of messages and materials. Successful programs formally assign responsibility for communication and dissemination activities and may enlist a variety of groups to assist in this process, including local governments, civil society organizations or community groups, private sector organizations and the media, with the aim of achieving maximum reach among those who need to receive materials or participate in communication activities.
Training may be needed to insure that communication activities and distribution of materials are carried out according to plan. In the case of longer-term social change programs, it may be necessary to design ongoing efforts to institutionalize capacity for program communication. Sustaining communication beyond the initial launch of a campaign requires ongoing mobilization of key participants and sharing information, results, and credit with partners, allies, and communities in order to keep everyone motivated toward the strategic goal. In order to insure that the program is on track and being implemented according to plan, it is important to design a system to manage and monitor program implementation. This involves such things as checking program outputs to insure quality, consistency, and timeliness; tracking existing service statistics; and conducting special studies using surveys, focus groups, observation, and other techniques to track audience reaction to the program. Programs need to be prepared to adjust implementation activities based on monitoring results. It is usually less costly to make mid-course corrections or adjustments in activities, materials, and procedures based on monitoring data than to let an inefficient program proceed unchanged.
Evaluation and Replanning
The final stage of program planning is evaluating how well a program achieves its objectives. Evaluation can explain why a program is effective (or not), including the effects of different activities on different audiences. Sound program evaluation stimulates program improvements and redesign, guides cost-effective future funding allocations, supports advocacy and fundraising, and can motivate continued involvement by stakeholders. Many programs measure outcomes to determine if the desired changes have occurred. More rigorous study designs assess impact, which links changes in outcomes to one or more intervention activities.
Dissemination of results is an important part of evaluation because it helps everyone involved to be aware of the program’s impact, whether or not it is positive. Impact results should be shared and discussed widely with partners, allies, key stakeholders, the media, and funding agencies. Finally, because most development communication programs are part of a larger agenda for social change, evaluation results from one phase of a program should help to shape plans for future activity. Good evaluation designs help development communication planners revise or redesign programs by revealing program strengths to be replicated and weaknesses to be corrected. Again, key stakeholders, decision-makers, donors, and all interested parties should be involved in reviewing the results of the program evaluation in order to determine what the follow-up should be. New follow-on programs may have to start over at the analysis stage if the situation changes markedly or if new causes are found for the development issues being addressed.
- McKee, N., Manoncourt, E., Yoon, C. S., & Carnegie, R. (eds.) (2000). Involving people, evolving behavior. Penang: Southbound.
- Mody, B. (1991). Designing messages for development communication: An audience participation based approach. New Delhi: Sage.
- Piotrow, P. T., Kincaid, D. L., Rimon, J. G. III, & Rinehart, W. E. (1997). Health communication: Lessons from family planning and reproductive health. Westport, CT: Praeger.
- Wilkins, K. G. (2000). Redeveloping communication for social change: Theory, practice and power. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.
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