[FoME] World congress on communication for development

Spurk Christoph (spu) spu at zhwin.ch
Do Nov 9 13:32:17 CET 2006

Liebe FoMe Mitglieder, 
At the end of october 2006 the first 'World congress on communication for development' took place in Rome. Its aim was to discuss the value of 'communication for development' and to give this issue more priority in development cooperation.  
Although it is always helpful to network and to see many interesting people,  my assessment of the congress is still rather mixed. Let me share one or two major critical points with you.

A. Lack of clarity: the reluctance to define 'communication for development'
The congress suffered from the beginning from the fact, that 'communication for development' was not defined, nor even said what elements or different strands of thinking and activities it contains. This was considered by many speakers from the plenary as a main hindrance to have better discussions, elaborate recommendations or formulate plans of action. I do not know whether there was  a hidden agenda not to touch this issue (because then maybe one of the three organizers was out of the game??) but it severely obstructed progress in the debate. 
On the other side - in a group of participants'meeting in the evening - there was a rapid rather pragmatic agreement that C4D comprises different fields, each having its right on its own with its specific activities, concepts and thus recommendations to follow. These fields are: 
§	Assistance to free and pluralistic media (for better governance and democracy) 
§	Communication in projects and programs to improve their effectiveness, outreach, outcome
§	Participatory communication as a process that gives incentives to the people themselves to define their goals, and activities, to raise ownership and to increase participation in the political process from below. 
§	Corporate communications (of donors, of development agencies to explain aid to their citizens and taxpayers) 

This is not the 'final' structure for C4D (some for example question whether corporate communications belongs to the field or not) , but even this rough segmentation helped to make discussions easier as it prevents mixing different meanings and concepts of 'communciation' all the time and instead being more precise.  

B. Character of congress: bias towards political agenda
1.	The objective of the congress has apparently changed during the preparation period. Originally it was conceptualized - at least by the call for papers and the invitations - as a content-driven congress looking for results (value added, impact, methodologies) in 'communication for development' (C4D) in order to improve the work on the ground. Later on the goal of promoting C4D and giving it higher priority and finances by donors was much more highlighted - an issue that put an additional political agenda to the congress. Thus, the reality of the congress was a mixture of both, with a heavy bias towards the political agenda.   

2.	This was demonstrated by the way the papers submitted to the congress and approved by a scientific review process were handled during the congress. Most papers were 'side-lined' and many researchers I spoke to were very much disappointed as they could not present their results to the audience or parts of it: 
a)	the poster sessions were to be held either during lunch break or parallel to the special events section. Thus, many participants hadn't the chance to see the posters; some even did not know that poster sessions have taken place.  
b)	some papers were said to be presented during panels, but in these sessions the researchers were given only one or two minutes to present the content of their papers. 

3.	The panel sessions were dominated by 'political' speakers from donors, NGOs, international organisations. They had political weight but discussed issues on a rather superficial level. At least the aim of the congress to 'demonstrate the value added of C4D' (see original call for papers) could thus not been reached. It was more a 'political call or advocacy' for C4D. This might have its value in its own, but the double nature of the congress was not clear from the beginning , at least not for a considerable part of the participants. 

C. Outlook 
>From individual discussions I had it seems to be the major methodological challenge to measure impact of media interventions and communication campaigns. The real challenge is to do so in a sound manner, i.e beyond pure 'anecdotical evidence' and methodologically valid.

D. Rome consensus?
A recommendations paper called 'Rome consensus' was drafted and partly discussed in the plenary, but not yet finalized. As the paper is still unclear what 'communication for development' is, it seems for me unlikely that it will develop enough political force. 

Instead it seems necessary that people interested in 'communication for development' start to define their field very precisely (really a job of good communication!) and to establish the field in their different organisations. 

Comments welcome

Christoph Spurk 

Christoph Spurk
Media in International Cooperation
Institute of Applied Media Studies (IAM)
Zurich University of Applied Sciences Winterthur (ZHW) 
Kesselschmiede 35
P.O. Box 805
Ch- 8401 Winterthur
0041-52-267 70 64
spu at zhwin.ch

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