One of the books that shaped my career as a development communicator the most, is the World Bank’s Development Communication Sourcebook (download it right now – it’s free!). In it, author Paulo Mefalopulos lists 10 key misunderstandings about communication, specifically when it comes to a developmental setting.

I know this list by heart and use it to guide me. I hope you will find it as valuable as I do.

  1. “Communications” and “communication” are not the same thing.
    The plural form refers to activities and products; the singular refers to the process. It emphasises communication’s dialogical and analytical functions rather than its informative nature and use of media products.
  2. Everyday communication is not professional communication.
    All human beings are born with the ability to communicate, but not all of us can communicate strategically. A professional (development) communication specialist understands relevant theories and practices, and can design strategies using the full range of communication approaches and methods to achieve intended objectives.
  3. Development communication is different to other types of communication.
    The World Bank distinguishes between advocacy communication, corporate communication, internal communication and development communication. Each has a different scope and requires specific knowledge and skills to be performed effectively. Expertise in one area of communication is not sufficient to ensure results in another.
  4. Development communication is not about selling ideas.
    We have moved beyond the linear sender-message-channel-receiver model, whose purpose was to inform audiences and persuade them to change. The scope of development communication includes an analytical aspect and a dialogical one – it is intended to open public spaces where stakeholders can air and assess their perceptions, opinions and knowledge.
  5. Research has to precede strategy.
    A communication professional should not design a communication campaign or strategy without having all the relevant data to inform his or her decision. Assumptions based on experts’ knowledge should always be triangulated with other sources to ensure their overall validity.
  6. You need to know more about more.
    A development communication specialist needs to be:
    •  Familiar with different communication theories, models, and applications.
    •  Familiar with the basic principles and practices of related disciplines, such as anthropology, marketing, sociology, ethnography, psychology, adult education and social research.
    •  Empathic and willing to listen and facilitate dialogue in order to elicit and incorporate stakeholders’ perceptions and opinions.
    •  Consistently issue-focused, rather than institution-focused.
  7. Development communication support can only be as effective as the project itself.
    Excellent communication strategies will fail if the objectives of the projects they are meant to support are not properly determined, if they do not enjoy consensus from stakeholders, or if the activities are not implemented in a satisfactory manner. Development communication is never a quick fix exercise in short-term damage control. When tight deadlines and budget cause the basic foundations of development communication to be neglected, the results are usually disappointing, especially over the long term.
  8. Development communication is not only about behaviour change.
    Development communication is also about probing socioeconomic and political factors, identifying priorities, assessing risks and opportunities, empowering people, strengthening institutions and promoting social change within complex cultural and political environments. The reality of development is complex and often requires changes beyond specific individual behaviours.
  9. Media and information technologies are not the backbone of development communication.
    As a matter of fact, development communication works its magic before media and information and communication technologies are even considered. Their application comes at a later stage, and their impact is greatly affected by the communication work done in the research phase. Unless media products are used in connection with other approaches and based on proper research, they seldom deliver the intended results.
  10. Participatory approaches and participatory communication approaches are not the same thing.
    Most participatory approaches do not usually assess the range and level of people’s perceptions and attitudes on key issues, identify communication entry points, and map out the information and communication systems that can be used later to design and implement the communication strategy. These are all activities carried out in a participatory communication assessment.

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