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Communications Key to Successful Development Projects

A group of girls attend a Shonglap session in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. The peer leader (left) is discussing adolescent legal rights. Credit: Naimul Haq/IPS

DHAKA, Dec 24 2016 (IPS) - Pumping money into development projects and rolling them out without having a good communications policy in place makes it unlikely the programmes will achieve their desired goals, as communications is vital to connect with stakeholders.

Development projects will thrive if the messages are effectively shared as it helps build an enabling atmosphere, communications experts said while addressing a multi-stakeholder knowledge-sharing meeting titled ‘Communicating for Development: Rural Transformation’ in Dhaka on Dec. 20.

They said one needs to be clear about project goals and messages while communicating in any form. Connecting people across the board with communication helps identify vital issues, build a sense of belonging and pave the way to move ahead.

Emphasising the need for collectivism, Bangladesh’s noted economist Prof. Abul Barkat told the event that project officials often fail to make their key messages clear.

Referring to the weakness in coordination and communication, the economist noted that only four percent of rural land in Bangladesh is ‘effectively’ owned by women, while a whopping 72 percent of urban land is owned by women as the property is often transferred to women by their male family members in a bid to evade taxes. “Where’s this message? No one knows,” he said.

The multistakeholder event held under the auspices of the Inter Press Service (IPS) and entities of the Government of Bangladesh.

S.M. Shameem Reza, Associate Professor of Mass Communication and the Journalism department at Dhaka University, said, “Most development projects, particularly those are related to rural transformation, have the lack of a strong communication approach. Communication doesn’t get much importance in project implementation. In many cases, communication is considered as a project subcomponent.”

For better outputs, there needs to be a very effective and sustainable communication strategy so that the project implementers can identify appropriate channels of communication, the mode of communication, core messages, and can establish communication and feedback mechanisms.

“If so, the system loss can be minimised,” Reza said.

There should be a communication strategy for development, rural transformation and agricultural projects, he said.

According to Adam Smith International, a UK-based award-winning professional services business, effective development communication is the result of a logical series of steps that demands a consistent approach. The steps are defining goals, identifying, stakeholders, developing messages and selecting media, testing and reviewing, launching, defending and responding, and assessing and evaluating.

At the event, separate presentations were made to share communication approaches of the six projects of IFAD. The projects are Participatory Small-Scale Water Resources Sector Project, Char Development and Settlement Project IV, Haor Infrastructure and Livelihood Improvement Project/Climate Adaptation and Livelihood Protection (HIILIP/CALIP), Coastal Climate Resilient Infrastructure Project (CCRIP), Promoting Agricultural Commercialisation and Enterprise Project (PACE) and National Agriculture Technology Programme II (NATP-II).

Dr. Barkat told the event that the total beneficiaries of these projects would be around 10 million households, and this vital message needs to be spread.

Barkat said Bangladesh needs to accelerate the process of humane development rather than concentrating exclusively on GDP growth. It is essential to ensure just rights and distributive justice, he added.

However, he added that humanising development within the framework of a free market economy is a very difficult task. “If somebody comes up with a formula how to humanise development within the free market economy, he or she will get the Nobel Prize,” he noted wryly.

Taking part in discussions, representatives of the projects said their aim is to make communication for development an integral part of rural development policies and programmes.

By bringing the media along with other stakeholders onboard, they stressed the importance of raising awareness, acknowledging the cultural dimensions of rural development and valuing local knowledge, experiential learning, and information sharing.

They also talked about giving priority to the active participation of smallholder farmers and other stakeholders in the decision-making process with the ultimate objective of building a Bangladesh that will have food security.

Communication is no longer an issue that can be ignored as it is the key to success for development programmes.

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