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The Role of Communications in the Development Process

by William O. Sweeney - 1975

The underlying premise of this article is that the information and the education processes should be perceived as integrated—or combined in a larger process—and that activities related to both processes should be coordinated. The perception is important in both the industrialized and less industrialized countries (LIC's).

The economic and social development of a country rests on the ability of hu­man resources to identify and solve problems. These problems may involve personal concerns, such as desirable family size; communal matters, such as water resources; or national affairs, such as world market prices for export commodities. At the same time, the identification and solution of problems de­pend on knowledge, i.e., "the fact or condition of having information or of be­ing learned,"1 and knowledge, in turn, is the product of two processes: infor­mation and/or education.

Information is a one-way process which implies mass communications and in­cludes mass media—radio, television, and the press. It can also include film, audiovisuals, and printed materials. Information activities can be highly orga­nized into advertising, promotion, and public relations programs. The impor­tant distinguishing feature of the information process is its one-way capacity; there is no capability for an immediate response from a person or audience.

Education, on the other hand, is a two-way process, at least potentially, be­cause the capability exists for an immediate response. Education can be person to person, person to group, within a group, or any permutation as long as all of the people involved in the process are located in the same place.2

The process includes formal, extension, and community education. Education is not communication with a mass or "unseen" audience.

Basic Premise

The underlying premise of this article is that the information and the education processes should be perceived as integrated—or combined in a larger process—and that activities related to both processes should be coordinated. The perception is important in both the industrialized and less industrialized countries (LIC's). Actual broad-scale co­ordination may be possible and needed only in the developing countries, since in the West highly developed mass information systems and a panoply of edu­cational institutions continuously convey message stimuli to specific and gener­al audiences. Consequently, it is difficult to imagine coordinating the activities of the mass media with extension agencies and the school systems of, say, the United States.

In the LIC's, however, neither the information systems nor the education systems penetrate the general populations deeply or effectively. In fact, mass communications systems in most LIC's have only marginal penetration of rural audiences, which often comprise the major portion of the population. Formal education systems have limited contact with the mass population. Of the pupils enrolled in elementary education in the developing countries, some 50 percent fail to complete the fourth grade; a high proportion of these dropouts occur in the first or second year.3 Formal educational structures are highly centralized and are controlled by capital city bureaucracies. The results are conservatism and inflexibility as well as resistance to the inculcation of new material in the curricula. At the same time, nonformal education programs are limited in scope and therefore in penetration.

Recognizing that the public information systems and the education systems in developing countries have inadequate audience penetration when used sep­arately, coordination of the two systems is recommended. The linking of the two systems and the use of compatible information on the same subject in each system increase the probability of learning because more messages, in varied media forms, are reaching specified audiences.

The Communications Process       

People do not al­ways recall how they receive information. For any subject, information is usu­ally accrued over time, and the various modes of delivery for each unit of information are not easily recalled. Therefore, people do not usually view the in­formation and education processes as discrete. They do not see the transmis­sion and inculcation of knowledge in terms of the process. Consequently, it seems appropriate to subsume information and education under a broader communications process.

Communicating with a Person

People who do a great deal of public speaking will often identify someone in an audience who ap­pears to be sympathetic to what is being said and speak to that person as if he or she were the complete audience. Such behavior is insightful because it recognizes that in the last analysis the communicative process is always be­tween person and person. Information broadcast to mass audiences is received by individuals, just as a teacher is heard individually. Therefore, in my view, all attempts to inform and educate should identify with the situation of the person.

There must be an awareness that every individual lives in his own communi­cations arena, which is conditioned by age, sex, status, and culture. All mes­sages, whether delivered by a person or by a mass medium, are external and are stimuli delivered in the form of verbal and nonverbal information that may, or may not, penetrate the arena and create a conscious awareness of the mes­sage. Both the information and education processes provide these message stimuli. Very often, on reflection, a person is not able to identify how a given body of knowledge was developed.

Recognizing that each individual lives in a communications arena and that both the information and education processes provide messages in that arena, then it seems correct that to provide new knowledge and assist in human re­source development as many messages as possible must be created on the same subject and delivered in various media forms. Both the information and educa­tion processes should be utilized in order to assure a higher probability of pene­tration, awareness, acceptance, and attitude and behavioral change.

Communicating with the Community       

Most of the world's population live in geographical communities. Personal associations are formed within this context. Of course, within a given community there are a number of subunits based on such things as work and social needs. Each of these organizational groupings, and all of them collectively as a community, es­tablish and maintain norms and values. It is in the communal context that new ideas are tested and accepted or rejected. It is in this context that a person re­ceives message stimuli and, based on this new knowledge, makes decisions about personal and communal acceptability.

The information process and the education process penetrate community or­ganizations. Again, the message stimuli are often not identified with either pro­cess. Therefore, it seems appropriate to combine the use of the two processes and to create messages with similar content with the expectation that a combination will result in a higher degree of comprehension and acceptance by the community and, therefore, greater acceptance by the individual.

In sum, in communicating with a person, group, and/or community, the probability of message acceptance and the creation of knowledge resulting in attitude and behavioral change are potentially more effective and more effi­cient if the information and education processes are combined.

Feasibility of Combination       

Conditions in LIC's are more conducive to combining educational and informational systems than those in the West. In the first place, the systems are fewer, less complex, and therefore more easily identified. Secondly, in many developing countries, the media and the education systems are government controlled. Based on my ex­periences in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, it is possible to bring together representatives of government agencies concerned with information, formal education, and extension education and to discuss with them an information and education program concerned with a topic such as population. These gov­ernment agencies have access to almost all of the information and education in­stitutions. Theoretically, it is possible to work out an integrated program for a given subject.

The development of a communications program that combines information and education activities is easiest in a country with a small population, a com­mon language, and a relatively homogeneous population. It becomes increas­ingly difficult as the country becomes larger, has a greater population, and a heterogeneous culture. An example of a developing country in which this kind of communications coordination would be very difficult, on a national level, is India; however, it may be possible to approach the combined use of informa­tion and education at the state level.

Impediments to a Communications Program

There are at least three impediments to combining information and education as a communications process and program for the development of human re­sources in the LIC's. They are continued importation of Western models (in­cluding communications models), narrowness of academic disciplines, and ri­gidity of LIC bureaucracies.

The less industrialized countries are still importing notions of Western orga­nization and Western problem-solving. As importantly, the West is still, often unconsciously, exporting its own models for use in the less industrialized areas. Some examples can be cited to illustrate the problem.

At the recent Population Conference in Bucharest, one of the principal issues that arose at the time of the conference was the rights and status of women. Al­though many voices were heard, it was the loud voice of Western feminists that received most of the attention, particularly in the mass media. Western feminists have defined problems and have begun to articulate solutions. Their posi­tion at the Bucharest Conference was that all women of the world must identify the same problems and accept the same solutions. This group sees itself as radi­cal and revolutionary and certainly not as neocolonial; yet Western feminists are exporting Western problems and calling for acceptance of their solutions. It is a mark of distinction that many of the Third World women at the Bucharest Conference resisted the identified problems and solutions but still held to the central notion of the need to improve the rights and raise the status of women throughout the world.4

Again, at the Bucharest Conference, the principal debate (at times a con­frontation) took place between those who identify an overpopulation problem and seek a fertility control solution and those who identify a set of development problems, perhaps including population, and seek a diffuse set of development solutions, perhaps not including family planning.5 Significantly missing was a recognition that both the population and the development points of view were often cast in macro, top-down planning terms. Western notions of economic development continue to be paramount. Little attention was paid to an issue which communicators find of principal importance: how do people (person, groups of people) accept any new idea.

To understand how knowledge is developed and used by a given group re­quires a micro examination of the social and cultural context of the group. This micro perspective must be maintained as economic and social planners strive to create change. Problems arise when planners develop national and regional programs, hopefully with communications components, and attempt to take in­to consideration the micro realities of how societies change. National plans do not easily accommodate local context. In one East African country, for exam­ple, consideration was given to the introduction of a sex education course into secondary ("0" level in that country's terminology) schools throughout the country. One small tribe in the western part of the country has a social conven­tion which forbids the discussion of sex between children and parents and those perceived in parental relationships, such as teachers.6 Sex is discussed between child and grandparent or those perceived as part of the grandparent's genera­tion. The initial national plan for sex education called for existing teachers to do the educating. Here is a need for an adjustment at a micro level so that the sex education teachers would be old enough to be perceived in a grandparental re­lationship.

An example of continued acceptance of Western models by educated elites in LIC's is the case of a Southeast Asian country where a communications insti­tute has been testing information and education materials in provincial and ru­ral areas. The institute staff has been trained in the United States, largely in mass communications. As might be expected, the research design initially used for the field testing of materials was developed in the United States. When ap­plied to the rural context of an Asian country, the researchers had great diffi­culty in making the design work. The principal researcher believed that only a design modification was necessary, rather than a radical revision based on rural reality. When pressed in conversation, he seemed incapable of rejecting West­ern methods.

The continued acceptance by LIC's of Western realities and Western models suggests that radical appraisal of present information and education systems, with the intention of combining them for efficiency and effectiveness, will be a difficult task.

In the industrial West, the highest rewards are reserved for those with spe­cialized knowledge. This is particularly true in the academic world where the continued deepening of disciplines and subdisciplines results in a narrow, verti­cal vision restricted by the confines of the discipline. In the less industrialized countries the disciplines are even more rigid. Therefore, the intellectual re­sources available to find appropriate and practical ways to combine informa­tion and education processes are either blinded or encased in rigidity. Like­wise, government bureaucracies, noted more for their rigidity than their flexi­bility, cannot be counted on to oversee the active collaboration of the various agencies to insure the successful combination of the information and education processes.

How to Combine Information and Education

Developing countries are constantly striving to inform and educate their pub­lics on various subjects—cooperatives, agriculture, nutrition, health, family planning, etc. Consider, for instance, family planning.

In many of the LIC's, when a national family planning program is instituted, one agency is charged with primary responsibility. For its communications pro­gram (which may or may not be assigned to a second agency), the paramount agency usually develops an organizational chart which visualizes links with many agencies that have capabilities for reaching, informing, and educating various audiences. These agencies include ministries of education, public infor­mation, agriculture, cooperatives, social welfare, health, private sector indus­try, and service groups. A major problem arises when the agency charged with responsibility for population communications attempts to implement the program. There are organizational difficulties when efforts are made to coordinate information and education activities. The communications agency has difficulty transferring information to other agencies in such a way that it is accepted, inte­grated, and disseminated through that agency's capabilities. In other words, there is an interagency organizational muddle that often impedes communication with intended audiences.

A variety of organizational models presently exist that attempt to provide for coordination of communications activities. In some countries the government has delegated responsibility for communications work to a private agency, of­ten the private family planning association. In others the national population organization of the government has a department of communications. In some cases the national organization has divided the communications responsibility into two or even three departments, e.g., formal education, community and health education, and public information. Each of these units in turn work with external agencies.

Still a third organizational model has been developed by a UN agency, the Development Support Communications Service (DSCS). In a number of devel­oping countries the DSCS has assisted governments in restructuring their infor­mation systems. For example, in Iran major efforts are now being made to re­develop the department of information in such a way that it is able to provide all needed support for any given development project, whether it be building a dam or implementing a populations communications program.7 However, even in this model, the formal education work is discrete. One Caribbean country is presently considering establishing a new agency which would be responsible for the coordination and direction of all information and education activities; exactly how this would be done is yet to be determined.

The key component for the creation and implementation of a communica­tions program for any topic is planning.8 National governments and their imple­menting agencies must have national plans containing objectives, guidelines, and details of the implementation process. When such plans exist, they usually have been developed at a national level and are concerned with the agency's specific subject area. Some plans do take into consideration implementation below the national level—at the regional and subregional strata—but very few allow for regional and local planning, and almost none takes into account the micro, social reality or allows for local modification.


1    Webster's Seventh New Collegiate Dictionary. Springfield, Mass.: G. & C. Merriam, 1971.

2    Educational processes where both parties need not be physically in the same place are: didactic methods combined with mass media, including such activities as educational television and the "open university" (the latter being a combination of didactic methods with media—radio, TV, etc.—and occasional meetings of students with teachers and peer group discussions); and com­puter-assisted instruction (CAI). CAI is very much an education process as the interchange be­tween student and the knowledge data base is fundamental. It differs from the classic exchange between teacher and student in that the teacher is one step removed from the student, serving as the resource person for the development of the computer program. For a comprehensive ex­planation of these educational systems, including material on Britain's Open University, USSR Educational Television, and Israel Instructional Television, see James N. Armsey and Norman C. Dahl. An Inquiry into the Uses of Instructional Technology. New York, N.Y.: Ford Founda­tion, 1973.

3    Kenneth W. Thompson and F. Champion Ward. Education and Development Reconsidered, Vols. I and II. Prepared for a conference sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Ford Foundation, 1972.

4    Jahan Rounaq et al., "Speaking for a Silent Majority," People, Vol. I, No. 5, 1974, p. 27.

5    For a presentation of the issues of population and development, see People, ibid.; Phyllis T. Piotrow, "World Plan of Action and Health Strategy Approved at Population Conferences," Population Reports, Series E, No. 2, November 1974; and Michael S. Teitelbaum, "Popula­tion and Development: Is a Consensus Possible?" Foreign Affairs, July 1974.

6    For a review of cultural source materials in East Africa, see Angela Molnos. Cultural Source Materials for Population Planning in East Africa. Nairobi, Kenya: East African Publishing House, Vols. I, II, and III, 1972.

7    Erskine Childers et al. Preliminary Proposals for an Iranian Development Support Communi­cation System. Bangkok, Thailand: Development Support Communication Service, 1971.

8    For presentations on communications planning see Erskine Childers and Mallica Vajrathon. Social Communication Components in Development Programs. Bangkok, Thailand: Develop­ment Support Communication Service, 1969; and William O. Sweeney, "The Role of Commu­nications in Population and Family Planning Programs," in Harriet H. Barr, ed. Health Edu­cators at Work. Chapel Hill, N.C.: Department of Health Education, School of Public Health, University of North Carolina, Vol. 23, November 1972.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 76 Number 4, 1975, p. 597-604
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 1365, Date Accessed: 10/17/2021 8:00:08 AM

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About the Author
  • William Sweeney
    Ford Foundation, New York
    William O. Sweeney is a project specialist in communications, Population Office, International Division, Ford Foundation, New York. The author is grateful to Ann Leonard for her helpful comments.
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