How can participatory communication be applied in development projects? This World Bank publication outlines the four key phases of the participatory communication programme cycle. Genuine participatory communication is rare, but it can facilitate the empowerment of marginalised groups and have wider social and political effects. It requires continual dialogue with stakeholders. However, proper application of participatory communication methods are not enough to ensure a project’s success. Broader contextual requirements are important, including a flexible project framework (especially in terms of timelines), a politically conducive environment, and an enabling attitude among key stakeholders.
Participatory communication is an approach based on dialogue, which allows the sharing of information, perceptions and opinions among the various stakeholders and thereby facilitates their empowerment. It is not just the exchange of information and experiences: it is also the exploration and generation of new knowledge aimed at addressing situations that need to be improved. Participatory communication tends to be associated with community-driven development, but it could be used at any level of decision making (local, national, international) regardless of the diversity of groups involved.
By actively engaging stakeholders from the start and by seeking a broader consensus around development initiatives, participatory communication has begun to be considered a crucial tool. This is partly because many conflicts and obstacles can be prevented if addressed quickly. Genuine participation also increases the sense of ownership by local stakeholders, enhancing sustainability.
To be genuinely participatory and truly effective, communication should occur among all parties affected, ensuring all have similar opportunities to influence the outcome of the initiative. Ideally, participatory communication should be part of the whole project process:
- Two-way communication should be adopted from the beginning and be applied consistently.
- Full participation by all stakeholders in any step of the process is not possible and, in some cases probably not desirable. Broad consensus may be sufficient.
- Inclusiveness must be balanced with consideration of stakeholders’ time, resources, interests and knowledge. After their input is taken into account, stakeholders may not need to be involved in detailed decisions beyond the scope of their interests.
The communication programme cycle can run parallel to the project cycle when they both start at the same time. The basic phases of a communication programme are:
- Phase One – Participatory Communication Assessment (PCA): Issues are researched and analysed through exploratory two-way communication. For these tasks to be successful, it is necessary to establish an open or common space where key stakeholders can interact freely with each other.
- Phase Two – (Participatory) Communication Strategy Design: Successful strategy design begins with the definition of the objectives. Instances where strategies are designed on broad, poorly understood objectives are surprisingly frequent.
- Phase Three – Implementation of Communication Activities: An action plan is needed to guide implementation and facilitate the management and monitoring of all relevant activities.
- Phase Four – Monitoring and Evaluation: Evaluation should be planned from the beginning of an initiative. Furthermore, if participation means that stakeholders are partners in the decision-making process, they must also be partners in impact evaluation.