On communicating development

We recently concluded a program orientation for our local implementation partners, key officers of parent and youth associations in the villages. These are ordinary folks, in that orientation, vegetable farmers and labourers who were trained and developed through the years in project implementation.

The challenge in these venues is for I/NGO officers and staff to digest highly-technical and conceptual topics in development. However because of limited presentation or speaking time coupled with the pressure to connect with the audience I/NGO people without meaning to oversimplify thus integrity of conceptual meanings is lost or gets watered down. For example: This year’s plan was designed using the Theory of Change as the analysis and planning framework. How is TOC explained to this audience? Usually this way: It (theory of change) is the same concept as before (the logical framework). It is not. It is a road map toward the goals we have set out to achieve. Well, road map could be a synonym but what exactly is this road map? It is a set of guideposts. Maybe not.

Further into the programme, in a plenary after the presentation on participation, an officer from a parent association shared that many supported families who have stopped or were reluctant to participate in community activities tell him, what’s the use in us taking part when we don’t receive direct assistance anymore? That started off a heated discussion.

The situation, from an M&E perspective, indicates a deeper and unresolved issue which is that transitions in development at the community level have not been managed well.

For any one person, organization, or community, transitions are the most difficult phase to traverse and unless managed well those undergoing one could get stuck in them despite moving on physically to the new.  Also because being stuck is something like a back subject to both – the I/NGO and communities it supports – the conversation on this could get difficult. It is the responsibility of change makers to walk families and communities through the change. This necessitates a plan to manage these periods and to involve communities in the process.

An activity of such a plan could be a re-training, orientation, or planning session with locals.

How does one discuss the Theory of Change to individuals who have not even completed elementary education?  There may be other means besides PowerPoint slides, thus like the good teacher preparing lesson plans, I/NGO officers and staff need to set aside time to know, once more, the profile of their audience in order to draw up the appropriate activity design, to study the topics assigned to them, plan how each segues to the other, and prepare for the delivery mode (i.e. language, learning materials) appropriate to their audience because as with the learning taking place between teacher and students a community’s understanding of development concepts and the ensuing community plan which is the product of such an understanding reflects the quality of input given or received.

Visuals and allegories as aids in bringing the message across should not be underestimated, as for instance the visual below to explain family planning in corn-growing communities:

Design and development of learning materials for communities is being taken for granted.  We think that speaking for hours on end with just PowerPoint slides, the usual mode of delivery, instantly translates into knowledge gained on the part of listeners, but borrowing the theory of multiple intelligences there is greater chance of learning taking place when all the senses are engaged.  I, for one, fall under the visual-spatial and bodily-kinesthetic categories of M.I. meaning I learn more quickly through imagery and hands-on learning.  On one hand, I dread workshops (although this is the norm in my line of work) because to me they’re artificial and participants are forced to interact with almost-strangers at a relatively deep level and expected to produce quality outputs in a relatively short time and so instead of these serving as venues of learning I get stressed out.  There is therefore more to communicating development than just going in front and speaking.


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