Communication for social change and transformation

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The role of communication in social change and transformation

Can the use of communication contribute to social change and transformation? The growing emphasis on participatory, ‘horizontal’ communication – such as stakeholder dialogue and consultation and bottom-up community media – has created spaces in which people can define development and give meaning to and claim their citizenship. Such spaces allow people not only to be heard but also to reshape boundaries and social and cultural norms that underpin knowledge and power relations. This in turn could contribute to empowerment and social change. Thus, while mass communication and behavioral change communication are considered useful in themselves and for promoting pre-determined reforms, participatory communication may have greater potential to contribute to locally-owned reforms and sustainable change at various levels of society.

Pettit, J., Salazar, J. F. and Dagron, A. G., 2009, ‘Citizens’ Media and Communication’, Development in Practice, vol. 19, no. 4&5, pp. 443-452
Citizens’ media and communication comprise social, cultural and political processes that have the potential to be transformative. These approaches and processes are often not well understood, however, by mainstream development policy and practice, resulting in weak implementation. This introductory article finds that citizens’ media and communication is about more than bringing diverse voices into pluralist politics: it contributes to processes of social and cultural construction, redefining exclusionary norms and power relations. Local participation, ownership and control can allow people to reshape the spaces in which their voices find expression.
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Participatory communication

Participatory communication is similar to participatory development in various ways: they both adopt processes and interventions that generate dialogue and collaboration; they are underpinned by the concept of empowerment and expression of voice; and they are concerned with challenging power relations and promoting social change from the bottom-up. In participatory communication, however, this is achieved specifically through communication tools.

Participatory communication requires a shift from a focus on communication as a dissemination or campaigning tool, used to inform and persuade people to change their behavior or attitude – to a focus on communication as an empowering tool. In the latter case, communication is used to facilitate continual exchanges between different stakeholders to define development concerns and address common problems or goals. This facilitates individual and community ownership of the entire process. Communication approaches have increasingly sought to combine diffusion and participatory methods.

Interventions designed to include multiple components (e.g., group education workshops combined with mass media campaigns; or theatre combined with community dialogue sessions) have in some instances been shown to be more effective in improving outcomes than single component interventions (C-Change, 2009).

It is important to ensure that the participatory spaces in which citizen engagement and exchanges takes place are representative of communities and citizens. Considerations include: On what basis do people enter such spaces? What legitimacy do they have to speak for others? Are marginalized groups involved or represented? How can broader-based representation be achieved? (Cornwall and Coelho, 2007)

While participation is considered a positive outcome in itself, it is also important to link these processes to mechanisms and institutions that can address the issues voiced by participants. An absence of any tangible improvements could eventually lead to disillusionment with participatory communication processes.

Dagron, A. G., 2009, ‘Playing with Fire: Power, Participation, and Communication for Development’, Development in Practice, vol. 19, no. 4&5, pp. 453-465
Communication is essential to participatory development. So why is the role of communication in development still poorly understood? Why the lack of support from large development players? This paper highlights gaps between discourse and action, along with outdated evaluation methods, short timeframes and problems of power relations and culture. Participatory communication for development and social change needs to move beyond newly acquired jargon: it must be part of development organisations’ policies, strategies, budgets and staffing.
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Mozammel, M. (ed.), 2011, ‘Poverty Reduction with Strategic Communication: Moving from Awareness Raising to Sustained Citizen Participation’, Communication for Governance and Accountability Program (CommGAP), World Bank, Washington DC
What is the role of communication in Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) processes? This study looks at communication in PRS processes in Ghana, Tanzania, Moldova and Nepal, and in Latin America and the Caribbean. It also explores how the use of strategic communication is being integrated into national development planning and implementation. The rise of new information technologies has helped make civil society even more central in the national development debate. Improving communication can provide opportunities to reconfigure the relationships among government, donors, and civil society.
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Waisbord, S., 2008, ‘The Institutional Challenges of Participatory Communication in International Aid’, Social Identities, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 505-522
Why does the use of participatory communication in development remain limited? Why are informational approaches still favoured in practice? This article takes an institutional perspective, examining prevalent notions about communication in international aid organisations. The selection of communication approaches is based on institutional factors and expectations, rather than on their analytical value. Institutional dynamics therefore undermine the potential of participatory communication. Researchers and practitioners need to broaden their understanding of communication in international development.
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Soledad Muñiz, S., 2010, ‘Participatory Development Communication: Between Rhetoric and Reality’, Glocal Times, The Communication for Development web magazine, no. 15
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Cornwall, A. and Coelho, V. S. P., 2007, ‘Spaces for Change? The Politics of Participation in New Democratic Arenas’, Chapter 1 in Space for Change? The Politics of Citizen Participation in New Democratic Arenas, ed. A. Cornwall, Zed Books, London
How can participation offer real prospects for change in the status quo for historically marginalised social groups? This chapter brings together case studies that examine the democratic potential of a diversity of participatory sphere institutions. A gap remains between the legal and technical apparatus that has been created to institutionalise participation and the reality of the effective exclusion of poorer and more marginalised citizens.
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Participatory media

Participatory media allows people to produce and distribute content tailored to their own needs. Individual and community involvement in the entire process of message-making is seen as central to their empowerment and is often considered to be more important than the end-product. This process spans from choosing topics and issues of interest that affect their lives to planning and production of media content. Not only do participants develop a range of media skills, but they can become empowered to find ways to solve problems in their own communities.

In some communities, active participation in communication processes, collaboration, and increased respect for each other’s ideas have contributed to community-building, social cohesion and conflict resolution. In Fiji, women used small-format video to record not only their own voices, but those of other women in multi-ethnic social networks (Harris, 2009). In Nepal, participatory media in Lumbini has aimed to be inclusive, encouraging the participation and viewpoints of people from all different religious backgrounds (Martin and Wilmore, 2010).

Martin, K. and Wilmore, M., 2010, ‘Local Voices on Community Radio: A Study of ‘Our Lumbini’ in Nepal’, Development in Practice, vol. 20, no. 7, pp. 866-878
Do community radio stations achieve the levels of representation and community engagement that they claim? This article describes the experience of the Hamro Lumbini (‘Our Lumbini’) series in Nepal, developed in response to differing local views on the development of the Buddhanagar World Heritage Site (WHS). The programme received positive feedback for its inclusion of local voices and the opportunity it provided to comment on and shape future local development. It was criticised for not providing enough content in local language and has struggled with financial sustainability. The government needs to provide a more sustainable enabling framework for community radio.
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Harris, U. S., 2009, ‘Transforming Images: Reimagining Women’s Work Through Participatory Video’, Development in Practice, vol. 19, no. 4 & 5, pp. 538-549
How can participatory media support empowerment, dialogue and community building? This study of a participatory video workshop involving rural women in Fiji found that women integrated local norms and practices in their video production. They used social capital – relationships and social networks – as a key element. Women presented themselves as active citizens who made significant contributions to their families and communities. The project highlighted the importance of encouraging multi-ethnic or heterogeneous social networks in Fiji.
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Participatory communication in research

Participatory communication in research enables local citizens, who are traditionally ‘the researched’ to participate in creating and expressing their own knowledge and thus to have a sense of ownership over the research process. Citizen-led approaches to communication are often more visual and expressive. They can complement and enhance more conventional research outputs and promote greater understanding of and uptake of research findings (Cornish and Dunn, 2009).

Cornish, L. and Dunn, A., 2009, ‘Creating Knowledge for Action: the Case for Participatory Communication in Research’, Development in Practice, vol. 19, no. 4&5, pp. 665-677
What is participatory communication? Does the application of participatory communication methods to research programmes really produce more effective results? This paper traces the history of participatory communication and describes its contemporary meaning as a citizen-led approach to creating and expressing new knowledge. Examples from the Citizenship Development Research Centre suggest that, in the context of civil society, participatory communication can increase activism and action and contribute to sustainable development.
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Toolkits and methodologies on participatory communication

Tufte, T. and Mefalopulos, P., 2009, ‘Participatory Communication: A Practical Guide’, World Bank, Washington DC
How can participatory communication be applied in development projects? This 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 regarding timelines), a politically conducive environment, and an enabling attitude among stakeholders.
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Bessette, G., 2004, ‘Involving the Community: A Guide to Participatory Development Communication’, International Development Research Centre (IDRC), Ottawa
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Social accountability and state-citizen relations

Social accountability is defined as accountability that relies on civic engagement. (See the World Bank’s ‘Social Accountability’ webpage.) The term is broadly used to refer to participatory governance practices, which are closely linked to citizen empowerment and enhanced state-citizen relations (Malena, 2009). The emphasis is on how citizens and civil society can push for accountability from government officials and responsiveness to public demands. Communication is seen as central to this process (Sida, 2010; BBC World Service Trust, 2010).

There are multiple examples of communication activities aimed to promote social accountability. These include public information campaigns, feedback loops from citizens to policy-makers, social audits, platforms for dialogue and public debate, and informal everyday methods of communication. Practices of social accountability and participatory governance can develop over time. They may initially comprise better information-sharing between citizens and the state and gradually advance to more meaningful and comprehensive forms of participation. Available evidence suggests, however, that not enough is known about why some mechanisms work in some contexts and not others. Results are also mixed in terms of whether these mechanisms can actually increase citizen participation, encourage governments to be responsive to public demands, and ultimately result in improved service outcomes.

While donors cannot directly empower citizens or create social activists, they can encourage the conditions in which they can develop and communicate with the state and each other. Eyben and Ladbury (2006) emphasise that accountability cannot be seen as a matter of citizens on one side and the state on the other, but rather as a ‘web of relations, claims and responsibilities’. Donors should thus seek to strengthen accountability by working across the state-society divide and building connections, rather than focusing communication activities on either government reform or strengthening civil society.

World Bank, 2007, ‘Generating Genuine Demand with Social Accountability Mechanisms’, Communication for Governance and Accountability Program, World Bank, Washington DC
What factors contribute to the success or failure of Social Accountability (SA) initiatives? This paper reports on a 2007 workshop organised by the World Bank’s Communication for Governance and Accountability Program. It examines what works in: (1) analysing the public sphere and political context; (2) gaining official support for the use of SA tools; (3) informing citizens; (4) mobilising citizen activism; and (5) achieving behaviour change in public officials through public opinion.
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Odugbemi, Sina and Lee, Taeku, eds., 2011, ‘Accountability Through Public Opinion: From Inertia to Public Action’, Communication for Governance and Accountability Program (CommGAP), World Bank, Washington DC
What does it mean to make governments accountable to their citizens? How is this achieved? How can genuine demand for accountability among citizens be fostered? How can citizens be moved from inertia to public action? This book addresses these questions that are crucial to understanding accountability and for understanding why accountability is important to improve the effectiveness of development aid. It argues that accountability is a matter of public opinion. Governments will only be accountable if there are incentives for them to do so—and only an active and critical public will change the incentives of government officials to make them responsive to citizens’ demands. Accountability without public opinion is a technocratic, but not an effective solution.
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SIDA, 2010, ‘Getting it Together: Strengthening Transparency, Accountability, Participation and Non-discrimination with Communication Methods’, Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, Stockholm
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Eyben, R. and Ladbury, S., 2006, ‘Building Effective States: Taking a Citizen’s Perspective’, Development Research Centre, Citizenship, Participation and Accountability, Institute of Development Studies, Brighton
How can a citizen-centred approach to development build effective states by improving relations between state and society? This paper gives an overview of current debates and analyses citizens’ own views on these issues. It argues that a state’s legitimacy is strengthened by civic participation, which often grows up around local issues, and can be empowered through donor support.
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Malena, Carmen, 2009, ‘Building Political Will for Participatory Governance: An Introduction’, Chapter 1 in From Political Won’t to Political Will: Building Support for Participatory Governance, ed. C. Malena, Civicus
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The role of information, the media and civil society

What is the role of access to information in generating citizen demand for accountability? There is wideranging consensus that without access to information on the performance of governments, it is very difficult to mobilise citizens to hold government to account. And in the absence of citizen demand for accountability, there may be little incentive for governments to actually be accountable. Some experts argue, therefore, that access to and use of information is a precondition to any form of social accountability.

Civil society organisations and independent media can play important roles in creating the conditions for accountability by advocating for greater access to information and by providing independent and diverse sources of information to citizens. The media can not only bring information to light but also provide a forum for public debate and deliberation. The media can further strengthen social accountability by assisting and promoting civil society organisations. In Argentina, for example, many newspaper articles reported on civil society organisations that called for specific actions in response to government wrong-doing (Bonner, 2009).

Pande, S., 2008, ‘The Right to Information and Societal Accountability: The Case of the Delhi PDS Campaign’, IDS Bulletin, vol. 38, no. 6, pp. 47-55
To what extent can tools like the Right to Information (RTI) help ensure transparency and accountability? This article draws on the example of Parivartan, a Delhi?based citizens’ group working on issues of corruption and accountability. This group has used the RTI to mobilise poor people and has used information to generate awareness through the media, holding government to account. The combination of a dedicated grassroots activist organisation and a RTI Act was necessary for achieving successful accountability.

Khemani, S., 2007, ‘Can Information Campaigns Overcome Political Obstacles to Serving the Poor?’, Chapter 5 in The Politics of Service Delivery in Democracies – Better Access for the Poor, eds. S. Devarajan and I. Widlund, Ministry for Foreign Affairs, Sweden, Stockholm
What type of information campaigns can change political incentives to serve the poor? This chapter reviews the literature on information campaigns and the role of mass media in influencing public policy. There is a role for information campaigns to shift political platforms away from inefficiently targeted programmes towards broader public policies that promote development.
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Pandey, P., Goyal, S. and Sundararaman, V., 2009 ‘Community Participation in Public Schools: Impact of Information Campaigns in three Indian states’, Education Economics, vol. 17, no. 3, pp 355–375
What impact can community-based information campaigns have on school performance? This article finds that providing information through a structured campaign has a positive impact on school outcomes. A cluster randomised control trial of 610 villages across three Indian states provided public meetings about community roles and responsibilities in school management. A survey between two and four months later identified positive impacts on process variables such as community participation, provision of student entitlements and teacher effort. Impacts on learning were modest, however, and there were differences between states. Impacts need to be measured over a longer time period.
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Bonner, Michelle D., 2009, ‘Media as Social Accountability: The Case of Police Violence in Argentina’, The International Journal of Press/Politics, vol. 14 no. 3, pp. 296-312
What is the role of the media as a mechanism of social accountability? This article examines media reaction to an incident of police violence in Argentina. It argues that such media debates can help to establish a form of preventive accountability. They do this by providing a forum for debate for a plurality of actors to establish who should be held accountable, what they should be held accountable for, and how they should be held accountable.
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BBC World Service Trust, 2010, ‘How to Use Communication to Make Aid Effective: Strategies and Approaches for Programme-based Approaches’, BBC World Service Trust
This review from the BBC World Service Trust examines why and how the role of communication can be mainstreamed into programme-based approaches (PBAs). It argues that information and communication are essential to the existence of an accountability relationship between government and citizens. Information and communication strategies are playing an increasingly central role in enabling citizens to understand and engage with the efforts implemented through PBAs. More specifically, for example, they can enable citizens to understand the funds being spent for their benefit and to express their own perspectives on appropriate spending.
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For further information on social accountability mechanisms, see the user involvement and accountability section of the GSDRC’s service delivery topic guide.

Gender relations

Communication initiatives aimed at changing attitudes and behaviours have increasingly been used in the health sector since the 1970s. Such initiatives – including television and radio shows, theatre, informational sessions and pamphlets – can and have affected social norms related to gender roles since gender norms are linked to all facets of health behaviour. Initiatives that seek to affect gender norms and inequities as a goal in itself, however, are a relatively new phenomenon.

Community radio is considered to be an effective tool in promoting women’s empowerment and participation in governance structures. Radio is often the primary source of information for women. It is accessible to local communities, transcends literacy barriers and uses local languages. Afghan’s Woman’s Hour, for example, aims to reach a large cross-section of women and offers a forum to discuss gender, social issues and women’s rights. It was found that female listeners demonstrated a pronounced capacity to aspire; however, their aspirations were not particularly focused (Bhanot et al., 2009). Challenges with other community radio programming include women’s general under-representation and in some cases, the negative portrayal of women.

Participatory approaches are considered to be an effective tool in encouraging alternate discourses, norms and practices; and empowering women. The use of sketches and photography in participatory workshops, for example, have encouraged woman who have traditionally been reluctant to engage in public forums to express themselves.

In order for empowerment of women to have a genuine impact, opportunity structures also need to be addressed, such as conservative and male opinion. Afghan’s Women’s Hour has a large male audience, which provides a way to challenge male views on gender norms. Group educational activities, a common programme for men and boys, also have the potential to contribute to changes in attitudes on health issues and gender relations and in some cases changes in behaviour. It is also important for communication initiatives to build on tradition and culture not only because this can resonate better with communities, but because it can help to mute opposition from conservative segments of society. The involvement of key community leaders such as teachers, cultural custodians and government officials in projects is also important for greater impact and sustainability of changes.

Cooper, C., Goodsmith, L., Lotter, E. and Molony, T., 2010, ‘Communication, Participation and Social Change: A Review of Communication Initiatives Addressing Gender-based Violence, Gender Norms, and Harmful Traditional Practices in Crisis-affected Settings’, USAID, American Refugee Committee, Communication for Change
In conflict and post-conflict settings, high levels of gender-based violence (GBV) can result from disruption of social structures, men’s loss of traditional roles, poverty, frustration, alcohol and drug abuse, and criminal impunity. Harmful traditional practices (HTP) also pose a threat to conflict-affected populations, and the incidence of HTP may increase in communities during and after conflict, as affected communities often respond by strengthening cultural traditions to deal with the loss experienced through the process of displacement. This review of development communication initiatives addressing GBV, HTP and related health concerns in crisis-affected settings finds that there is a need to increase the number of genuinely participatory development communication programs in conflict-affected areas where these concerns are pervasive.
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Haider, H., 2011, ‘Communication Initiatives to Change Attitudes and Behaviour’, Helpdesk Research Report, Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, University of Birmingham
This report presents literature on communication interventions in developing countries designed to change attitudes and behaviours, particularly around gender relations. It looks at entertainment education, group education and various participatory approaches. Studies and evaluations of communication initiatives addressing gender issues have found positive outcomes.  Key lessons include: conducting formative research when conceptualising communication strategies; adopting mixed methods of communication; building on tradition and popular culture; and reaching out to community leaders.
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Solervicens, M., ed., 2008, ‘Women’s Empowerment and Good Governance through Community Radio: Best Experiences for an Action Research Process’, AMARC, World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters
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Case studies: communication for empowerment of women and social change

Freij, L. S., 2010, ‘”Safe Age of Marriage” in Yemen: Fostering Change in Social Norms – A Case Study’, USAID, Extending Service Delivery (ESD)
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Bhanot, A., Haleem, S. and LeRoux-Rutledge, E., 2009, ‘The Impact of the BBC World Service Trust’s Programme Afghan Woman’s Hour – Results from a National Survey in Afghanistan’, Research & Learning Group, BBC World Service Trust
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Harris, U. S., 2009, ‘Transforming Images: Reimagining Women’s Work Through Participatory Video’, Development in Practice, vol. 19, no. 4 & 5, pp. 538-549
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C-Change, 2009, ‘Incorporating Male Gender Norms into Family Planning and Reproductive Health Programs’, Guidance Brief, Communication for Change, USAID, Washington, DC
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Solórzano, I. et al., 2008, ‘Catalyzing Personal and Social Change Around Gender, Sexuality, and HIV: Impact Evaluation of Puntos de Encuentro’s Communication Strategy in Nicaragua’, The Population Council Inc.
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Durá, L. and Singhal, A., 2008, ‘Listening and Healing in the Peruvian Amazon: An Assessment of Minga Peru’s Intercultural Radio Educative Project to Prevent and Control Domestic Violence and HIV/AIDS’, Project Assessment Submitted to Minga Peru
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Usdin et al., 2005, ‘Achieving Social Change on Gender-based Violence: A Report on the Impact Evaluation of Soul City’s Fourth Series’, Social Science and Medicine, vol. 61, no. 11, pp. 2434-2445
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White, V., Greene, M., Murphy, E., 2003, ‘Men and Reproductive Health Programs: Influencing Gender Norms’, Commissioned by USAID
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For discussion on gender and freedom of information, see the gender and access to information sub-section of this guide.

Cross cultural dialogue and ownership

The ways in which people approach and discuss issues or disseminate and process information can differ greatly from one region to another, and from one social group to another. It is essential to try to understand cultural characteristics and to encourage cultural sensitivity in the production and consumption of communication and information initiatives in order to facilitate access, participation and empowerment.

Cultural awareness and dialogue

Media and information initiatives can counter unilateral perspectives and facilitate intercultural dialogue. Policies that aim to promote cultural diversity in communication content can contribute to pluralism and the flow of ideas. Cultural diversity is thus a key component of quality media (UNESCO, 2009a). New media practices – such as co-production, user-generated content and small production structures made possible through social media – have contributed to diversification in voices. Not only are more information and communication products emerging from developing countries, but also from marginalised segments of populations – such as women, children and ethnic minorities. Such groups had often been absent from the media, in large part due to lack of access to editorial or managerial positions in media organisations.

Increased contacts between members of different groups, communities and cultures through formal and informal communication and information initiatives can contribute to breaking down barriers, countering stereotypes and developing more nuanced views of the ‘other’. Various skills are necessary, however, in order for cross-cultural dialogue to have a genuine effect on promoting pluralism, cultural understanding, and empathy. These include basic abilities to listen, receptiveness, respect for others and the ability to reflect.

UNESCO, 2009, ‘Communication and Cultural Contents’, Chapter 5 in Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue: UNESCO World Report, UNESCO Publishing, Paris
What has been the impact of communication – such as the media and the Internet – on cultural diversity? This chapter examines the rise of global communication, and new media. It argues that the greater prevalence of media holds opportunities and threats, especially in relation to audience fragmentation and the proliferation of stereotypes. Initiatives are needed to ensure that global audiences and cross-border programming contribute to pluralism and the free flow of ideas that foster cultural diversity.
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UNESCO, 2009, ‘Intercultural Dialogue, Chapter 2 in Investing in Cultural Diversity and Intercultural Dialogue: UNESCO World Report, UNESCO Publishing, Paris
How can intercultural dialogue be promoted? This chapter examines cultural interactions and the barriers to dialogue such as stereotyping and intolerance. It argues that the perceived traits or identities that can lead to isolation and stereotyping can also be the bases for dialogue. The success of intercultural dialogue is dependent on the ability to listen with empathy. Support should continue to be given to networks and initiatives for intercultural and interfaith dialogue at all levels. It is important to ensure the full involvement of new partners, especially women and young people.
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For discussion on the role of dialogue in peacemaking and peacebuilding, see the GSDRC’s Conflict topic guide.

Local ownership

Communicating effectively requires an understanding of the ‘information ecology’ of a society: how information is disseminated, what methods and sources are trusted, the importance of traditional and cultural networks compared to conventional media (Haselock, 2010). An understanding of the context and culture of a society is essential. Demand-driven projects are often more likely to succeed and to achieve local ownership. These require a communication approach that places as much emphasis on listening to local populations as on transmitting information.

Haselock, S., 2010, ‘Make it Theirs: The Imperative of Local Ownership in Communications and Media Initiatives’, Special Report, no. 253, United States Institute of Peace, Washington DC
This paper analyses media reform programmes as part of wider peace-building interventions in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa. It concludes that the most effective interventions were those where local populations participated and took ownership of the projects, ensuring that the media initiatives were culturally relevant and demand-driven. The impact of projects can be sustained after international assistance is over only if they are wholly owned by the people, professions, and communities that they were designed to help.
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