in our industry – communication for development – has been compared to a
strange kind of marriage between two fields.

one side, it's been said, are the 'turtles':
development communication professionals, including researchers like me, who are
perceived by TV and radio 'creatives' as trustworthy and solid – but not
exactly fleet-footed.

the other side are the 'peacocks': TV and radio 'creatives', who are perceived
by development communication professionals as self-assured, perhaps a little egotistical,
and busy rushing to deadlines with their strutting tail feathers . 

worked in the sector for over ten years, I'm not sure that I fully agree with
the analogy. Although I do quite like it!

Sema Kenya: a TV and radio debate show that is underpinned by rigorous research.

recent blog from my colleague Jackie Christie
in our production team in
Kenya is also testament to how research and production teams can and do work
well together – and how vital that is to making the best programming for
audiences which can have development impact.

But the
analogy is a useful reminder about some of the opportunities and challenges of
collaboration – and one that I thought of again recently when working with a
new collaborator, academics.

creature would they be if we throw them into the world of peacocks and turtles?

some ways they fall in both camps.

the turtles, academics could be seen to be in the slower lane - they have time
to think and theorise. They have long lead times and even longer publishing

like the peacocks they are unique, with a craft, language and theory that can
be intimidating and strange to the uninitiated.  

it is not surprising then that one of our recent research
that practitioners are least likely to consult the academic literature to
inform their practice.

we make conscious efforts, the gap between town and gown or theory and practice
is too wide.

Bridging the gap

more and more practitioners are finding interesting ways to collaborate with
academics – something I know a number of my academic colleagues, including Tom Jacobson at Temple
are keen to see. 

at BBC Media Action we've been playing our role in lessening the gap by developing
research partnerships under the title Bridging Theory and Practice.

idea is to contribute to the evidence base around the role of media and
communication in development through short, digestible research briefings,
accompanied by longer reports for those who want them.

such example is the recent work we commissioned from Devra Moehler, Assistant Professor of
Communication at the Annenberg School for Communication, University of
Pennsylvania. She reviewed how experimental and quasi-experimental methods have
been used to evaluate the impact of media and media assistance on governance

did we learn?

  • These methods have been used sparingly (for a number of
    valid reasons which the brief covers). Even so the insights are not widely
    known among practitioners or donors.
  • We see evidence that media and media assistance efforts
    enhanced accountability. However, we also see some mixed or negative effects.
  • The review highlights that the type of evidence from these
    methods is skewed towards certain types of interventions e.g. interventions involving
    individuals or local stations where you can randomly assign people, listening
    clubs or stations to receive an intervention such as peace-building radio
    (treatment) and others do not (control).
  • Capacity strengthening of local or national media
    broadcasters, the heart and soul of much media assistance work, is largely
    absent from the research reviewed. As a result, there is a risk that we draw
    distorted conclusions about what works and what does work in the field of
    media, governance and media assistance when it may be more of a question about
    what constitutes good evidence for these types of interventions.

Devra Moehler’s paper closes by laying
out a number of opportunities and challenges for future research. These are
opportunities and challenges that we hope our new Bridging Theory and Practice
publication “What constitutes evidence for the role of media and communications
in development?” will build on.

More on that shortly!


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