Author: Anna Godfrey, May 2 2014    

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

On 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.

On 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 .

Having 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!

A 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.

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

In some ways they fall in both camps.

Like 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 timelines.

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

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

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

Bridging the gap

Yet, 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 University, are keen to see.

Here 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.

The 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.

One 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 outcomes.

What 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!
Click here to access this BBC Media Action blog and related links on their research work.
Image credit: BBC Media Action

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