Issue #: 
315
Date: 
September 5, 2005

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A Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) is a national action plan for reducing poverty, implemented by governments around the world through participatory processes involving civil society in discussion of the appropriate strategy in each context. For a February 2005 Factsheet, additional background, and online access to the PRSPs themselves, please visit the International Monetary Fund (IMF) website. For background information and relevant Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS) documents, please consult the World Bank.

The World Bank and the Department for International Development (DFID) have been working together to support the strategic use of communication in the PRSP process. One report to emerge from this initiative is "With the Support of Multitudes: Using Strategic Communication to Fight Poverty through PRSPs" [PDF], published in 2005 and edited by Masud Mozammel and Sina Odugbemi. Mr. Mozammel is Communications Officer in the Development Communication Division of the World Bank (mmozammel@worldbank.org); Mr. Odugbemi is the Programme Manager responsible for Information and Communication for Development (ICD) in the Information and Civil Society Department of DFID (S-Odugbemi@dfid.gov.uk).

This issue of Drum Beat is based on that publication and will be the first of 2 Drum Beats focusing on it. In this first issue we focus on the portions of the paper that outline the strategic communication components shaping the PRSP process. The next issue will highlight the Case Studies shared in Part II (and the Appendices) of the publication to explore how some of these strategic principles look when put into practice in particular contexts. The text of this two-part Drum Beat is excerpted from this publication, with the permission of the editors and their respective organisations.

Click here to download the full paper in PDF format.

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Foreword (pps. 5-6)

1. ...It is pertinent to ask: why is it important that political leaders and policymakers in developing countries generally - and especially those implementing Poverty Reduction Strategies - ensure that there is broad and sustained participation in the evolution and implementation of these strategies?...:

  • Experience has shown that top-down approaches to development do not work and are, in any event, not sustained. Development is about people. It is not something that is done to people; it is best done with people. Poverty Reduction Strategies are far more likely to be effective and sustainable when they are evolved and implemented with the full participation of the broadest possible segments of the country. That way they unleash the power, energies and commitment of multitudes.
  • What is more, intelligent political leaders know that engaging the population in constructive dialogue over policy options is an effective way of managing public opinion and securing political success...


2. ...[W]hile building support for Poverty Reduction Strategies is vital to success, such support will not happen without planned, deliberate and sustained efforts to involve the citizenry in an open and inclusive process of two-way communication. This is what is meant by strategic communication....Senior policymakers in countries implementing Poverty Reduction Strategies, as well as donor organisations, are urged to read and reflect on the lessons reported in this study...

Executive Summary (pps. 9-10)

3. ...Strategic communication is much more than merely informing citizens about PRSPs. Rather, it is the active seeking of the perspectives and contributions of citizens so that they can help to shape policy. It also means ensuring that mechanisms are in place for a two-way flow of information and ideas between the government and the citizenry as well as making deliberate efforts to build consensus amongst stakeholders about the development strategy the nation wishes to pursue...

4. ...One of the main lessons of this study is that PRSPs are not implemented in green houses, but in very specific national contexts...

Strategic Communication in PRSPs: An Overview - Introduction (pps. 12-16)

5. ...Luckily in the very early stages of PRSP era it has been felt that a systematic application of communication tools and techniques is essential for the delivery of the participatory process requirement of PRSP. In fact communication is crucial not only for upholding the participation element but also critical for ensuring several other aspects of the six core principles that underpin PRSPs.The principles determine that the strategies should be:

  • results oriented, with targets for poverty reduction that are tangible and monitorable
  • comprehensive, integrating macroeconomic, structural, sectoral and social elements
  • country driven, representing a consensual view of what actions should be taken
  • participatory, with all relevant stakeholders participating in formulation and implementation
  • based on partnerships between government and other actors
  • long-term, focusing on reforming institutions and building capacity, as well as short-term goals...


6. ...Strategic communication intervention cannot be occasional and ad hoc. It must be integrated and institutionalised in the overall PRSP process. One of the reasons being that communication in PRSPs is not only focused on public education or raising awareness about a set of issues or actions. It involves other aspects that are linked to stakeholder expectations, keeping momentum of the process, or follow-up actions, or involvement of stakeholders in a cyclical process. The other major characteristic...is to focus on issues related to the socio-political and economic dynamics of a society: language, culture, attitude, and behavioural patterns; level of engagement, position and influence of stakeholders; structural issues such as media and the information environment and the nature and capacity of the civil society...

7. Strategic communication intervention puts strong emphasis on socio-political, behavioural, and attitudinal issues in addition to the common communication activities including information dissemination, campaign or feedback....it also places a strong emphasis on public opinion data, stakeholder dynamics, non-regular media channels including civil society networks, and so on...

8. For the PRSP to succeed in its aims, both its formulation and implementation need to integrate and apply communication tools and techniques primarily within and between three major groups of stakeholders: government, civil society, and donors. These groups are, however, far from homogenous...

The Structural Impediments to Participation and Country Ownership (pps. 17-22)

9. ...[C]ountry ownership can...mean that the PRS [Poverty Reduction Strategy] is the crystallization of a genuine national consensus. It means a political community saying: 'This is what we are going to do; to this strategy our entire nation is committed'. This is the rich sense. In the same way, participation in...PRS can mean...the active involvement of all the significant sectors of the political community in the formulation, implementation and real time monitoring of the PRS. This is the rich sense of participation...

10. ...[W]hile strategic communication can help to foster participation and country ownership, the overall context in which communication takes place has a decisive impact on what communication can contribute. In other words, strategic communication is not a magic bullet...

11. ...It is important to realise that the rich senses of participation and country ownership really imply or assume a democratic political culture. But if the underlying political culture is not democratic, inclusive public policy dialogue will be difficult to organise...

12. ...Free, independent and plural mass media systems are a condition for genuinely participatory PRS processes....Three factors determine whether or not you have a free, independent and plural media system. The first is the regulatory environment for the media....The second is media access or penetration....The third is media content...

13. ...Information, including technical data on the economy and society, is used by policymakers to shape every stage in the policymaking and implementation process...The problem is that most of the relevant information will be generated by, and belong to, the state. If the state will not willingly share the information with the media, parliament and [civil society organisations, or] CSOs, the participatory process will end abruptly...

14. ...[W]hen civil society is weak and badly organised those who control the state are better able to get their way and escape scrutiny. As is now equally well known, CSOs need to be genuinely anchored within society...

15. ...The challenge...is to make governments in developing countries realise that becoming better communicators does not mean becoming skilled propagandists. True communication is a two-way process. It is about dialogue; it is about listening as well as talking...

16. ...These, then, are some of the structural impediments to genuinely nationally owned and participatory PRS processes. One nagging question is: why do we not talk about these issues?....First, there are many people involved in the PRS process who see development as essentially a technocratic - and not a political - process. Yet what can be more political than the insistence that poor country governments spend the majority of their resources on the needs of the poor?....Second, many of the issues raised in this discussion are grounded in the bottom-up approach to development, that is, the voice and accountability agenda. The trouble is that...donors...are wary of being accused of political interference; and governments know that voice and accountability issues are ultimately about power...

Strategic Communication in PRSPs: Principles, Challenges and Applications (pps. 23-32)

17. ...In most cases communication intervention in the PRSP process has so far been used as a one-way information dissemination mechanism...

18. ...[P]articipation of stakeholders has often been viewed as an element only during the PRSP preparation phase, in order to approve a draft strategy document that is prepared with inputs from different government departments, sectoral experts and consultants. Communication interventions to ensure this kind of participation are often limited to a few sector-specific workshops, consultation meetings, or similar events...What impact does this have on the PRSP process?...First, it undermines trust and confidence over the participatory nature of the process. Second, it greatly raises the expectations of stakeholders...

19. ...[A]wareness-raising in a standard communication intervention would focus primarily on issues such as content, messages, channels, packaging and timing. However, in a strategic communication intervention there are several other crucial aspects that are researched and analysed while designing and implementing or modifying an existing communication programme. These might include issues such as:

  • the sender of a particular message or information
  • audience-specific information and messages
  • the timing of a particular communication activity
  • coordination and synchronisation of communication activities with other ongoing or upcoming interventions that have direct or indirect linkages with the PRSP communication programme
  • involving non-standard channels (i.e. media and website)
  • using existing networks (such professional association and [non-governmental organisation, or] NGO networks) and establishing similar new ones
  • internal and organisational communication (especially important for building ownership and support with the government machinery)
  • communication capacity...


20. ...[O]nly in a few countries has the communication function slowly and gradually been institutionalised with long-term or permanent staff within a particular government....Generally, one of the thematic groups for PRSP preparation or implementation should design and implement the communication programme.....Coordination and collaboration with other government and non-government departments and agencies is also essential...

21. ...A well designed strategic communication programme would establish a mechanism for a two-way flow of information with specific objectives, activities, channels, messages, feedback, timelines, budget and responsibilities. This approach would help establish momentum and build trust on the poverty reduction process through the application of different strategic communication tools as necessary considering the context of a given country...

22. Developing a PRSP communication strategy and action plan:

  • Setting objectives

    ...Such objectives necessitate the proper use of the communication tools and concepts, establish the time frame required and the resources needed to solicit useful inputs to the PRSP process. A comprehensive strategy sets the objectives for both the formulation and the implementation of the PRSPs.
  • Conducting research

    The research data can be collected from both primary and secondary sources (opinion research other research activities carried out in the country by local, regional or international agencies, academic or research institutions)...
  • Defining activties

    ...Each activity should be targeted for each audience group with different messages and channels to achieve specific goals. These activities might include consultation workshops, radio and television programmes, print materials such as brochures, simplified versions of the PRSP document, progress reports, budget education, participatory monitoring and evaluation, citizen report cards, community level interaction, community radio and so on...
  • Identifying the audience

    ...They would include:
    • those who have the greatest capability for further transmission: the media, civil society (NGOs, academics, institutes and think tanks)
    • those who need to understand the principles themselves: government officials at all levels
    • those who need to be open to the principles of the PRSP, contribute to its development and sustain the process: NGOs, international organisations working within the country, aid organisations
    • major opinion formers throughout society, such as religious leaders, union leaders and school heads

    It is important to establish the relationships between different groups and any limitations to their working together....Workshops and seminars should include as many different sectors as possible (on the same level of representation)....Their early juxtaposition will encourage dialogue between them and create new information channels to reach other sectors...

  • Desiging the messages

    ...Each target group will require a different presentation of the same information. The figures should never vary and the content should be different only in the detail, the visual presentation or the simplification of concepts....From the initial steps of both the PRSP and the Interim PRSP (I-PRSP), documentation should be translated into local languages to be accessible to local authorities, the media and as much of the wider population as possible. It is also important to take into consideration that the general mass audience and broader public will certainly include people who do not want the status quo to change. The messages must in some way make this group see the benefit of the PRSP and the importance of inclusive communication.
  • Identifying the networks

    ...Small organisations with limited funds often have creative ways of reaching their populations through their networks and have a great deal of credibility with their contacts. Civil society is more easily reached by the media, is a creator of its own media and can be relied upon for interaction among its members, with government, big business and NGOs...
  • The channels or vehicles

    ...For specific audiences, incorporating visuals such as cartoons and basic simple pictures may be essential for comprehension. Appropriate distribution of communication materials is another important area that needs to be considered...
  • Feedback

    ...Developing a clear feedback mechanism is essential in both policy formulation and the implementation process...
  • Costing: the human and financial resources available

    ...Assessing existing communication capabilities within the country is the basis for
    any further communication activity...


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DISCUSS THESE ISSUES!

To discuss strategic communication and issues involved in participation and PRSPs, please join the discussion at drumbeatchat! Archived comments are available - click here or send your comments to drumbeatchat@comminit.com You will be subscribed and your comments will be added to the discussion.

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PULSE POLL

In 2015, people will look back and say that the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) were a major reason for reduced poverty levels.

Do you agree or disagree?

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Click here to download the full paper in PDF format.

To request a printed copy of the publication, please contact Richard Rose at r-rose@dfid.gov.uk

Coming soon (Part II): Lessons for strategic communication emerging from PRSP Case Studies...

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This issue was written by Kier Olsen DeVries.

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The Drum Beat seeks to cover the full range of communication for development activities. Inclusion of an item does not imply endorsement or support by The Partners.


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