Communication for Development Roundtable, Sydney, June 2017 - Proceedings

Valentina Baú
Tait Brimacombe
Publication Date
November 8, 2017

University of New South Wales (Baú); La Trobe University (Brimacombe)

In June 2017, a group of researchers from Australian universities and practitioners from different not-for-profit organisations came together to share knowledge and experience in the study and practice of communication for development (C4D). The Roundtable was organised as a side-event to the RDI (Research for Development Impact) Network Conference, held at the University of Sydney. This report summarises the proceedings, linking to various projects and papers highlighted by the C4D practitioners who presented their thinking and experiences.

The aim of the gathering was to strengthen the value of C4D research and practice by facilitating connections between practitioners and researchers on C4D-related research projects. To that end, during the "table talks" session, selected participants gave a ten-minute talk on their media for development project or research; the initiatives presented included the use of a range of different media platforms and programmes, specifically designed to address a particular development issue that was relevant in the geographical, social, and cultural context of their audience. In brief:

  • Media advocacy and government accountability: promoting strong public health outcomes through local partnerships - Blaise Murphet, International Federation of Red Cross & Red Crescent (IFRC), spoke about the IFRC's hosting, since 1999, of the Global Road Safety Partnership (GRSP). Within the GRSP is the Bloomberg Philanthropies Initiative for Global Road Safety, which seeks to address road traffic death and serious injury in Tanzania, India, China, Thailand, and the Philippines. Building on an area of work that the IFRC has been working on in collaboration with partners such as UNOCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs), this communication effort is based on community engagement and accountability, and establishes a set of activities that put communities at the centre of humanitarian response. Community engagement through media advocacy involves the use of community support to flow information up to government representatives (e.g., digital advocacy, production of opinion pieces, press releases, capacity building, media mapping, media monitoring) but also to flow information back down from the government to the community level (e.g., radio talkback, advertising, SMS (text messaging) platforms, media roundtables). GRSP's framework consists of starting with a broader advocacy strategy, identifying local organisations (voices), mapping audience and relevant media, implementing two-way communication, and conducting monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Some of the outcomes that have been achieved through the GRSP approach include: an increase in media coverage of the reasons behind road safety incidents and what can and needs to be done by the government (as in the case of Tanzania); a partnership with media organisations to put child road safety on the map (as observed in the Philippines); and an increased percentage of reporting dedicated to road safety, rather than simply to road incidents (experienced in India).
  • Reaching remote communities in Timor-Leste: two innovative communication techniques - Dr. Christopher McGillion, Charles Sturt University (CSU), discussed a study conducted alongside the Australian Government-funded Seeds of Life project, aimed at communicating agricultural information in an effective way. Two different techniques were trialled: (i) Participatory theatre - 38 plays took place over two weeks, performed by local actors. Prior to each show, agricultural extension officers addressd the audience in order to highlight some of the key problems experienced by farmers, which were then tackled in the performance. The results of post-performance surveys were indicative of the appeal of theatre as a source of information, and for the potential for this communication channel to lead to behaviour change outcomes. (ii) Animation - crucial information was presented to farmers visually, incorporating local sounds, colour, and humour. The animation was used in training workshops for extension officers, shown in farming communities at film nights organised by Seeds of Life, and made available on the Seeds of Life website.
  • Revitalising First Nations communities through collaborative creative practice: culture-centred, service-oriented ways of working in indigenous communities - Dr. Bernard Sullivan of CSU discussed a way of working with the Wiradjuri, Indigenous people of central and southern New South Wales, Australia, in their processes of cultural revitalisation, acting according to Wiradjuri cultural values. Through the collaborative project, participants (Senior Wiradjuri Elders) engaged in an iterative, action-research process that culminated in the production of a film and book called Yindyamarra Yambuwan and a multimedia exhibition named Burambabirra Yindyamarra. Each stage of the project involved a process of shared exploration and development, generating cultural resources through the use of creative arts-based practice. This way of working could be potentially useful and applicable to any culture that has experienced trauma, working together to repair and recreate the cultural fabric.
  • Social media and activism in Fiji - Tait Brimacombe, La Trobe University, talked about a project carried out in partnership with researchers at the University of the South Pacific (USP), focusing on how social media was being used by a group of young women's rights activists in Fiji. A validation of the connection between online and offline spaces was illustrated through the case study of a Facebook group - Take Back The Streets - through which people were encouraged to record violence, threats, and harassment of women by public service vehicle drivers and to share information about these incidents on social media. All the evidence presented online was collated and then handed over to the Land Transport Authority seeking a package of reforms to improve the safety of women traveling in public vehicles.
  • Ethical communications in development - Rachel Nunn, Head of International Engagement at Oaktree (an organisation that raises awareness about poverty and inequality in the Oceania region) offered some guidance on the decision-making process of communications and media teams within the Australian non-governmental organisation (NGO) context. The methodology used by the organisation involved consultations with practitioners from the international development sector, who discussed their experience in communicating development issues to an audience. The key challenges identified through this process included: communicating urgent needs of communities while protecting their dignity; connecting the way we talk about development in Australia and the effects of poverty alleviation on the ground; conveying genuine needs along with empowerment and self-determination; and mitigating the use of technical language. One suggestion: It is important for NGOs to set a precedent for ethical communication of development and to make an effort to consciously collaborate with the media to ensure their publications are ethical.

The "media mix" part of the Roundtable was designed to give the opportunity to all participants to ask questions and clarifications in relation to the projects and activities presented in the talks. Facilitated by the Roundtable organisers, this interactive discussion saw participants engaging in conversation on both practical and conceptual aspects of media for development research and interventions. This section of the proceedings presents some of the points that were addressed during this group conversation.


Email from Valentina Baú to The Communication Initiative on November 8 2017. Image credit: Chris Arock on Unsplash