New technologies have revolutionised the way messages are relayed, helping the voluntary sector deliver more effectively
Pooja O. Murada | September 5, 2022
“Had I known my entitlements and support programme provided by the government for widows, I wouldn’t have to be on the mercy of my relatives and lead a deplorable and undignified life for years. There are many like me who could not break the vicious circle of social and economic challenges due to lack of information.”—Saleeman, a village woman.
Communication is an important tool that plays a major role in bringing positive change to people’s lives. In a large country like India, physical and personal contact to disseminate information is a mammoth task. With the government rolling out measures for the welfare and development of “backward” areas and underprivileged sections of society, percolation to the masses at the ground level is a challenge. Thus effective communication has assumed a key role in socioeconomic change.
Communication for Development (C4D) looks at understanding latent needs of people and communicating solutions that aims at overcoming specific challenges. It plays two primary roles including a transformative role wherein a development communications approach looks at social change for improving quality of life of people, and a normative role that looks at maintaining a social value framework. However, success of development communication depends on a framework that is responsive, allows feedback, fosters innovation and creativity, and is a continuous and iterative process.
The process of transferring development information to the masses has undergone rapid change since the advent of “new media,” the immediate coverage of mobile technology, and the penetration of the internet even in remote areas. Channels of communication used to be more restricted through mainstream media – print and electronic media (radio, television). The adoption of technology and connectivity in the last decade has led to emerging new media where such communications have become a tool for greater inclusive facilitation and participation. Mass media such as printed material, radio, and television were traditionally used to promote development communication. “New media” is now the buzzword in communication for development, referring to media that is delivered digitally to recipients. The mediums can be a website, email, mobile applications, apps that stream, or any communication delivered over the internet.
New Media: An integral part of communication planning
In addition to the role played by the mainstream media, the internet is now in the process of leading India toward a knowledge-based rural development agenda.
India tops the world in data consumption. The fibre-optic network has connected over one lakh panchayats across the country, and the figure keeps increasing. The affordability of data and the exponential growth in 4G smartphones across the country has led to a digital revolution. Smartphones provide a click-away interface to a multitude of features offering day-to-day functional utility. Mobile broadband penetration has spread to more than 50 percent of the population.
This transformation is taking development in India to new realms of possibility. Information and communication technology is being used increasingly in development through service delivery of public schemes, direct benefit transfer for incentives, banking, financial transactions, etc., delivered digitally through the web. In remote areas, applications within the field of agriculture, health, education, weather prediction, etc., are finding increased usage and acceptance.
Within the context of development, new media finds increasing use in information dissemination. For instance, in agriculture, new media is being used to maintain land records, farmer education, managing agricultural development initiatives, reporting daily crop market rates, and predicting weather patterns. The government has integrated new media in their strategic development plans and continues on a path of its adoption to drive e-governance, information, and extension services across the country.
The advantages that new media offers:
• Instant information availability is for all,
• New experiences offered through a combination of video and text, and use of artificial intelligence for social good,
• Dissemination of information that becomes interactive across the world,
• Creation, development, and maintenance of relationships between people, among the communities consumers, markets, and authorities, and
• Analysis and impact assessment on stakeholders through available metrics.
Community Media, an amalgamation of old and new media
Community media is finding its mojo, leading to a different kind of revolution. This media is participative in nature and content is audience driven. Community participation decides on the content within a collective and participatory role. Community media is a powerful tool that offers the independence to express and empowers users.
The power of community media is seen in community radio/video that engages the audience much more than conventional media because the content is localised and focused on the community culture, livelihood, traditions, and experiences. Community radio/video allows for a type of participatory communication that creates an impact, because people can relate to local issues and identify with the participants.
Community media empowers the locals to take action and solve their own problems. It is a potent tool to communicate their needs and ideas to decision-makers. The use of integrated voice recording systems and mobile phones in live shows connects listeners with the programmer and the experts in the studio and provides an on-the-call facility to its listeners, making this unique type of new media a highly effective tool to engage and mobilise marginalised people.
Development Outreach and New Media
S M Sehgal Foundation, a rural development NGO in India, has been working to improve the community welfare and quality of life in rural areas in five main programme areas: Water Management, Agricultural Development, Local Participation and Sustainability, Transform Lives one school at a time, and Outreach for Development.
As part of its Outreach for Development initiative, the Foundation fosters participation and positive social change in rural communities through awareness creation and knowledge sharing. The programme employs a blended and well-balanced media mix of mainstream, traditional, and new media. Specifically targeted at the rural community, the programme uses social media, podcasts, and other print, visual, and interactive formats, including a rural community radio station (Alfaz-e-Mewat). The outreach initiatives align with the communication for development goals, and promote opinions favourable to the attainment of rural development.
Podcasts support the internal and external outreach of the development work, and experience sharing of teams, and subject expert interviews on the social issues reach a much larger audience worldwide in Hindi and English language; but community radio focuses on a particular rural community in Nuh district in Haryana, broadcasting reliable and timely information in the local dialect with the local communities. The easy-to-understand communication helps to stimulate dialogue and engagement that positively influences positive behaviour changes. By providing a platform to grassroots communities to voice their views, people are encouraged to identify important issues affecting their lives and work together to resolve them. Last-mile outreach activities bridge the large information divide and accelerate social change by bringing local voices and their concerns to the forefront.
Alfaz-e-Mewat was established in 2012 and has a current reach of more than two lakh, covering 220 villages in Nuh district. The station broadcasts 13 hours of daily programmes. Most of the staff members of the radio station are recruited from the local community. The station is technically well equipped, and staff members are trained to handle any technical issues that may emerge during broadcasts. On the content sustainability part, the station has developed a feedback mechanism with the community with the help of which programmes are conceptualised.
The station acts as an adjunct and is supportive of the activities of local administration, especially in times of emergency. More recently, special efforts and campaigns were made by the station to spread COVID-19 awareness and promote the vaccination programme feedback mechanism with the community with the help of which programmes are conceptualised. These last-mile outreach activities have helped to bridge the large information divide and accelerate social change, and in this particular case saved lives.
The time is ripe to tap the strengths of new media alongside traditional media based on the target community’s access, and give a boost to information dissemination at the grassroots that continue to pave the way for inclusive development and growth.
Murada is principal lead, Outreach for Development, S M Sehgal Foundation.
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