Options for the development of a mechanism to advance the scale and effectiveness of communication and media for development, social and behaviour change strategies and action related to local, national, regional, and international development priorities

Rafael Obregon
Warren Feek
Publication Date
May 26, 2017

UNICEF (Obregon); The Communication Initiative (Feek)

Below is part of an overall paper called "Development Calling", which is the primary paper for consideration at the all-interested-parties meeting to be hosted by UNICEF on June 27th and 28th, 2017 in New York. The full Table of Contents is here.

As highlighted in the introduction, it was vitally important to commence this analysis of the development scenario, followed by the recording of the main worries, opportunities, and priorities identified through the consultation process. This led to the identification of the problems to be solved and the goals that could be adopted. The overall mechanism must support that work. It is always rather unwise (impossible!) to build a house without putting the foundation in place first. With these foundations, what kind of overall house could be built?

It is important to recall five principles that came from both the original brief for this work and the consultations to date.
a.    Rather obviously the mechanism needs to be of a form and nature that will support positive action on the problems and priorities identified – some of below are more suited to some of those priorities than others. This is the main criteria.
b.    This mechanism will not replicate or compete with what is happening at present. The key focus is on added value, not replication and duplication of existing processes.
c.    The mechanism will need to complement or leverage existing processes – both networks and partnerships and activities such as reporting standards that WHO, USAID, UNICEF, and others are working on.

Below, there are three possible models for how this “mechanism” could be grounded and how it may operate. Three very different approaches to the mechanism question are outlined with a few examples of possible key principles and strategies. Some of the different assumptions that guided the identification and development of these options included: 

Operation Mechanism Option 1:

A Standing Committee of the United Nations

The UN has a process of Standing Committees. These are established in order to advance work that cuts across the mandates of various UN agencies. They are mostly derived from and linked to the ECOSOC. Non-UN agencies can be centrally involved as associate members.

The major advantage of a Standing Committee is that it formally places this work within the UN system. That formal arrangement brings all of the advantages of such a position. The disadvantages could be the time taken to formally agree on and establish a Standing Committee on Communication and Media for Development and the possible “bureaucratic” requirements for how it operates. But for this field of work to be central to a decision-making process, have formal standing with governments, have organisations mandated to work together, be inside the system rather than outside, and have stability and longevity, then this option should be considered.

As a practical example, please consider the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition. For an insight into how it operates, please review here: https://www.unscn.org/en/about   

It is easy to see how this would operate for this field of work. A UN Agency for instance, could adopt the secretariat role (FAO does this for nutrition). The Chair could rotate. A number of associate members could be invited. Strategic plans could be developed. Half-yearly meetings would then take place. Progress would be formally reported through various channels. There would be a process for raising significant issues. And our field would thus be in the consultation loop internal to UN decision-making.

The government part of this is really important. It would lock this field into a formal process with government representatives.

This formal platform would also provide an opportunity to both:

➢    Analyse and report on the very important issue of funding trends
➢    Engage major funders including governments, foundations, bilateral agencies and others to both increase financial flows to this field and improve coordination of those efforts – with a priority on Southern organisations.    


Operation Mechanism Option 2:

A council of existing membership-based groups

The communication for development, media (and/for) development, and social and behaviour change field of work includes a number of membership-based organisations. This initiative does not seek to compete with these organisations. That should be outside the mandate for the potential mechanism. Perhaps those membership organisations do provide a basis for the mechanism that could be created. Some of the membership-based organisations include, for example:

•    Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD)
•    Our Media
•    CDAC Network (Communicating with Disaster Affected Communities)
•    IAMCR (International Association of Media and Communication Research) 
•    International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE)
•    Africa Media Initiative
•    Social Marketing Association
•    ICA (International Communication Association)
•    UN Roundtable on Communication and Media for Development
•    … and others.
Of course, these do not comprehensively cover the field of communication for development, media (and/for) development, and social and behaviour change. However, building from the present base would make this a very solid process. Additionally, the existence of such a council may spur the development of other such membership-based organisations such as for child rights communication, entertainment-education, and many more.

This council could be formed and act of its own volition. Criteria would need to be established, such as a genuine membership base independent of any one specific organisation, membership across multiple countries in at least one region, primary focus being to advance a field of work within the umbrella of communication and media (and/for) development and social and behaviour change, and a minimum membership base at an agreed-upon number. No individual organisations could join.

A memorandum of understanding would need to be developed between the organisations. It would cover questions such as mandate and role, process of joining, attendance (Presidents or Chairpersons), roles (Chair, etc.), and provision of Secretariat (an organisation hosts or an independent base).

The clear advantages of this approach to the possible mechanism are “buy-in”, commitment, equity, future development, and foundations. It builds from what exists, in an inclusive manner. Because these entities are all at the table, they control their own destiny. They have made the decision to be involved. They can relate to their members on key decisions. Involvement in this process would strengthen their goals and mandates. Others may be motivated to develop their own membership-based organisations for their discrete sectors in order to join. There would be no one organisational vested interest at the table. All present at the table would be equal. And the Chair of this council could be the go-to person for organisations seeking the input of the communication and media (and/for) development and social and behaviour change field into their policies and strategies.

Of course, there are also downsides to a mechanism such as the one outlined. It would be freestanding, not located within or connected to any existing system or institutional process, as would be the case in the option above. Rather than being “naturally in”, this approach would need to work hard to be “invited in”. 

An important focus for this council would be related to funding, including:

➢    Advocating with governments, international agencies, foundations, bilaterals and other major funders for increased levels of funding, with a particular emphasis on Southern organisations
➢    Working with the major funders to ensure improved coordination of the resources that are available.

Operation Mechanism Option 3:

A federation of issue focused networks

There is a long and important track record within development of issues based networks that seek to advance development action by gathering people together across organisational, role and geographic boundaries in an attempt to advance action on their issue of interest.  For example, local, regional and global networks of people directly affected by HIV/AIDS, climate change, urbanisation, environmental degradation, challenges to their rights, violence against women, absence of quality education, media freedoms, child rights, gender rights, and the advancement of indigenous populations – to name just a few.

For a number of reasons including the growth of social media, increasingly open societies (though not everywhere of course), changing role of government and expansion of civil societies these networks will play an increasingly important role in development action. So, it could be important and useful, for advancing key priorities in relation to the problems that have identified, to implement a mechanism that builds an alliance with and supports these mechanisms.   

From the perspective of this field of work there are four important reasons why it is important to consider basing an operational mechanism in this approach:

1.    Clearly the work of these networks is almost exclusively communication, media, social and behavioural change in nature.
2.    Many organisations in this field have played key roles in building these networks – just two concrete examples – the children’s clubs and networks in South Africa (Soul City) and the anti-violence against women networks in India (Breakthrough)  - but there are many more.
3.    This would provide this field work of work with considerable leverage. It would not be this field of work arguing for itself. It would be this field of work allied with and supporting these increasingly important networks.
4.    This would provide a focused lens for handling issues related to standards, for example.

Such a mechanism could look like this:

➢    The identification of regional and global networks and other processes that directly engage the people most affected by the issues that are the focus of local, regional, national, and international development.

➢    The convening of the key communication and media people from within those identified networks. Regional and global forums could be established in which these groups and networks can gather to:

•    Share communication and media experiences, strategies, and perspectives;
•    Develop partnerships and working relationships;
•    Highlight and promote policy ideas; and
•    Organise and undertake joint research.

➢    The role of the communication for development, media (and/for) development, and social and behaviour change community would be to organise and coordinate this process. In so doing, through the perspectives and ideas of people directly affected by development issues, communication perspectives on key development issues would be developed, other actors in development could be engaged in that policy dialogue, and the staff skills and knowledge required for effective action would be highlighted, as would the requirements related to evidence, funding, standards, and other key issues.

➢    An important part of this role would be to ensure that increased levels of financial resources are attracted and allocated to these issue focused networks and the communication, media, social and behavioural change organisations that are engaged in this work.  


There is a critical dialogue focused on this paper at this link: Draft Paper: Global Mechanism - Comments and critique please

The next section in this paper is Structural and Funding Base - and Conclusion.

The previous section in this paper is The Options - Specific Problems on Which to Focus.

Editor's note: Above is an excerpt from Rafael Obregon's and Warren Feek's 18-page paper "Development Calling".

The full table of contents for this paper follows:

Introduction, Purpose, Stimulus, Consultation

Worries, Opportunities, Priorities, and Core Question

The Options - Specific Problems on Which to Focus

The Options - Operating Mechanisms

Structural and Funding Base - and Conclusion


Image credit: Centre for Communication and Social Change, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Australia