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close this bookSPORE Bulletin of the CTA No. 55 (CTA Spore, 1995, 16 p.)
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Communication: challenge and change

The ability to acquire and use sophisticated audiovisual technology does not necessarily mean that we are communicating effectively. This ability tends to blind users to the continuing need for basic skills in communication. As some wit once wrote "I know that you believe that you understand what you think I said, BUT I am not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant!" This could almost have been an appropriate epitaph on the gravestone of so many failed development projects.

It was to discuss how to improve communication skills in general, and the use of audio visual media in particular, that an international conference of communication specialists was covered in Paris from 2427 October last year. The seminar was organized by CTA in collaboration with the Groupe de recherche et d'anges technologiques (GRET). The meeting brought together audio-visual producers and users, film makers, photographers, model makers and a cross-section of those involved in rural development, particularly in rural extension and information dissemination. The seminar, entitled Audiovisual communication in the rural development practices of ACP countries - past lessons, future directions, had lessons for more than just rural development. All ACP countries depend on the agricultural sector and it is now recognized that sustainable national development cannot occur without effective rural development.

In the past, most rural communication has been a 'top-down', teacher to pupil approach. If communicators are to get through the resistance to change evidenced by many rural people, the rural people must be treated as equal partners, not inferiors, in the communication process. Rural people have traditional knowledge which may need updating, but does not deserve to be ignored; they understand their own situation and they have their own priorities. They also have their pride and their dignity. Communicators would do well to adopt a more participative approach when dealing with rural people, starting with what Marc Levy of GRET called 'the basic skills of inter-personal communication'. And they should master these skills before they turn to the new and exciting tools that technology has provided.

Many delegates at the seminar were able to demonstrate to their fellow delegates how they were already putting this into practice. Mr Stanley Gacheru, the Head of Kenya's Agricultural Information Centre, explained how videos are used to show extension staff first the wrong and then the right way to organize and speak at farmers' meetings and how to hold demonstrations of new techniques. Afi Yakubu, of Ghana, spoke of her technique of blending the old with the new by involving people of northern Ghana in the planning and production of her films, and using their proverbs and songs as vehicles for their traditional knowledge. Using the medium of their own language to speak to young people in the Caribbean, video producer Christiana Abraham of Dominica demonstrated how pressing social problems could be tackled through the use of drama in 3-4 minute 'mini-soap' TV programmes.

Despite the amply demonstrated skills evidenced by the participants, as always the talk was of constraints to progress through lack of funding for appropriate inputs and understanding of requirements. The main problems are the cost of the equipment, its maintenance and the training needed to use equipment both correctly and creatively. But these requirements must be seen in the context of another important consideration: audio-visual products are of little value unless they are integral components of a comprehensive programme and strategy. No matter how good a "product" a video, for instance, may be it will only be utilized effectively if their is a context for its use and its distribution; otherwise the product will simply sit on the shelf.

No doubt funding and skills training can and will be made available, but even so these cannot provide successful communication without changes at government level and among extension staff themselves. As Jacques Sultan of FAO commented, "Tools are only as good as the skills of the people who use them". His remark was echoed in part by M. Philippe de Soussay of the French Ministry of Research who observed: "It is not the technology of audio-visual media that is important but the use to which that technology is put. If governments and decision-makers do not take these lessons to heart then the knowledge that is essential for rural and national development will continue to be largely wasted."