Concept Note: Towards a Global Membership-based Association of Academics and Practitioners of Communication for Development


22 May 2012

Over the past five decades Communication for Development (C4D) has evolved into an established academic and applied field that has been a permanent feature of international development programs. Throughout those years there have been tremendous growth and enrichment in research, theory, strategy, and practice, including a greater emphasis on the integration of research, evidence, innovation and creativity as critical dimensions of communication for development. While there have been numerous debates over the years in reference to approaches, impact of interventions, and outcomes amongst other issues, there is little doubt that C4D and its corresponding subfields (health communication, environmental communication) is a critical component of international development efforts.

The Communication Initiative on its web portal (, for instance, includes thousands of C4D experiences funded or supported by virtually every major donor, foundation or agency, and implemented by governments and thousands of civil society organizations across the world. Organizations such as Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Communication Programs has organized five global entertainment-education conferences; the Panos Institute has undertaken significant advocacy work to advance the field; multilateral organizations such as the World Bank, donors such as the Rockefeller Foundation, DFID, USAID, and the Gates Foundation, as well as governments and non-governmental organizations invest significant resources in C4d work.

The World Congress on Communication for Development, held in 2006, co-hosted and organized by FAO, The Communication Initiative and the World Bank, was an important marker for the field. It brought together more than five hundred participants, including donors, policy makers, researchers, and practitioners whose common link was their work in C4D. That experience and other events that followed suggested that that such face-to-face meetings are very helpful for C4D practitioners and academics. Such a gathering should contribute to addressing issues discussed in different C4D circles such as greater legitimization and advancement of C4D research and practice, serve as an advocacy platform for C4D funding and support, and contribute to developing a stronger sense of a C4D community.

Over the past few years, interest has increasingly been expressed in the C4D field to establish a regular, annual or bi-annual gathering or event of C4D practitioners, academics, and researchers that welcomes peer-reviewed panels and paper sessions (in some ways similar to such events in other fields – i.e. the annual meeting of the Global Health Council, the International Union for Health Promotion and Education (IUHPE) or the (bi-annual) World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC).

As UNICEF has sought to expand and strengthen its communication for development action it has assessed that (a) the provision of a regular face-to-face meeting opportunity for people and organizations engaged in communication for development action thinking and research and (b) a formal membership association of communication for development practitioners would be positive steps to sustain and expand the overall communication/media for development field of work.

Through the growing size of its network (90,000 presently) and user base (1 million uniques per annum), The Communication Initiative Partnership also has both demonstrated that communication and media for development is a significant and growing field of work and that it possesses established online mechanisms that can support face-to-face meetings and a membership based association.

The desirability of a regular face-to-face meeting and formal membership based association of communication/media for development was endorsed in an informal consultation within the UN Round Table meeting in Delhi in November 2011 and has been discussed and agreed as positive steps within The CI Partners meetings.

A number of communication events such as the annual meetings of the International Communication Association (ICA), the International Association for Mass Communication Research (IAMCR), and regional academic meetings, feature sessions and working groups that focus on communication, development, and social change. However, they do not have a specific C4D focus that could serve as the type of face-to-face forum for C4D academics, researchers and practitioners that the C4D field needs in order to grow stronger in the international development arena. Associations such as those above, as well as others such as the Orecomm initiative led by Malmoe University and Roskilde University, can become key partners in facilitating a convenient space and platform for a C4D gathering, and supporting the creation and publication of a journal of the highest research and academic standards.

In the early years of C4D, the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) conference served as a platform for debates on the role of communication for development. Since 1986, the UN Round Table on C4D has remained the primary forum in which key C4D issues are examined in face-to-face meetings, and whose meeting reports and recommendations often serve as a reference for C4D practitioners and academics. However, the UNRT has a specific mandate, which is to primarily serve as an assembly for UN inter-agency consultation and collaboration. While the UNRT has increasingly been opened to participation from non-governmental organizations, donors and other key players in the C4D field, it cannot become the core C4D gathering that many would like to see. In fact, in 2011, the demand for participation from many organizations almost exceeded the financial and human capacity of UNICEF, the organizing agency for the UNRT, which was held in New Delhi.

As indicated above, 26 participants met in an informal meeting convened and facilitated by UNICEF and The Communication Initiative in the context of the UN Round Table in New Delhi to discuss the desirability of a global, membership-based C4D association that would provide a further platform for the advancement of C4D as a field.

There is little doubt that the communication/media for development field is growing stronger and more extensive, particularly as a central strategic element of a large and growing number of local agencies in countries. In addition to the tremendous global, national and local work being undertaken by so many agencies to advocate for and strengthen this important field of work, participants in this session agreed that C4D would additionally benefit from a membership association that focused on these two major activities (a) a regular annual or two-yearly face-to-face meeting opportunity; and b) a peer reviewed journal, which would serve as critical spaces for advocacy and for intellectual, research and applied advancement of the field.

Several major functions for a global C4D association were proposed. They include:

  1. Providing a forum for regular face to face meetings. This has been discussed above, so no need for further elaboration at this time. This will need the support and engagement of existing networks, academic organizations, and many other key players.
  2. An academic journal. There are only a handful of academic C4D journals in place. However, none of these journals has reached the prominence that one would like to see (at least judging from existing metrics such as impact factor of journals), and which can provide the credibility that, for example, the Journal of Health Communication has added to the work that health communication researchers and practitioners do. The Journal of Health Communication’s special issues on HIV/AIDS communication in 2000; the 2010 special issue on polio communication; and the 2011 special issue of non-communicable diseases are examples of key partnerships between this journal and leading international health and development agencies. In each case, these special editions became reference publications for many decision and policy makers. The peer-reviewed publications included in such special issues add tremendous weight to advocacy efforts to any field.

These two activities would both in and of themselves, and feeding into the strengthening of existing processes that focus on this work, seek to advance:

Lobbying and advocacy for the C4D sector with governments, donors, civil society, NGOs and the UN system for increased human, financial and technical resources to programming that includes the C4D principles and strategies

Policy-making for development programming and implementation that is derived from communication and media for development principles and strategies

Nurturing and supporting leadership in C4D around the world, particularly in least-developed countries and supporting local expertise to bubble up and develop

The following core processes have been identified as critical to fulfilling the above, and additional, functions. The CI has the capability to, or already does, support these functions. Therefore, within this existing CI platform, a discrete space would be built, dedicated to and managed by the Association. This would ensure both (a) an efficient process (b) an integrated approach with good synergy – where appropriate – between the partnership, networking, knowledge sharing and interactivity of The CI process and the face-to-face meeting and journal activities that will be the priorities of the Association; and (c) whilst protecting the independence and separate identity of the Association. There will be costs for The CI specific to the Association development, costs that will be funded from the revenue stream for the Association. But the base capacities have already received significant investment, and have been customized to the C4D field. The CI capacities include:

i. A global network of relevant academics and practitioners engaged in C4D and development work – ~ 90,000 ii. A registration and e-commerce process for Association membership and payments iii. Communication, registration and info sharing processes required for meetings iv. Ability for people in the association or at meetings to provide profiles on themselves shared with others and to interact in digital spaces v. An online presence with the ability to uniquely brand and present – for example, the design frame – the “association” or “annual meeting” space unique to the processes outlined above but within the overall network, with essential building blocks specific to the C4D community, and a very sophisticated, expensive, flexible platform vi. Platforms to organize either the “membership” and/or the meetings, including, for example, task teams; assigning of responsibilities; working groups; issue based discussions; all from a coherent base vii. Ability to share knowledge viii. Ability to promote and grow either the “association” or the “meeting”
ix. An infrastructure

Next steps should be agreed during this webinar/video conference.