The relationship between the practical application of communication processes and technologies in achieving positive and measurable development outcomes is a relatively modern subject of research, discussion and conjecture. While media professionals, opinion-shapers, development assistants, and policy-makers have often sought to utilize communication systems for social mobilization and change, a lack of understanding of the complexity of behavioral, societal and cultural factors on end-user consumption patterns has more often led to an ineffective, or even counterproductive, outcome.
As people everywhere recognize their interdependence with others, they need to understand those others with whom they are inevitably tied. This is as true for government, agencies and businesses, as it is for the casual traveller. The Center has been at the forefront in producing scholarship which has examined cultural and national bases of communication systems, as it has also analysed intimately the dynamics of intercultural and international encounters. One body of recent research led by the Center’s ethnographers of communication has examined over 100 instances of differences in cultural communication in ten different languages. This is but one example among several of the current intellectual resources being created by the department’s faculty and graduate students.
Experienced practitioners and communication scholars point to the need for a close study of society and culture in formulating media and out-reach strategies, thus ensuring that target audiences are reached in an appropriate manner to more effectively enhance knowledge transfer, in both the North and South at local, national and global levels.
Future Imperatives of Development Communication and Information: This proposal for an Orbicom-UNESCO global initiative is for Orbicom to take a lead in visioning the future challenges and requirements of communication and information for development. Jan Servaes and Chin Saik Yoon, Directors of Orbicom’s Board of Directors, have been appointed to coordinate this project. Strategies and methodologies will be developed that are designed to address the imperatives of a particular set of development issues. The most urgent question to address in such an initiative is the evolving meaning of “development communication” in the future. Our close affiliation to UNESCO and the United Nations expect us to refer some of our visioning to The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
Environmental Communication and Sustainable Living: This body of research examines how communication mediates the relationship between people and nature’s places. Studies have analysed land-use controversies in western Massachusetts, Native American views of landscapes, as well as cultural differences and conflicts in the ways the same landscapes are conceived and evaluated.
Dialogue in Cross-cultural Perspective: The pleas for dialogue have been made from citizens and leaders from across the globe. Yet, what are the meanings and the form of the action being requested through these pleas? What is wanted when one asks for a “dialogue on race” or a “dialogue for peace”? These studies have examined the cultural features in requests as these for “dialogue,” unveiling what is common across them, and just as important, what is distinctive to each.
Communication and Security: Lisa Rudnick, Doctoral Candidate in Communication, is lead Researcher and collaborator with Derek B. Miller (Ph.D.), Project Manager, on the Security Needs Assessment Protocol project (SNAP) at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research in Geneva. This protocol provides a new way of learning about local security problems as they are understood by community members themselves, and for helping UN agencies improve the effectiveness of the delivery of services through the use of such local knowledge. Several elements of the Protocol have been productively tested in Ghana and Nepal, with further testing being planned through 2010. SNAP is introduced in a recent book (Derek B. Miller & Lisa Rudnick. (2008). “The security needs assessment protocol: Improving operational effectiveness through community security”, New York and Geneva: United Nations Publications.). Donal Carbaugh, Prof. of Communication, serves as a member of the project's Advisory Group.
Free Speech and Expression: What constitutes “free” speech and how is it tailored to national and community interests? These studies respond to this question and, in the process, bring to the fore “hate speech” as, ironically, both an infringement and a realization of this right and freedom. The most recent studies of David Boromisza-Habashi are focused on Hungarian “hate speech,” including its cultural and political features. Related studies have been conducted by Professor Kwesi Yankah at the University of Ghana, Africa.
HIV/AIDS Prevention Campaigns and Health Communication: HIV/AIDS prevention campaigns have not been very successful. The epidemic continues to spread, despite the many efforts to change the situation. In the global fight against HIV/AIDS, relevant elements have too often been isolated. Examples of such isolated or reductionist approaches are for instance: (a) the focus and emphasis on particular high-risk groups, which often resulted in blaming the group’s (sub)culture, (b) considering HIV/AIDS primarily as a health problem, (c) selecting the mass media as the most important communication prevention tool, e.g. in campaign programs, and (d) not including the commitment of all stakeholders involved. These kind of isolated and non-integrative approaches might have contributed to raising levels of awareness, but overall they have not been very successful in changing the spread of the epidemic. Research done in Thailand by Patchanee Malikhao, researcher at the UMass Institute for Global Health, indicates that a more holistic approach, based on culture and religion, may lead to more successful outcomes.
Regional conference on Development Communication and Information, as part of the UNESCO-ORBICOM initiative (being planned for early 2011)
Consultancy services to national and international aid agencies, NGOs and development banks in designing, monitoring and evaluating the effects and impact of communication in development project delivery