Improvement of the system of communication for behavior and social change in development communication strategy of the organization

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №12 - 2020

Ghafary Narges, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan, Herat, Afghanistan
Madiyarova Elvira, D. Serikbayev East-Kazakhstan State Technical University, Kazakhstan
Novitskaya Yuliya, Kazakh-American Free University, Kazakhstan


Currently, Development Communication (DC) is defined at the Women Empowerment for New Horizon Organization in Afghanistan (WENHO) as being the strategic use of communication, research, and participatory community engagement to promote positive and measurable behavior and social change. DC is an evidence-based process that utilizes a mix of communication tools, channels and approaches to facilitate participation and engagement with children, families, communities, networks for promoting positive social and behavior change in both development and humanitarian contexts. It draws on learnings and concepts from the social, behavioral, and communication sciences. That definition of DC is rich with meaning, but when it comes to implementing it, some organizations such as WENHO fall short on doing it effectively. A first strategic decision has to do with the relative priority of audiences and focus of capability development (whether internal or external) to be covered under the scope of the DC system. Non-DC related staff in WENHO play a critical role in the development of DC interventions. Governmental and NGO counterparts provide essential roles in DC delivery. Over time, WENHO will have to decide how best to coordinate capability development in relation to these many constituencies. Secondly, a third strategic decision regards the speed at which DC capabilities need to be developed. As stated above, there are many staff members with different needs and opportunities for growth. It will take resources - time, energy, and money - to build the infrastructure, systems, and staff to make best use of the capability building programs. It will require a long-term, sustained investment - a sustained "push on the flywheel" for WENHO to grasp the greatest return on its DC capability development investment.

Overall, the paper emphasizes significant tensions, challenges and issues related to the effective and demanding evaluation of DC within WENHO. The research identified many contextual, structural and institutional challenges, issues and barriers, including problems with communication, attitudes towards DC and evaluation in general. It also identified issues related to conceptualizing, managing and of DC operations and results. The research found a lack of skills and capacities in evaluation related specifically to the DC practices of WENHO, including a lack of appreciation, funding and support for alternative evaluation approaches that are more appropriate for DC. Moreover, the paper highlighted that the organization has not used a mix of long-term communication channels, particularly participatory approaches for community mobilization and engagement due short-term projects and lack of funding. WENHO requires investment on informative research to learn from the target audiences what values and social norms to appeal to. Further, community leaders must be engaged and feel that they are full partners in the effort to improve the lives of community members. Moving forward, the organization needs to develop a more structured and systematic approach to government capacity development that engages with the factors that are preventing DC from being better integrated into government planning. Finally, the paper is concluded with the overall recommendation for further consideration while developing a DC strategy for the organization.

Purpose, objectives and scope of the research

The purpose of the research is for WENHO to adopt a more effective Development Communication strategy in order to better achieve and strengthen the organization's future action and results."

Research objectives:

1. Gain a broader and more expert understanding of Development Communications

2. Examine DC theories and their applicability in order to develop an assessment framework to measure organization DC capacity and effectiveness

3. Become familiar with WENHO's current DC system and utilize the framework by assessing the system's strengths and weaknesses

4. Present recommendations for a more effective DC system to be considered by WENHO

In short, in this paper the researcher will step away from talking about WENHO decision makers in fact viewing development communication as public relations and branding despite their rich definition of it. Instead, the focus is on guiding the organization on how to increase its resources mobilization for DC by increasing its DC visibility and Evaluability. In this context, it is important to also know what the expectations of the decision makers are who are external to WENHO itself and what kind of tangible and visible DC results and impacts they are looking for. The key decision-makers include the donors who usually fund the DC programs as well as other programs in the organization. Some of the organization partners such as ministries and other local NGOs, use only those DC approaches that focus more on messages, billboards, posters, and media campaigns that usually look and feel best for reporting to donors, but in fact contribute little to actual social change.

Executive Summary

Communications for Development (DC) is the application of practical communication principles to further development objectives. WENHO is one of the NGOs in Afghanistan that promotes and uses DC it all its programs strategy to drive positive behavioral and social change in the community. In recognition of the importance of DC, WENHO has made a substantial investment in developing both its internal capacity and its partners' capacity in designing and implementing DC strategies. Many efforts have been made towards better integrating DC as a cross-cutting program strategy into systems, policies, and plans.

This is a case study report for Afghanistan. The country case study had four main objectives:

1. Assessing the connection, effectiveness, and efficiency of the WENHO's efforts to (a) develop the specific knowledge and competences of staff in DC and (b) enhancing the organization's overall capacity.

2. Assessing how appropriately DC has been integrated into the organizational structures and programs;

3. Assessing how proper DC-related planning and implementation has been to the contextual needs of the country program, and identify factors driving or constraining the relevance of DC-related planning and programming.

4. Reviewing DC-related performance monitoring and knowledge management and assessing the availability of results (outcomes and impact) achieved through programs using DC interventions.


Concerning the survey and internal document review analysis, it appeared that there had been a good investment in building DC capacity when one considers the organization's relatively small size. The DC staff training has been the initial investment to date, with excellent follow-up by participants on their return. They replicated their knowledge with other colleagues in the organization. All training has been relevant to the needs of the participants, which effectively came quite recently when it was realized there was a need for DC capacity building.

The training and workshops targeted the right staff members and used the right mix of learning methodologies. Likewise, the courses have contributed to improving DC knowledge and practice. The risk, however, is that without follow-up, the capacity gains achieved through these courses will erode. Moving forward, the organization requires to look at more efficient ways of building internal skills. Sending staff to the courses was an effective way of building DC capacity, but it was costly and benefitted only a minimal number of staff. In the future, more emphasis is needed on facilitating the transfer of knowledge and skills between peers. This will be less costly and will reach more people. This also will help distribute DC capacities more widely across the organization. Organizing such training and activities for both the staff and the partners would pool experience from across the country, would allow WENHO DC professionals to network and share experiences and would make training cost-effective.

Another challenge the organization encounters in strengthening its DC capacity is human resources. There is only one DC specialist working in the entire organization, which is not enough to service all of the sections effectively. There have been many efforts to increase capacity through a network of focal points embedded in sections, but it will require investment in building their ability to be effective.

There is strong support for DC in the organization, but it is still not adequately considered in the planning process. The fact that there is virtually no reference to DC in either the 2011 or the 2015 Situation Analysis documents is indicative of this, as is the poor integration DC into core planning documents such as the RAM and RWPs. However, the recent development of a new DC strategy is an important step and presents a real opportunity for embedding DC into the structures and processes of the organization. The establishment of an internal DC task force, chaired by the Deputy Country Director, to lead the coordination of DC across the country program and provide consistent senior-level oversight and backing for DC is already a step in the right direction. One of the significant challenges the organization needs to grapple with to better integrate DC into programming relates to financial resources.

Current levels of financial allocations for DC are insufficient to meet the needs of the country program. There are no quick fixes to this problem, but more consistent involvement of the DC specialist in resource mobilization will help collect more evidence on the impact of DC interventions. Another challenge that the organization will need to tackle in the future is how to manage the integration of DC and external communications as WENHO shifts away from community engagement towards more upstream advocacy work based on the reviewed minutes meetings. Currently, there are demarcated roles and responsibilities between DC and external communications, but this may not remain the case. There is likely to be increased blurring of functions, and there is a real risk that DC could find itself losing prominence. DC will need to monitor and navigate these shifts carefully if it wants to remain relevant.

DC has been a respected cross-cutting discipline in the organization and is implemented with increasing professionalism in terms of DC implementation. Considerable attention to DC effectively began in 2012; since then, many programs have been implemented with significant DC components integrated into them. How DC is applied across sections tends to fall into one of three modalities: DC and program sections work in parallel on an initiative; DC leads the action, and the sections provide technical support, and sections lead the effort, and the DC team offers technical support. Each modality has benefits and challenges.

There has been a notable amount of activity around DC in the organization. However, against the DC indicators that are considered proxies for quality implementation, performance is mixed. This indicates a lack of consistency in the quality with which DC is being designed and implemented. A key area for improvement relates to the organization taking the lead in establishing multistakeholder taskforces that can coordinate and plan for DC nationally and sub-nationally. There has been limited DC capacity support provided to partners to date; the delivery has been ad hoc and opportunistic. While NGO partners already have a little bit of good DC capacity, government partners do not. In government, there is a reluctance to move away from DC as being posters and pamphlets and to embrace the view that DC is evidence-based and participatory. Moving forward, the organization needs to develop a more structured and systematic approach to government capacity development that engages with the factors that are preventing DC from being better integrated into government planning.

Given the current monitoring and reporting structure within WENHO, it would not be possible to assess the aggregate effects of DC programming across the organization. The reason behind this is a lack of clarity on how DC activities link to program outputs and outcomes, and data on behavior changes are not systematically collected. This suggests that, in the future, were WENHO to invest further in evaluating the impacts of its DC work, the unit of analysis should be the individual DC programs rather than the overall country program.

This study found that WENHO has a general preference for participatory community approaches for achieving behavior change objectives. Community participatory approaches lead to better behavioral outcomes. However, WENHO requires investment on informative research to learn from the target audiences what values and social norms to appeal to. Further, community leaders must be engaged and feel that they are full partners in the effort to improve the lives of community members. Government officials and partners do not have the necessary interpersonal communication skills to establish a productive relationship with target audiences. WENHO Interventions seeking behavior change need to provide the partners with tools and interpersonal communication training that will help them stay on message and convey empathy and concern. Effective interpersonal communication supports to promote the perception that community elders and community members are in more equitable relationships with those representing their community and is part of the process of enhancing the trust in the community. When community members are listened to and respected, and when they feel that they are being responded to, the behavior change adoption is more likely to occur.


DC Capacity Building

- WENHO should consider providing relevant capacity building to the new DC focal points. DC focal points are technical officers, who have been trained in DC, with responsibilities for advocating, mainstreaming and quality assuring DC activities within their zones. Currently, there are new DC focal points in the organization that are in the process of forming a network of DC champions within each Section who require relevant capacity building programs on DC.

- It would be ideal for DC staff to also take courses with a sectoral focus (i.e., Child Protection, Women Empowerment, etc.) to apply DC approaches effectively in a specific field. As a result, each focal point would form a strong DC network around him/her and that should take some of the workload off the DC Specialist.

- The organization should consider establishing long-term partnerships to support DC capacity development as well as focusing on building the capacity of partners and the government on DC. Additional capacity building will still be needed, and partnerships with a number of local organizations will help. These partners could work across sections in delivering DC capacity development services and support create productivity.

- The Communications team in WENHO should instigate regular learning events for Section staff across the organization. For example, these could be quarterly meetings run by the DC Specialist, but broader learning/workshop opportunities for Section staff could also be considered. This would make sure that there is follow-up of capacity already built and would continue to share new approaches, new methodologies, new lessons learned, and best practice examples.

- WENHO should consider facilitating capacity building activities for DC staff members, focal points, its partners, and other stockholders. Arranging such activities would pool experience that would allow DC practitioners to network together and share experiences. It would also make training more cost-effective.

DC Integration

WENHO should address the need to define, design, and implement some effective standard operating procedures (SOPs) to consolidate the process of integration of DC, which has already begun. This should include SOPs for routinely integrating the DC Specialist into program planning and resource mobilization; identification of focal points in sectors and ensuring that their responsibilities are well described in job descriptions and performance reviews.

WENHO should make sure that all Sectors are provided with documentation to provide support on how to best integrate DC in planning, monitoring, and evidence gathering.

WENHO should renew its efforts to improve monitoring and documentation of DC results. To make this happen, it is recommended that DC should be explained and highlighted clearly in all RWPs as well as in all future planning and monitoring frameworks as is appropriate.

Through making a clear articulation of the links between activities and outcomes, the logic gaps between DC activities and higher-level results/outcomes should be addressed. The indicators should be clearly written for internal monitoring and assessment of the DC interventions within programs. Finally, all the results should be more clearly attributed to DC efforts where it is appropriate. Good human interest stories should be written and publicized that illustrate the impact of DC practices. This will partly help to aid fund-raising for evidence generation.

DC Implementation

The organization should consider conducting a DC capacity assessment of key government partners to better understand their current knowledge, skills and practice and the major blockages they face in better integrating DC into government planning and implementation.

WENHO should develop a clear strategy and plan for building DC capacity in the organization. This should mobilize a range of capacity development strategies, such as training and mentoring to ensure all programme staff have a solid foundation in DC methods, theories and principles.

WENHO should assess the demand for DC support in each Section and develop realistic staffing arrangements, which ensures adequate support both within WENHO and to its partners. The nature and number of DC programs and the number of government partners varies across sections and as such, so does the required level of DC support.

Senior management and Section Chiefs should be required to support the DC Specialist in funding and coordinating cross-cutting DC initiatives. The implementation of cross-sector DC initiatives has been challenging because of limited support and funding from Sections and problems in coordinating planning and implementation. Resolving these problems will require Section Chiefs to show genuine support for cross-sector initiatives and commit to resourcing them adequately. It will also require the Country Director and Deputy Director to see the value of cross-sector DC initiatives and to drive cross-sector working forward across the country program.

DC Human Resources

To help better coordinate the DC capacity development efforts, WENHO should consider working with a limited number of organizations that could provide support across the office.

WENHO should consider recruiting a full-time DC adviser, who could be pro-actively in touch with the DC Specialist in Kabul and in the zone, as well as sector specialists, to provide in-depth DC knowledge and experience.

WENHO should ensure a better resource allocation for DC. Current funding for DC is insufficient to meet programmatic needs. This can be addressed in two ways: (a) Identify processes to make sure the DC Specialists have the opportunity to review and provide input into all proposals that have a significant DC component, starting from the inception phase and all the way through. Currently, the level of DC specialist's engagement with the proposal process is ad hoc and piecemeal. As a result, DC activities are under-resourced, which undermines the quality of delivery. (b) WENHO could make sure that the current guidance on financial allocation to DC is followed. When developing proposals, the existing guidance on allocation resources to DC activities should be strictly followed.

Redouble efforts to ensure DC initiatives are grounded in evidence. While research and evaluation are being used to inform DC interventions, this is not being done systematically. Ensuring communication strategies are evidence-based is central to ensuring there is capable DC.

DC Visibility

WENHO should continue to document best practices, innovations, and learning in DC. The products should be communicated externally, both in-country among partners and with WENHO staff at different levels. WENHO has significant experience implementing DC in Afghanistan, and it is viewed by partners as the primary source of expertise on DC domestically.

More effort should be put into actively sharing learning, best practices, guides, and toolkits to build the capacity of others and improve the implementation of DC. This will, in turn, help attract resources for sectoral and cross-sectoral DC interventions.

DC Evaluability

Ensure that DC results are presented clearly in the results framework for the new CPD. This should include: a clear causal logic in how DC activities link to Section results at output and outcome level, a clear articulation of specific behavior changes results where relevant, clear indicators and baseline data collection.

Any research/data collection efforts on behavior/social change that have been achieved by means of DC initiatives should be more routine.

DC Communication Channels and Partnership

While developing the new DC strategy, the organization should consider a strategic approach or mix of methods and models to reach the target audiences. The types of communication channels that will maximize the reach and effectiveness of the messages should be identified. No matter how much the communication messages and materials are wonderfully and cleverly designed, they will not be valid if they do not reach the intended audience.

Utilizing a variety of linked communication channels is more effective than relying on one specific one.

The target population including the community elders, should participate in all phases of behavior change communication development and in much of implementation.

Stakeholders, partners, and community members need to be involved from the design stage.

Planning for monitoring and evaluation should be part of the design of any BCC program, and the community members should be a part of the monitoring team. Key stakeholders should be involved early on in every step of the process of developing messages or any behavior change programs. Stakeholders include policymakers, community elders, faith leaders, and members of target populations. Their active participation at appropriate stages of DC strategy development is crucial. It is required that a stakeholders meeting is held at the planning stage to obtain guidance and commitments to the process and to develop coordination mechanisms.


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Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №12 - 2020

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