Development Cooperation Handbook/Cooperation and Communication

"Communication" from the Latin "communicare" literally means "to make common".

Communication as the determinant of success or failure of cooperation projects

Redefining communication


Most dictionaries define "communication" as "transmitting information" or "expressing ideas". Communication theorists prefer the term "exchange" to the term "transmitting" because they say that communication requires a two way process of transmitting and receiving; they also indicate that we do not communicate only through words but also through the tone of our voices, the body postures, etc. So, the most widely accepted definition of communication is the "exchange of information, ideas, or feelings".

Cooperation and Communication

However, this is still a poor definition. Communication is more than the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, by speech, visuals, signals, writing, or behavior. Communication is more than exchange. Communication is "sharing". It is "making common". Communication is what enables cooperation.

The business dictionary defines communication as "Two-way process of reaching mutual understanding, in which participants not only exchange (encode-decode) information, news, ideas and feelings but also create and share meaning. In business, it is a key function of management-- an organization cannot operate without communication among levels, departments and employees.". This is a much better definition because it indicates that we really have communication when "it works" - otherwise we have "mis-communication". Communication works when when a group of "I"s accept to identify themselves as a "we".

Communication is not exchanging pre-fabricated notions: it is a new creation. And all communication counterparts need to participate and contribute to this creation. Communication produces new knowledge that none of the communicators had beforehand. Communication breaks the solitude and isolation of people, enables "participation" and builds a sense of "community". Perhaps this communion is short and does not have tangible consequences on people's lives: it may be just a flash. But still, it would be a flash of understanding, that leaves the persons a bit more joyful. Perhaps the communication partners will never meet again; but they would still remain with their humanity a bit (or a lot) enriched.

This is not the kind of experience that we normally have while reading posters or listening to airport loudspeakers! Nor when we read newspapers or see TV programmes (which are generally more elaborated versions of the same kind of top-down relationship from the "communicator" to the "public"). It is the kind of experience that we sometimes have reading a poem, accepting hospitality when we travel, joining a prayer, etc. It is an experience of communion.

Development communication

Development communication

When we communicate, we propose a modality of human relationship. In the development cooperation environment, "to communicate" is to "build agreement" on how to achieve common objectives and how to reciprocally support and empower action partners. Sincerity and authenticity of communication are therefore the main drivers of successful development cooperation actions.

So development communication is not, as it has been defined, the "use of communication to promote social development". This concept insists on a vision of trying to "convince" the others or, worst, trying to "change" the others. But in true communication, there are no "others", there is only "we", we who need to learn how to cooperate, we who need to learn how to learn from each other. Through communication we may "change", but it would be the realization of what was already there in us as potency and that gets actualized through a process of reciprocal empowerment. Development communication is, thus, successful when it enables a participatory approach to development.

Propaganda, seduction and other rhetorical modes will tend to be counterproductive in development cooperation, because they will express the desire of manipulating counterparts.

Open, sincere and reciprocally enabling communication will instead build trust, as it will reveal the intention of enabling reciprocal knowledge and common synergy.

Subsections of this chapter


See also


  Issues 9 ⇒ Media and the international communication climate

  In the documentary story ⇒ The real project challenges
  In the documentary story ⇒ How to bypass the communication diaphragms?

  In other sections of this handbook

On other Wikibooks

  Communication Theory
  Communication Course

On Wikipedia

  Development communication

Other resources

  Communication theory


Stefano explains the target and the approach of our documentary
  Sarebbe importante riuscire a far vedere il lavoro sul campo della cooperazione internazionale per generare supporto alle politiche ma anche per dare la possibilita' alle persone di conosccere quello che succede nel mondo - Gualtieri
Stefano - Perche' l'Unione Europea sta lavorando per promuovere la Cooperazione Internazionale   Conversazione con Francesco Brancatella al Parlamento Europeo.
Stefano asks for suggestions on how to improve the documentary
Constructive communication is the real challenge of development cooperation work - B.Hoeper
Stefano asks to Jean Drèze suggestions on how to cover the good news

Shiva Kumar - Media and the MDGs