Development Cooperation Handbook/The video resources linked to this handbook/The Documentary Story/The real project challenges

The real project challenges

Besides finding an innovative approach of talking of cooperation and aids, the other challenge was the audience "size". Since the Millennium Development Goals are a global effort, our target was to reach a global audience. This immediately created a big "size" problem, which however could be easily tackled by using a internet based system of communication.

We used the Internet not merely as a big broadcaster and distributor, but also as a platform where written and audiovisual media could integrate and reinforce each other. We used extensively the Internet for getting feedback on the ongoing production. From the comment we received we understood better our target audience, which was not the general public, but the communication professionals and the teachers interested to know more about the MDGs. In our intention these communication professionals and teachers, who were our direct target, would have eventually spoken about the MDGs to their own specific public. Which was our final but indirect target. If were directly trying to talk of the MDGs to the public, we, who received a public grant to talk about them, would have been less credible ("They say what they have been paid to say"). But if the media professionals and teachers talk about the MDGs, then their communication would have been much more authoritative and effective.

So, technologically speaking, the "global audience" is reachable with Internet and physical distance was no longer a barrier. But the global audience does not have uniform expectations, on the contrary pre-conceptions and stereotypes are diverse and often reciprocally exclusives. So how to the cultural barriers? What can we say that equally appeals to the different stakeholders?

In order to answer to that problem we changed the question and we asked "is there a basic issue that is equally challenging in all the different cultural contexts? We thought that there was one: how can we built a healthy communication and cooperation climate amongst different nations and different cultures?

Gradually, following this thread, we went to ask what are the issues at stake in intercultural dialogue. And what are the difficulties of framing common goals in the international development agenda. This seemed to us an inspiring tread to follow, as it was leading us to a different communication ground, where pleasing the audience by conforming to its pre-conceived expectations was not the priority. We were instead proceeding into territories for which there were no existing maps, no prepared customer expectations surveys. We were moving in the unknown and then we were asking the audience to come on board for an unknown destination. We of course did not know if such an approach would have worked. But surely we were well in line with Vincenzo's instructions of not repeating the rhetorical mistakes of the past.

To me it was clear that, in order to avoid the rhetorical swamp, we needed to cast aside any effort to "convince" and take up the challenge of "sharing". I knew that this approach potentially had many wider implications and was taking us right into the big issues of philosophy and the general failure of contemporary communication science to conceptualize the difference between rhetoric and dialectics. I wanted to touch the philosophical nots in our documentary, and bring in it some learning from the old master of aesthetics (like Croce, Leonardo, Abhinavagupta, Bhartṛhari, etc). But I did not want that what to load the video product with academic discussions that the public would have found too "abstract". I wanted to remain grounded upon a practical problem: why there has been a global failure in communicating the global program of the MDGs? That would have taken us to the hearth of ethics and aesthetics. Why is it easier to generate consensus by spreading fears and suspects amongst civilizations than by promoting dialogue and cooperation? Are opinion makers really leading the opinions of the people or are just driving upon the most widespread superstitions? Does it exist an ethical "grammar" for communication? Is there a conflict between artistic creativity and social responsibility?

While coping with the vastness of the "big" philosophical issues, one intuition was helping my steps. The fact that United Nations had framed its programs exclusively in a "technical" grammar fashion that had made everything sounding too frigid and aloof. That kind of economic language was needed at an earlier stage to frame a consensus amongst the different world leaders. But then that economic-social grammar was not sufficient for raising the emotions of the people and therefore was not really communicable to the public. If we wanted to communicate the MDGs we needed to move from rationality to passions, from statistics to music, from prose to poetry.

Then how to put "poetry" into the bureaucratic language of the UN declarations? Probably the first step is to move out of the "formula" idea. Yearning of poetry cannot be grounded into lists of ingredients and processes. We had to be open with our own passion animating our own search. We were going to propose to the professional media development stories about the MDGs that were not pre-cooked in the usual media stereotypes. We would have exposed our difficulties and our attempts to overcome them. We would have recorded our story as it happens, like the researchers write the notes of their experiments. And as it is with all researchers, we could fail in getting the right solutions. But in case we would have been far away of the toxic modality of "trying to convince". Would we also been inspiring and entertaining the public? Well, that's remain to be seen. Now we go for this path.

Next Searching for the questions to ask

See in the handbook


 Redefining communication


Stefano explains the target and the approach of our documentary
Stefano asks for suggestions on how to improve the documentary
Stefano asks to Jean Drèze suggestions on how to cover the good news