[MDD01] for Publication_ Review of Evolution of Development Paradigms — the Role of the Media - Participatory Communication for Development Communication
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Keywords: Development, development paradigms, participatory communication, media role
Abstract: This paper seeks to investigate and discuss the origins and evolution of
participatory communication as a strategy for development. The primary objective
or focal point of development ought to be to achieve empowerment as well as to
acknowledge that a struggle for empowerment exists. However, “identifying an
exhaustive set of past and present ‘paradigms’ and adapting them to develop socio-
economic systems is a very tall order” (Bellù 2011, pp. 5–6).There is no universal
path to development and “[e]ach society must find its own [workable] strategy”
(Friberg and Hettne in Melkote and Steeves, 2001:19). Participatory
Communication is not all that easily definable owing to its non-unified model of
communication. In the final analysis however, “the main elements that characterise
participatory communication are related to its capacity to involve the human
subjects of social change in the process of communicating” (Dagron, 2001:25).
This substantiates the author’s argument that suitably promotes the use of
participatory communication as the preferred approach for ongoing use and
continued relevance in contemporary southern-African and South African
developments contexts today.
Author Information: Director/founder — Content Strategics (Pty) Ltd.
Media and communications consultant, social media and online content manager,
media researcher, retired photographer and photojournalist.
Part-time (mid-career) postgraduate student (MA Journalism) at Stellenbosch
University, South Africa.
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Development, development paradigms and development communication ...................................................3
Development paradigms and development communication ......................................................................4
Participatory Communication (PC) — the preferred approach .....................................................................7
The “Weltevredense Doen en Late” picture-story case study....................................................................8
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This paper seeks to investigate and discuss the origins and evolution of Participatory Communication as a
strategy for development. In order to achieve this objective satisfactorily, we outline the evolution of
development paradigms and investigate how the media’s role in these paradigms has shifted throughout
this evolutionary process. Specifically, we motivate the suitability of participatory communication as a
paradigm that remains relevant for use in contemporary southern-African and South African contexts
It is first necessary to reduce certain concepts to their lowest common denominator; namely, the concept
of development, development paradigms, and the concept of development communication. we start by
discussing development in further detail.
“Development is usually understood to mean the process by which societal conditions are improved
(Melkote and Steeves, 2001:44). However, disagreement exists on what this so-called improvement
consists of, or is constituted from (ibid.). In a similar vein, it is important to acknowledge that, as Friberg
and Hettne(cited in Melkote and Steeves, 2001:19) state, “[t]here is no universal path to development …
[subsequently] [e]ach society must find its own [workable] strategy”.
Dimensions of development may include: economic, human, sustainable and territorial development
(Bellù, 2011:3, emphasis mine).An important series of points related to the vast scope and varied
dimensions of development is aptly stated by authors Todaro and Smith(2002:110, emphasis mine):
“[d]evelopment should therefore be perceived as a multidimensional process involving the reorganization
and reorientation of entire economic and social systems”. Further to this, development may also include
the need to radically alter “institutional, social, and administrative structures … [perhaps even] customs
and beliefs” (ibid.).
Schoen and Servaes(cited in Msibi and Penzhorn, 2010:225) highlight that development is to be regarded
as “an ethical-political process of social change” that will either “implicitly or explicitly have far-reaching
consequences on the lives of the people involved in the process”. There is a need however, to “overhaul”
the “conception of the term, ‘development’” (Melkote and Steeves, 2001:348). This need arises from the
fact that many of the frameworks continue to “maintain power inequities in society” (ibid.). The primary
objective or “focal point” of development ought to be to achieve“empowerment” (ibid.), as well as to
acknowledge that a “struggle for empowerment” (ibid., 29) exists. Therefore, accounting for “power in
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development theory and practice” remains crucial because “real change is not possible unless we directly
address power inequities among individuals and groups” (ibid., 348, emphasis mine). Let us keep in mind
however, as observed by Melkote and Steeves (ibid., 43),that “there is no single recipe for facilitating
empowerment”, but rather, that lessons may be learned from the many models “and experiences of
communication for development”.
With relevance to the aforementioned cursory discussion on development, we will now introduce the
reader to an outline of the fuller spectrum and evolution of various development paradigms that may be
Bellù (2011:6) emphasises the importance of considering development paradigms, owing to the
“complexity of the development concept per se, [as well as] its multidimensional nature”.
Bellù (2011:5–6) defines a development paradigm as a “defined modality or path to follow to achieve
development, based on a codified set of activities and/or based on a vision regarding the functioning and
evolution of a socio-economic system”. However, all is not so easy as it seems: “[i]dentifying an
exhaustive set of past and present “paradigms” adopted to develop socio-economic systems is a very tall
order” (ibid.).In this regard, it is worth noting that the notion of a paradigm, as Harrison (1988:166–167)
suggests, is problematic when considering the sociology of modernisation and development. Similarly, let
us keep in mind that a paradigm is an outline of a particular perspective only; in other words, a “partial”
view (ibid.). As such, it must be borne in mind that “there is no universal social scientific truth, valid for
all time” (Harrison, 1988:166–167). Consequently, from the viewpoint of the author of this article,
paradigms are seemingly ever-evolving and defining clear paradigmatic borders may not be as easy or as
clear-cut as one would anticipate.
When attempting to delineate these borders more clearly, “[t]he aim is to create ‘development recipes’
which reflect different development paradigms” (Bellù, 2011:7). Different development paradigms
“encompass different visions about what type of development is desirable and how it is achievable”
(ibid.). Melkote and Steeves (2001:34–35) outline four broadly encompassing perspectives [i.e.
paradigms]: modernization, critical and liberation/monastic perspectives, and a group which encompasses
a collective of “basic needs, sustainable development and women and development”.
Melkote and Steeves(2001:40) state that the dominant development paradigm “has guided much of the
development theory and practice in the Third World since World War II”. Yoon (2013: para. 2) explains
that, this dominant “top-down approach” to development, that had its main focus on economic
development, was prominent in the 1950s and 1960s. Melkote and Steeves(2001:19) refer to the 1960s
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era of development as the “First Development Decade”1
. During this period, “development was thought
to be triggered by the diffusion and adoption of modern technologies (2013:para. 2, emphasis mine). This
form of development essentially entailed the arrival “of experts brought-in from developed countries”
(ibid.).As far as the media’s role in all of this, Yoon (2013:para. 3) explains, that within this paradigm,
development was accompanied by the widespread use of radio and “mobile cinema-van[s]” that sought to
promote “modernization” to the people, who themselves, were the “objects” of development initiatives.
This type of communication was soon to become known as “Development Support
Communication”(ibid.).In essence, the communication objective was to “sell” ideas with the hope of
having them adopted by those to whom the development communication was directed … in other words,
it was a form of “persuasive marketing” (Melkote and Steeves, 2001:38).
By contrast, later paradigms of a more critical framework rejected these ‘marketing models”, preferring to
view them as “persuasive campaigns” intended to manipulate and were thus to be regarded as “potentially
It is consequently the view of the author of this article, that the gradual evolution of development
paradigms seemingly originated from the need to solicit the consenting support of those to whom
development communication was being directed. A series of attempts and failures resulted in several
paradigms—or development ‘recipes’—being tried out over time. These include paradigms that often
supported a particular emphasis on what the desired outcome of the development process could be, and
could thus be termed ‘pro’ (or in favour of, or “biased” towards): “pro-innovation, pro-persuasion, pro-
top-down, pro-mass media, and pro-literacy” being the most prominent perspectives (Melkote and
For example, when considering a specific evolutionary process of the paradigms, the “pro-innovation
transfer paradigm”, itself a part of the 1949 Point Four Third World variant of the Marshall Plan to
rebuild Europe after WW2, saw the provisioning of “finance and material resources” as the primary
objective, but this approach however did not necessarily work for “postcolonial Third
World”development challenges (Arkes in Melkote and Steeves, 2001:54, 65). To this paradigm then, the
added need for persuasive communication became necessary—before media tools like radios and
“transistorization”—which in turn became the responsibility of human interaction in the form of
“extension services”, described also as a type of “outreach function” of the government departments and
ministries involved in the development process (Melkote and Steeves, 2001:55). Thus, by the time the
See also the works of Daniel Lerner (1958), Wilbur Schramm (1964) Everett Rogers (1962, 1969), Frederick Frey, Lucien
Pye, and LakshmanaRao (Melkote and Steeves 2001, p. 19).
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1960s era arrived, “technological transfer”, better known as the “pro-innovation transfer paradigm”, was
augmented by decisive persuasive interventions in order that the Third World would be convinced of the
wisdom of these choices (Melkote and Steeves, 2001:65). This is turn, set “in motion a one-way flow of
influence oriented messages from change agencies at the top to the rural peasantry at the bottom”; hence
the top-down paradigm which is also associated with this stage in the evolution of development
paradigms (Melkote and Steeves, 2001:66). It is worth noting that, at times for example, the “vertical
structure” of these paradigms had the unintended effect of maintaining the “continuity of inegalitarian [i.e.
non-egalitarian] relations”, which was evidence by the “Latin American latifundios" which “frequently
perpetuated the interests of dominant elites” (Huesca, 2003:4).
Pro-mass media and pro-literacy paradigms soon followed, but “adoption” was still very poor in the Third
World (ibid.). Adjustments to the former “simple” models of development saw the “in-the-head
psychological constraints”, and the “external constraints on adoption” paradigms evolve; both requiring
“the radical modification of a traditional mindset” on development that existed at that time in
history(ibid.). Communication was seen by scholars and researchers to be the major constraint and this
communication gap had to be bridged with the incorporation of the development support communication
(DSC) specialist (ibid.).
Following on from the evolutionary process of these paradigms, came one of the “most powerful”;
namely, modernisation (or ‘dominant paradigm’), which itself was underpinned by “neo-classical”
approaches that served well for Western economies (Melkote and Steeves, 2001:100). However, the
dominant paradigm “denied history to developing nations” whilst also having several other cultural,
religious, gender and environmental biases (Melkote and Steeves, 2001:171, 181).
“Reaction against modernization, [the dominant paradigm], gave birth to various participatory approaches”
(Yoon, 2013:2). This gave rise to—during the 1980s and 1990s—dramatic differences to the “models and
theories [of development] of the first development decades” (Huesca, 2003:1). The former paradigms had
a “strong emphasis on adoption and under-emphasis on recipient input into development decisions and
processes” (Colle in Melkote and Steeves, 2001:56). Thus, the dominant paradigm was strongly
“challenged” for its shortcomings, triggering “[t]he rise of Participatory Communication” (Huesca,
In the next section we turn our focused interest to a discussion of, and motivation for, the continued
relevance of Participatory Communication in contemporary southern-African and South African
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Dagron (2001:8) states that participatory communication is not all that easily definable owing to its non-
unified model of communication … but, that the “diversity of participatory communication experiences
[have] always been a sign of its healthy status”.
Tufte and Mefalopulos (2009:2, emphasis mine) have the following important observations to make about
the origins of participatory communication; namely that:
[D]uring the 1950s, experiences with participatory communication first appeared when Brazilian
adult educator Paulo Freire worked with adult literacy campaigns among the poor peasants in
North-eastern Brazil.Freire’s original literacy work empowered landless peasants to formulate
their own demands for a better life and to liberate themselves from oppressive conditions. …
Central to this line of thinking was the emphasis on letting the stakeholders get involved in the
development process and determine the outcome, rather than imposing a pre-established (i.e.
already decided by external actors) outcome.
Similarly, at the time of writing back in 1997, Dervin and Huesca(1997:46) had thesepertinent comments
“[O]verviews of the development field have hailed participatory approaches as a 'new paradigm'
guiding development communication theory and practice. As a relatively new area of research,
participatory communication has not taken on a solid form in terms of its definitions and
We may thus conclude, that seeking a definitive definition of participatory communication is indeed a “a
very tall order” as Bellù (2011:5–6) suggests. However, due to its rising popularity, participatory
approaches were to be regarded as the “utopian panacea for development” whilst also marking the end
“on a continuum … where participation [was] conceptualized as either a means to an end, or as an end in
and of itself” (Huesca, 2003:11). Importantly, as far as the changing role of the media, dominant
paradigm scholars—as well as others—recognised the importance of the media to be able to “unlock local
energies” (Lerner & Schramm in Huesca, 2003:12), thus contributing towards a reformation of the
dominant paradigm, making it “more expansive, flexible and humane (Rogers in Huesca, 2003:12). To
some extent, participatory communication is also regarded as “ideologically neutralizing” in its approach
(Chu and Moemeka in Huesca, 2003:12). For this article, we keep in mind that this neutralising effect
could be problematic, because, for example, “entertainment-education has used the concept of
participation to bolster the administrative position of the dominant paradigm. Thus, participatory
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communication is not without its critiques, but it does offer considerably more in the way of progressive
involvement by those being affected by the development process. Therefore, there is a necessary
distinction to be made between “genuine” or “authentic” participation, and a watered-down kind of
“manipulative, pseudo participation” (Huesca, 2003:15).
This cautionary distinction notwithstanding, the participatory communication approach nevertheless
arguably remains the best development communication option for use in contemporary southern-Africa
and South Africa. It is thus the author’s well-considered, preferred choice for ongoing use and
applicability in many contemporary development communication contexts and seemingly would
positively contribute towards the development process very well in many cases.
We now proceed with a look at a specific case study to support this argument.
To illustrate this we look at several inserted (see figures 1 – 6 below) extracts from the printed publication
Weltevreden se Doen and Late. Roughly translated, the title of this publication means: “the goings on in
the Weltevreden [community]” and makes use of visual storytelling as the primary media method for the
structured use of participatory communication for community development. In the following figures(1 – 6
below) we are able to isolate several pertinent points motivating the benefits of participatory
communication. We observe how the publication employs the use of an easy-to-understand and easy-to-
read content layout to achieve this.
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Figure 1 — Cover Page of Issue 61: This issue addresses the specific development related topic of
exactly how a community ought to go about establishing a legitimate community development
project in order to achieve the community objective of standing firm on any issue that a community
believes could potentially be fought for, motivated, or lobbied for. (Weltevreden se Doen and Late -
Community Development, n.d.)
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Figure 2 — Cover Page of Issue 60: This issue addresses the sensitive development issue of child
foster care in a specific case where a mother, who is dying of HIV Aids, cannot suitably care for her
own children any longer. The importance for the community of being educated on and knowing
what the full spectrum of considerations are, in such a case or similar cases, include, for example,
the need to speak to a social worker.This has been interactively addressed in this issue using a most
inviting and easy-to-read and easy-to-see type of ‘edutainment’format (Weltevreden se Doen and
Late - Foster Care n.d.).
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Figure 3 — Character profiles featured in the photo-story are introduced to the reader. They
closely resemble real-life people from the very same communities that are being targeted in the
development project.(Weltevreden se Doen and Late - Foster Care n.d.)
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Figure 4 — Characters interact (using easy-to-see photographs and easy-to-read text bubbles) in a
manner and format that makes this type of developmental communication ‘participatory’, and thus
the philosophy underpinning it, prone to being far more easily adopted by the communities to
whomthe media publication is being aimed at.(Weltevreden se Doen and Late - Foster Care n.d.).
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Figure 5 — Characters interact in the easy-to-understand, easy-to-read, and easy-to-see photo-story
by employing the strong use of a series of several photographic scenes depicting the scenario, whilst
also incorporating the suitable inclusion of easy-to-read text bubbles to complement the meaning
and interpretation of the scenario. In this instance, for example, interaction with the community
members’ municipal official within the Weltevreden Municipal district is seen. Community
members are encouraged to established a structured community development project, emphasising
important aspects of structured community solidarity thereby promoting a healthy strengthening of
democracy within their community.(Weltevreden se Doen and Late - Community Development, n.d.).
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Figure 6 — A ‘checklist’ summary page is included at the end of the photo-story. This assists
community participants (i.e. readers) to be far better equipped at establishing their own community
development projects using tried and tested democratic methods and processes. This entertaining,
yet educating learning process, is participatory by objective, and design. It allows the use of a well-
matched media content layout, by employing the use of visual-story communication to suitably
achieve the required development objective(Weltevreden se Doen and Late - Community
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The preceding set of figures (figures 1-6), as a cumulative example of participatory communication in
practice, serve to illustrate the following important points about the efficacy, and thus continued
relevance of this specific paradigm of development communication within contemporary southern-Africa
and South Africa. The examples used in this article, the author is able to deduce, are very similar in
design—and thus comparable to—the “Soul City” case study cited in Dagron (2001:122): namely, the
South Africa health promotion project that employs a participatory communication approach, using
specifically printed “booklets” or “newspapers” for “’edutainment’ (education plus entertainment)”
Of added relevance, we note that, when commenting on designing the profile of participatory
communication, Dagron (2001:25) emphasises; firstly, the “political implications of participation in
development”. Dagron (ibid.) stresses the following: the “issue of power” with the “democratisation of
communication” enabling and thus putting “decision-making in the hands of the people”, whilst also
combining, or firming “the capability of communities to confront their own ideas about development”,
which in turn leads to a healthy “strengthening [of the] internal democratic process” within a particular
community. Secondly, Dagron (ibid.) stresses the “issue of identity”, where for many decades
communities were once “marginalised”, “repressed” or “neglected” … but now, have renewed
opportunity to have their“ cultural pride and self-esteem” re-instilled and re-generated within these
particular communities. As Dagron (ibid.) succinctly summarises, “the main elements that characterise
participatory communication are related to its capacity to involve the human subjects of social change in
the process of communicating”2
In conclusion, from the preceding discussion and case study, it ought to be evident that the author’s
argument suitably promotes the use of participatory communication as a strategy for development. When
viewed against the backdrop of the evolution of previous development paradigms, credence is given to
the benefits of the participatory communication as the preferred approach for ongoing use and continued
relevance in contemporary southern-African and South African developments contexts today.
Dagron(2001: 26) provides an extensive listing of most noteworthy issues that distinctively “distinguish participatory
communication from other development communication strategies” that seek to find social change in communities. Space
limitations constrain the possibility to expand upon them within this article however.
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Visions [online]. Available from:
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York: The Rockefeller Foundation.
Dervin, B. and Huesca, R., 1997. Reaching for the Communicating in Participatory
Communication.Journal of International Communication, 4 (2), 46–74.
Harrison, D., 1988. The Sociology of Modernization & Development.First. London: Routledge.
Huesca, R., 2003. (Chapter 8) Tracing the History of Participatory Communication to Development: A
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Delhi and London: SAGE Publications Pvt. Ltd.
Msibi, F. and Penzhorn, C., 2010. Participatory Communication for Local Government in South Africa: A
Study of the Kungwini Local Municipality. Information Development, 26 (3), 225–236.
Todaro, M.P. and Smith, S.C., 2002. Chapter 4 — Classic Theories of Development: A Comparative
Analysis. In: Economic Development. United Kingdom: Addison-Wesley.
Weltevreden se Doen and Late - Community Development. 61st ed., n.d. Malmesbury: The Goedgedacht
Weltevreden se Doen and Late - Foster Care. 60th ed., n.d. Malmesbury: The Goedgedacht Trust
Yoon, C.S., 2013. Participatory Communication for Development [online]. Available from:
http://www.southbound.com.my/communication/parcom.htm [Accessed 4 Mar 2013].