Public relations, as an industry and a profession has rapidly advanced to a front-line solution to the widening relationship and trust deficit between development agencies and beneficiaries of development initiatives.
Buttressing the growing relevance of public relations in global development affairs, Dennis Wilcox observed that, the field has now matured to the point that it is now an integral part of the landscape in modern, industrialized nations around the globe.
According to him public relations is now commonly used by all institutions of society – government, NGOs, corporations, professional and trade union groups, activist groups, and even individuals – to effectively communicate information and their view points to a variety of publics’,
Today, there is a widespread recognition that public relations, which is more than media relations and information dissemination is a strategic and problem-solving management function. More than ever, the world needs not more information but sensitive communicators and facilitators, who can explain the goals and aspirations of individuals, organisations, and governments to others in a socially responsive manner.
Development Public Relations therefore, is devoted to the essential functions of building and improving human relationship and helping raise awareness about important issues that the public might not know about and expected social change and transformations.
Why Development PR?
This write up is intended to illustrates emerging public relations role that is focused on strengthening relationship and building trust. It makes the case about the importance of incorporating strategic relationship and trust building into the policies and practices of development. It intends also to offer a broader conception of sensitive communication that focuses on problem-solving and resolving of conflict as key drivers of development processes. Accordingly, development focused communication is not only about raising awareness, informing, persuading, or changing behavior. It is also about listening, exploring, understanding, empowering, and building consensus for change. This should resonate loud and clear for development communication as new role for the public relations practitioners.
The concept of Development public relations authenticates two-way communication, mutual understanding, and decision-making facilitation that significantly enhance outcomes and the sustainability of development initiatives.
The New PR Thinking for the Future?
The World Bank has acknowledged that, the development focus has shifted from economic growth to include other social dimensions needed to ensure meaningful results in the long run.
Relationship and trust building, and stakeholder involvement is now key elements of sustainable development implementation. Globally, emphasis is being placed on the challenge of sustainable development, and stakeholder’s involvement is increasingly recognized as a necessary part of sustainable development strategies.
Getting beneficiaries of a development initiative to get involve in the implementation process cannot occur without targeted communication. Unfortunately, too many development programmes, including community-driven ones, seem to overlook this aspect. To be truly significant and meaningful, development stakeholder’s participation needs to be based on the application of strategic two-way communication principles and practices.
Development PR is increasingly being considered essential in facilitating stakeholders’ engagement in problem analysis and resolution. Similarly, there is an increasing recognition and move toward the horizontal, two-way information dissemination, which favors people’s active and direct interaction through consultation and dialogue over the traditional one-way information dissemination through the media.
Many past development projects and programmes failures can be attributed directly or indirectly to the limited involvement of the beneficiaries and key stakeholders directly affected in the decision-making process. According the World Bank, the horizontal use of communication, which opens up dialogue, assesses risks, identifies solutions, and seeks consensus for action is a key for the success and sustainability of development efforts. Development public relations places a strong emphasis on partnership and participation, and on the cultural and social multiplicity of perspectives that directly hinders smooth implementation of development initiatives. I will explain more below.
Community, cultural and social Engagement:
The major challenge to success of most development initiatives, particularly in Nigeria, are little or no emphasis on community, cultural and social engagement during the conceptualization, implementation, handing over of these projects. Most abandoned development projects in communities would have been a great success had care been taken at conception to engage the beneficiary communities, understand their cultural bias and other social norms that may hinder implementation and acceptance of the development by the beneficiaries.
Development PR experts are community, cultural and social engagement strategists. With effective development PR in place, community stakeholders can participate in a variety of ways, and to different levels of influence, in identifying needs, generating solutions, planning new initiatives and service delivery to facilitate implementation of development initiatives.
Development PR engagement process recognise diversity, identify potential barriers and design the process to minimise barriers where possible, including, engaging hard-to-reach groups’ such as young people, older people, minority groups or socially excluded groups, contested or divided communities, rural isolation, literacy and numeracy level and dominance of oral culture, etc.
Partnership and Participation
People’s participation is becoming the central issue of our time, says UNDP in its Human Development Report 1993, to which I want to add that participation requires planned strategic communication, engagement and trust building.
The 17th Goal of the Sustainable Development Goals which emphasizes revitalizing global partnership for sustainable development and adjusting development cooperation for implementing the Sustainable Development Goals scale the global relevance of development PR.
The 2016 Development Cooperation Forum Policy Briefs highlighted that, global partnership focus is to mobilize public and private, domestic and international finance, as well as technologies and capacity building for sustainable development. In the post-2015 era, all national development cooperation policies should fulfil at least two main functions: orienting development cooperation towards SDGs and mobilizing and non-financial support for SDGs.
It means therefore, that every development initiative must depend on the quadruple bottom-line of Public relations – goodwill, relationship, understanding and acceptance for its overall success. LIU Zhenmin, Under-Secretary-General, DESA buttressing the importance of building effective partnerships, observed that, we need to undertake the sustainable development journey together if we are to succeed, learning from each other. Therefore, the global community now focus on Development PR for consistent message framework for engaging and building partnerships and engendering participations at all levels of development initiatives.
Trust and Collaborative Leadership Deficits
A review of emerging relevance of development PR identify two major factors – relationship and trust deficit between development agencies and beneficiaries of development initiatives as key causes of failure of most development initiatives. The task of development PR is to take on the trust burden which often prove too heavy for both development agencies and beneficiaries to bear. Another task is to accelerate Community engagements, which work best where it is an ongoing cumulative process enabling and strengthening relationships and trust to build over time.
Development public relations experts are collaborative leaders. They invest time to build relationships, handles conflicts in a constructive manner, and shares control. If a relationship is purposeful, it means that parties (development agents, stakeholders and beneficiaries) are clear about why they have come together. Development PR therefore, offer purposeful relationship in which all parties strategically choose to cooperate in order to accomplish a shared outcome. Because of its voluntary nature, the success of collaboration is dependent upon the abilities of one or more collaborative leaders to maintain these relationships. The development PR experts offer such leadership.
Application of Development PR
Development PR could be applied to every development initiative and project that are human and social transformation focused. Organisations, development agencies and government can hire a development PR expert to work internally or as a consultant for specific project implementation.
More specific, development PR is needed in building partnerships for sustainable development. Highlighting the importance of partnership and strategic engagement in the implementation of the sustainable development goals, Jane Nelson stated that, ‘partnerships are a valuable tool to drive change toward more responsible, inclusive and sustainable growth. Partners can help to address some of the market failures, governance gaps and trust deficits that undermine the acceleration and scaling of business engagement in sustainable development. They can also serve as a platform for convening and coordinating the diverse actions pf numerous actors and for building mutually reinforcing linkages between different sectors and sustainable development goals.’
Most partnerships may be difficult to build and challenging to sustain and scale without the guidance of the public relations professional. They often entail high transactional costs, and there is a need in many cases to engage the expertise of the PR professional in strengthening partnership governance and accountability as well as operational efficiency and effectiveness.
On one hand, government at all levels, especially in Nigeria, should as a matter of urgency consider engaging a public relations professional, who is a specialist in the area of development PR to manage specific communication, engagement and partnership building and sustenance required for implementation of development initiatives.
On another hand, public relations practitioners as trend managers should be open to adopt and follow emerging dynamics and trends redefining the practice of the public relations profession. One of such is that as a frontline profession, public relations is evolving specific solutions for specific sectors or challenges. The era of ‘I know it all’ is fast becoming relevance only in PR history books. Practitioners should arise and take this new role of the public relations practice – Development PR
- Dennis L. Wilcox, 2006, The Landscape of Today’s Global Public Relations, Analisi, pg 67-85
- Jane Nelson, Partnerships for Sustainable Development, visit www.hks.harvard.edu
- Communication: a key to human development, www.fao.org
Eric Adile, Iroajugh is an Abuja based sustainability PR and Development PR Strategist. He has over 16 years experiences in communication, PR and Media management on both corporate and agency sides. A sustainability learning Facilitator, convener, Sustainability RoundTable and Founding Partner, LeCadeau Communications Limited. Eric is currently a practicing PR Partner at Rightangle PR, Abuja, Nigeria.