Using Communication for Social Change To Build Social Capital for Bangladeshis Who Are UltrapoorThis paper outlines the communication for social change programme of the Advocacy and Human Rights Unit (BRAHU) of BRAC, formerly known as Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee, and places it within a methodological context. The programme shows how communication can be used for much more than information dissemination and, when effectively implemented, can drive significant social change.
The goal of the communication for social change programme is ambitious and long term: reduce the stigma surrounding ultrapoor individuals and build social capital, which we define as relationships that provide access for poor people to individuals who can be catalysts for change (Huda, et. al.). The communication for social programme was first created to complement the activities of BRAC's Challenging the Frontiers of Poverty Reduction/Targeting Ultrapoor (CFPR/TUP) programme, an asset allocation programme intended to assist individuals in extreme poverty.
However, in its current form, the communication for social change programme has reached beyond supporting the objectives of CFPR/TUP to provide an entire process for community decision-making and action. BAHRU's communication for social change programme was initiated with three tools: popular theatre, video and audio. These provided information to the community on issues surrounding ultrapoor people, such as inadequate nutrition, social exclusion and dependency, complications of dowry, lack of power, etc.
Where other programmes often stop at this point of information dissemination, BAHRU's programme added a follow-up process of community meetings to start a community discussion and action. The programme originally included three such community meetings, during which the popular theatre actors and a BRAC jogajogkarmi, or communication worker, engaged people in the community on the issues presented in the theatre, video and audio performances.
During the first few months of the programme, the community meetings created more ongoing discussion forums after the community meetings were finished. BAHRU responded to this demand by replacing the final meeting with the formation of jogajog, or communication forums, which were a more permanent, formalised group of community members committed to regular meetings and action involving issues confronting ultrapoor people as well as other community issues.
The jogajog forums provide an innovative approach to sustaining communication for social change around issues facing ultrapoor Bangladeshis.
From a methodological perspective, the jogajog forum is a successful application of Roger and Kincaid's Convergence theory, which outlines a model for bringing divisive social groups with distinct psychological realities into a process of mutual understanding and community action. This convergence is particularly pertinent to ultrapoor Bangladeshis, who are often excluded from the village communities and have little contact with those with power who have the ability to help.
However, the convergence model is only one theory under the rubric of communication for social change that helps explain the potential of BAHRU's programme. The importance of effective information dissemination tools, although alone they may not achieve long-term social change, should not be discounted. Participation is key in the use of communication tools such as popular theatre, video and audio, and the documentation research this paper is based on reveals BAHRU's strength in this. The jogajogkarmis are also important catalysts in ensuring community participation, and their involvement in facilitating the process of social change is discussed here in detail.
Overall, BAHRU's communication for social change programme has shown several signs of success in achieving its goal of building social capital for ultrapoor Bangladeshis. Although further studies using in-depth indicators of stigma-reduction and social capital are needed to confirm success of the programme, preliminary signs have appeared through jogajog forum case studies of provisions for old age, assistance for medical treatment, and school construction. Methodologically the programme is a prime example of how communication for social change can create a process for community interaction, understanding and collective action and build social capital for people who are poor.
Theoretical Framework Communication for Social Change
"Ideas confine a man to certain social groups and social groups confine a man to certain ideas. Many ideas are more easily changed by aiming at a group than by aiming at an individual".
Josephine Klein, The Social Psychology of Discussion and DecisionBAHRU's programme uses a rights-based approach to communication for social change. Inherent in any discussion of rights and rights awareness is the need to separate communication from top-down approaches and ensure that communities are the principle participants in the development and execution of communication strategies.
BAHRU uses communication for social change as a process of community decision-making rather than the social marketing method of relaying information about desired social behaviours. Beginning with a catalyst bringing new information to the community and ending with a community forum organised and run by the community, the process is a means for communities to define their own issues and their own solutions with BAHRU acting merely as facilitator.
Communication for Social Change and Behaviour Change
BAHRU's focus on community decision-making is consistent with a change that took place during the 1970s in communication for social change. At the time, established theories focused on the process of individual behaviour change, such as the decision process one goes through when deciding whether or not to smoke a cigarette. The narrowness of this focus was quickly realised. In the same way that smoking is a decision influenced by external perceptions and pressures, the decision-making process cannot be adequately assessed without considering social influences, and behaviour cannot be addressed by targeting individual decision-making.
BAHRU observed that this social context of decision-making had particular relevance for issues facing ultrapoor people because of the inherent complexities of social norms and community practices. How ultrapoor people are perceived by the community around them the community around them perceives ultrapoor people is fraught with inherent power imbalances. The individual decision-making process around a rich man's giving a poor woman a goat, for example, is complicated by the community exclusion of people who are ultrapoor. When an individual is not allowed to use the same tube-well as others in the village, charity between individuals is not going to occur by simply suggesting the idea.
The change in behaviour must start with the community as a whole.
Paulo Freire, the guiding philosopher of communication for social change, was the first to conceptualise communication as an inclusive community dialogue and to understand that this dialogue had the potential to create cultural identity, trust, commitment, ownership and empowerment (Figuero, et al. 2002). The convergence model of communications (Rogers and Kincaid, 1981) is the foundation of this community-focused theory: It provides a process for effecting change through mutual understanding within a community, instead of social persuasion models based on individual change through messages developed by outside experts.
The convergence model provides a process for information exchange between two or more persons, rather than information sharing from one person to another. The important defining features of the model is that there is no passive audience and that the two equal psychological realities, or points of view, undergo a process to find mutual understanding through information sharing and discussion. Information in this model can come from any source, a play for example, to promote the process of building mutual understanding.
Convergence theory is particularly relevant to the issue of ultrapoor people because of the concept of divergent and convergent sub-groups and the realities this holds for communities with ultrapoor members. According to the theory, there are boundaries created naturally by dialogue "b ; boundaries separating those within the dialogue from those on the outside (Figueroa, et al). The uniformity of a group is strengthened when those who do not agree with the participants"or who have different perspectives"are excluded from the dialogue. This model aptly relates to a society characterised by a separation between ultrapoor people and the rest of the community. Although a community may live in the same space, the perspective of ultrapoor people remains separate from the community dialogue.
What is needed is an information exchange, or a catalyst, to incorporate all perspectives into the community dialogue and work towards mutual understanding, as suggested by Rogers and Kincaid. Through this dialogue, the community can begin to integrate into community decisions and actions the perspective of people who are ultrapoor.
This paper is based on a documentation of the programme activities between July 2004 and January 2005. Following preliminary interviews on the programme's objectives, framework and goals at BRAC's head office, two researchers made three visits to different programme locations in Bangladesh. The first field visit involved personal interviews and the collection of detailed process notes during five days of popular theatre training at the BRAC Training and Resource Centre in Barisal. The researchers then spent five days conducting interviews, process documenting and social mapping in Fulbari and Kurigram, at the local CFPR/TUP office. Finally, they conducted four days of interviews and process documentation in Domar, Nilphamari.
Basic Research Steps:
The research process comprised five steps (adapted from Shah, 1997):
Step 1: Understanding the project objectives and approach
The researchers conducted detailed interviews with programme staff at each level of BRAC, including the director of BAHRU, Afsan Chowdhury, other key head office staff, regional sector specialists, regional office programme officers and area office programme officers. Regardless of their level, staff members described the overall objectives of the programme in very much the same way. This step in the process provided the reserachers researchers a sound understanding of the reasoning and methodology of the programme's activities and goals.
Step 2: Identifying a framework of key factors
The researchers interviewed the BAHRU director and the programme staff regarding the project's framework in order to identify a programme framework. They conducted a thorough analysis of communication for social change to gain an idea of where exactly the programme fits within contemporary thinking.
Step 3: Preparing the chronology of events
The researchers determined the chronology of events in the programme execution through detailed interviews and verification of information received.
Step 4: Compiling data
The researchers collected data during the field visits as detailed notes of interviews and observations of all that occurred. At first they collected the data regardless of its relevance. Later, they sorted and grouped data into areas for analysis, consistent with qualitative research methods.
Step 5: Identifying major issues and analysis
Once the researchers compiled the data, major issues and patterns emerged. The researchers individually analysed and then discussed these patterns, identifying the programme's strengths and weaknesses and how it fulfils its objectives.
The research was conducted with the underlying intention of understanding the programme in terms of relevant communication for social change theories and principles.
During a 1997 Rockefeller Foundation conference in Bellagio, Italy, involving leaders in communication for social change programmes, a number of principles were identified as the key components of a model for communication for social change (Figueroa, et. al.). These principles are a foundation for this research.
The table below outlines these five principles as well as the questions guiding the field research and data collection.
|Communication for Social Change
|1) Sustainability of social change is more likely if the individuals and communities most affected own the process and content of communication.
2) Communities should be agents of their own change.
|To what extent does the community own the social change process?
|3) Communication for social change should be empowering and horizontal, and it should give voice to previously unheard members of the community. It must also be biased towards local content and ownership.
||Does the programme show signs of empowerment for the ultrapoor within their communities?
|4) Emphasis should shift from persuasion and the transmission of information from outside technical experts to dialogue, debate and negotiation on issues that resonate with members of the community.
||Does the programme provide a space for real dialogue and debate among community members on issues decided independent of outside influences?
|5) Emphasis on outcomes should go beyond individual behaviour to social norms, policies, culture and the supporting environment.
||Do the outcomes of the programme, i.e., the actions of the community forums, focus on sustainable solutions for the whole community?
The researchers collected data for each of these questions as well as an overall documentation of the programme's communication for social change process through qualitative research techniques, including interviewing, observation, and social mapping. To reduce the subjectivity of the data, they used different techniques to answer similar questions, and often posed the same questions to different individuals.
Limitations of the Research
The researchers made it clear to the individuals interviewed, as well as those involved in the activities and meetings, that they were not evaluators of the project but simply interested in observing and gaining an understanding of the communication for social change programme. Despite efforts to remain as observers and not affect the outcome of a meeting or activity, there may have been some changes in behaviour as a result of the researchers' presence.
In addition, this research should not be considered a full documentation of the programme, as the sample was not as large as it should have been for a thorough evaluation. Instead this research acts as a foundation for further research and understanding the methodologies underpinning BAHRU's work in communication for social change.
In June 2003 BRAC's Advocacy and Human Rights Unit (BAHRU) implemented a communication for social change programme to complement the Challenging the Frontiers of Poverty Reduction/Targeting Ultrapoor Programme (CFPR/TUP) by addressing issues involving people who are ultrapoor at the community level through advocacy and program awareness.
From July to November 2003, the team prepared the programme and activities that have been implemented since December 2003 in three districts in northern Bangladesh: Rangpur, Kurigram and Nilphamari. Along with the second phase, expansion of the CFPR/TUP programme, the communication for social change today is implemented in three new districts.
BAHRU's communication for social change programme comprises three primary activities: popular theatre, video and audiocassette. Popular theatre, the programme's primary tool, uses drama to influence social change through telling the personal stories of community members who are ultrapoor in an engaging and motivational way. The other two activities, video and audiocassette, are supplements to the popular theatre and emphasise the issue of ultrapoor people in communities where a play has been performed. Both these activities involve stories of the ultrapoor people aimed at arousing sympathy in the listeners, and they provide an overview of BRAC's CFPR/TUP programme.
A BRAC communication worker, or jogajogkarmi coordinates these activities . activities. This individual decides the location for each activity, invites community members, organises the playing of the media and discusses the issue with the community. As a result, the jogajog karmis have intimate interaction with the community and are integral to the communication for social change programme. BAHRU has partnered with local NGOs to train jogajogkarmis within these organisations in BAHRU's tools, reporting mechanisms and methodology.
In BAHRU's original programme design, the popular theatre was followed by three community meetings at which a discussion of the drama's ultrapoor message took place. In June of 2004, BAHRU changed the premise of the third community meeting into a jogajog forum, a permanent group of members focused on solutions for ultrapoor people in their communities. Today, two community meetings are held: the first on the day immediately following the theatre performance and the second a month later.
The community is then given the option of forming a jogajog forum to continue the community discussion and work done during the meetings. The popular theatre actors and the jogajogkarmi facilitate the two community meetings. While the popular theatre actors have completed their work in the community after the second meeting, the karmi remains involved as a supervisor for the jogajog forums.
In the future, when the programme decides to step away from its involvement completely, it is hoped that these forums will sustain themselves. Consequently, the communication follow-up process is the main focus of the programme approach, as it provides a foundation for long-term sustainability.
Jogajog Karmis : Change Catalysts
The communication for social change programme uses communication workers, or jogajog karmis, to implement programme activities. However, the jogajog karmis are not merely field-level implementers. They are catalysts in reducing the stigma of poverty and building social capital for the poor, the programme's primary goals.
The jogajog karmis bring knowledge and information to the community and work with the community to develop a process of identifying issues and resolving problems between people who are ultrapoor and the elites. The karmis ensure the delivery of the three components of the communication process: a popular theatre performance, two video shows and two audio shows in each village or ward. Their responsibilities include supervision of the popular theatre performance, setting up the video and audio shows, enlisting influential people to join the community meetings and jogajog forum, attending the forums and sending case studies of community actions to BRAC head office.
Throughout these tasks, specifically the jogajog forum, the jogajog karmis are facilitators for community action. They allow the community to own the process by observing rather than mediating it. The community itself decides which are the major problems they face, what decisions can be made to address the issues and what action is appropriate as a resolution. The jogajog karmi is an information resource at these meetings and the arranger of meeting schedules and locations.
In the context of Rogers and Kincaid's convergence model, the catalyst breaks down the divergence pattern that prevents two subgroups within a community from relating to one another. A catalyst is needed to begin dialogue and provide a process for gaining mutual understanding between the two groups. The jogajog karmi facilitates the process of breaking down social barriers and opening communication channels between ultrapoor people and the elite.
Popular Theatre: An Initiator of Community Action
Folk theatre has a long history in Bangladesh. Commonly known as natok, open-air dramas have been a mainstay of popular entertainment in village communities for centuries. As with many oral communication techniques, natok contain characters that are stereotyped and recognisable to the audience; recounting acts of valour, love and heroism and borrowing from Arabian and Persian legends and myths. As a result of its long history, the medium is familiar and culturally relevant to village communities, making it an effective communication tool because, as one popular theatre scholar puts it, the theatre "speaks the idiom that people understand." (Pisharoti)
Popular theatre differs from natok in its goal of using community participation in play development as an education tool as well as empowerment. Studies in popular theatre highlight the importance of community participation to achieve mobilisation by the participants. BAHRU's use of popular theatre techniques has been adapted to ensure participation while, at the same time, bringing new information about ultrapoor issues to the members of the community.
A case study: On a cool winter night, a BRAC popular theatre team staged a play called Ka Mahat? (Who is great?) in Boragara, a small village community in the northern state of Nilphamari. The play dealt with a number of issues. A poor man with tuberculosis could not get the treatment he needed because he could not afford to go to the doctor and his family was too scared of catching the disease to help him. A poor family signed a blank piece of paper and ended up losing their land. A widow had to resort to begging to feed her family. Throughout the play, one of the actors played the roll of the "saviour," asking those in trouble what their problems were and helping them find solutions. In the final scene, this saviour addressed the audience directly, asking them if these problems exist in their community, to which the audience unanimously answered "yes." Then he asked if anyone has done anything to help, to which they all responded "no." He then invited someone from the audience to come to the stage and discuss the issues one-on-one, as the audience looked on and whispered amongst themselves.
Community participation is incorporated into the popular theatre at first through the selection of the actors. Hired within the upazilla, or district, they will be performing in, the actors are likely to know and be known by many of the village communities they perform for; they will share a dialect with the community and they will be aware of local histories. Seven men and three women are included in the creation of a popular theatre team.
At the beginning of play production, the popular theatre team is divided into groups of three or four to collect stories from ultrapoor members of the district. Accompanied by a story "recorder," either the jogajog karmi or a BRAC regional sector specialist, the groups spend approximately a month talking to individuals about the situation in their communities and listening to their stories about abuse, dowry problems, illnesses not being treated for lack of money, etc. This story collection ensures that the play is based on stories immediately relevant to the community. During play development, the actors strive to remain as close to the original story as possible, changing only the individuals' names.
This process builds awareness of the issues and acts as a trigger for building local opinion. The play reflects individuals back to themselves as caricatures, either positive or negative. The expectation is that the play will provide the community new awareness and begin mobilisation and community action.
Popular theatre is the most successful activity in the communication for social change programme, in terms of attendance and popularity. The shows often attract close to 1,000 audience members, including the poorest people to people with the highest status in the community. The plays are highly interactive, with audience members often calling out to the actors on stage, voicing their opinions of the drama and talking amongst themselves about the story. The energy of the audience is tangible, and their excitement frequently builds to such an extent that someone from the audience has to tell everyone to be quiet so that everyone can hear the play itself. The actors use their rapport with the audience to channel the energy the play has created in a discussion session immediately following the performance.
This energy often results in commitments by audience members made during the discussion session. In exceptional cases, audience members have made offers of livestock and medical treatment spontaneously as a direct result of the play's message. During the discussion sessions, the actors also attempt to use the energy the play has created to call for a community meeting the following day, when a more in-depth discussion of the play's message can take place.
The Community Meeting
Although an open forum for all those in the community who choose to attend, the original objective of the programme is to have between eight and ten elite individuals attend the community meetings. As more and more meetings take place however, it becomes apparent that while half the participants tend to be the poor, the remaining half typically comes from the middle-class. This has been an eye-opening adjustment for the programme. Community-level organisations, such as the Gram Shahayok Committees (GSC), provide status and prestige for the elites, which comprise the majority of GSC members. However, the involvement of a middle-class individual in a community meeting would provide little return benefit in terms of status and therefore demonstrates what can be called social entrepreneurism. What appears to have occurred is that community members have become aware of the issues and are choosing to be part of their resolution without any apparent benefit to themselves.
During the community meeting, problems highlighted by the play are discussed with the participants by a few of the popular theatre actors. The participants are asked about how these issues apply to their community and what are potential solutions. The actors follow up on the discussion in another meeting in a month's time, allowing the community to take some action, including, for example, collecting a small fund, which can be reported on at the second meeting.
The jogajog karmi also attends this meeting and records decisions as well as attendees' names. The karmi creates two checklists, which are completed and sent to head office: one for the higher-status individuals in the community and the other for poor people. Questions to the high-status individuals include:
- Do you know about people who are ultrapoor ? ultrapoor?
- Where did you learn about the ultrapoor?
- After seeing the popular theatre, how do you feel about them?
Questions that may appear on the checklist given to ultrapoor people include:
- How do the rich treat you?
- After seeing the popular theatre, did you ask for assistance?
Jogajog Forums Sustain Social Change
The communication for social change programme's approach to the forums is one of non-interference with support. In other words, the jogajog karmi is an information source, suggesting ways the forum can become stronger through a formal structure and a collective fund. Otherwise, he or she stays out of the decision-making process. The popular theatre actors are no longer involved in meetings, and the jogajog karmi plays an observational role in the decision-making process, allowing the forum to provide a place for community interaction and problem solving.
The suggested hierarchy of the forum includes a president, a woman vice president (ideally a woman of some stature, such as a teacher), and a youth (ideally under 25) as secretary. The diversity of these three individuals is intended to keep the forums in touch with all perspectives of the community. In addition to these three, 17 additional members complete the suggested structure; they typically are people selected because of previous acts of philanthropy and their ability to be a contributing member.
In addition to monitoring support by the jogajog karmi for formal meetings every two months, BAHRU gives the forums an initial fund of 500 taka (approximately $8.30 USD) to spend as they deem fit, demonstrating BRAC's confidence in the forum's ability to impact their community in a positive way.
Formalising the forums strengthens their ability to effect social change while taking care not to diminish the community's spontaneity and energy with which the forums first arose. This formality increases the power of the group by giving it greater legitimacy with which to approach local governments and people of influence. However, the forum's independence from BAHRU is critical to making it sustainable once the BRAC Targeting Ultrapoor programme ends and the jogajog karmis are no longer present to monitor meetings.
Creating sustainability is the primary challenge of all communication for social change programmes. Studies show that sustainability is most effective when communities own the process and content of communication (Figueroa, et. al.), and BAHRU has responded by allowing the community to suggest the forums as a solution and by then adapting the programme to assist in its fulfilment. The results of this approach to community process has been the tremendous mobilisation on behalf of the target communities and demonstrated potential for building social capital for people who are ultrapoor.
An astounding 60 percent of the community meetings have resulted in the formation of a jogajog forum. Today, there are 710 jogajog forums in Bangladesh, 388 of which are active: they meet regularly and take action. So,almost So, almost 33 percent of popular theatre performances followed up by BAHRU's process of community meetings result in mobilisation by the community through collective action.
Through an analysis completed by BAHRU of the types of commitments the forums are initiating, it also appears they are focused on sustainable solutions for their communities. Several of the forums have established schools as one of their initiatives, with one forum in particular having been responsible for five schools in their surrounding district. Other types of assistance include providing old-age pensions for members of the community, assisting people in government-provided food allowance cards, money for medical treatment and livestock.
But the real value of the jogajog forums goes far beyond these concrete results. The new philanthropic organisation is a social sounding board where issues can be raised. Ultrapoor individuals, who previously had no means of asking for help, suddenly have a group of individuals devoted to the problems they face. The relationship between the jogajog forum members and the ultrapoor is social capital.
Summary and Conclusions
BAHRU's communication for social change programme uses a participatory approach to combining traditional communication with a process for social mobilisation. Its approach resulted in such a high level of social energy that the communities themselves were establishing spontaneous group organisations. BAHRU has adapted its programme to provide support for these groups, now called jogajog forums, to assist them in becoming sustainable forums for community facilitation and action on issues facing people who are ultrapoor as well as any other issues deemed important by the community itself.
The programme is an example of how Roger and Kincaid's model of convergence can successfully be applied to programme execution. Execution itself is a misnomer since what is being created is a process for convergence. The process of popular theatre/ audio/ video, community meetings and jogajog forum provides the community's wealthy with firsthand awareness of issues confronting the poor and then provides a space for community discussion on the issues that leads to collective solutions.
As communities define their own problems and solutions, the programme objective of reducing the stigma of poverty through addressing ultrapoor issues may not always be in line with the community's focus. A natural diversion from the programme goals might frequently occur and what must be realised is that building social energy, entrepreneurism and action will often, in time, return to building networks and thus social capital for the poor. The programme goals need to be seen as long term, and the focus needs to be on sustainability of the energy itself.
Sustainability may be the greatest potential of BAHRU's programme as well as its biggest challenge. The programme also faces other challenges and the adaptability that the programme has shown needs to continue to address these other challenges.
The creation of gender equity in communication for social change programmes in Bangladesh is a substantial challenge requiring ongoing efforts and adaptations. The inclusion of three female actors in the popular theatre is a prime example. In an effort to create jobs for women and to be representative of the community, the theatre frequently faces challenges in execution.
Village elders often oppose the popular theatre shows because of the involvement of women and concerns over the inappropriateness of the content. However, the jogajog karmis and popular theatre actors have had their share of success in persuading village elders of the theatre's value through private performances. In the end, going through this persuasion often actually facilitates the programme in achieving its goals by getting these influential members of the community to understand the importance of issues facing poor people even before the actual performance to the community.
The programme has also attempted to ensure the participation of women in the programme's process by encouraging the election of a female vice president for the jogajog forums. Although the suggestion of electing a woman into such a high role is significant for reasons outside the scope of this paper, the practice of female involvement in the forums remains a challenge. But there are examples of women actively involved in the jogajog forum activities and many examples of women leading the way towards community mobilisation. The potential for change does exist.
BRAC's Research and Evaluation Division is Division is currently working on a full survey of the jogajog forums throughout Bangladesh. This will provide more quantitative data about the success of the forums in terms of women's participation and the types of actions taken.
Further analysis might look into feedback mechanisms for the jogajog forums. A means of maintaining sustainable solutions, feedback to programme participants is an important aspect of keeping people motivated in programmes focused on social mobilisation. People need to hear success stories, including the forums' accomplishments. Further analysis could examine the potential for providing this type of feedback to the jogajog forums.
Since this report documents the programme and places it within a methodological context, more quantitative research is needed to provide evidence of whether or not the forums are actually accomplishing BAHRU's thesis of creating social capital for the ultrapoor. Monitoring and analysis of the forums' contributions to social capital using behaviour change indicators, albeit long term, will yield highly beneficial data.
In conclusion, if anything should be taken away from the lessons learned by BAHRU's social communications programme it is that community-led initiatives provide the best potential for instigating social change. Remaining flexible enough in programme structures, and working towards providing processes rather than implementations, provides a place for community energy and independent initiatives to arise.
Consequently, recognition of social energy is the next challenge in this framework.
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