Some academics write treatises about communication in development but do not undertake ‘projects’. Most communications practitioners, on the other hand, know well the highs and lows of field implementation but do not publish. Guy Bessette, the author of this book, is an exception to both rules: a PhD who is also a practitioner and who collates his experiences into a handbook to serve as a guide to others.
For those who equate communication with media, the idea the book expounds – that communication is a facilitator of the development process – may seem odd. This is not so for those who see development as people in communities actively and freely participating in tasks whose object is to make their collective lives better. Then communication means the interaction that must happen between and among the participants (and also their environment) if some common ground is to be reached through which their objective can be achieved. Hence communication virtually becomes the development process itself and the stakeholders – be they the community members or their various supporters who share an interest in the outcome – are development communicators as well.
The author uses environmental and natural resource management as the context in which to illustrate participatory development communication. However, he points out its equal utility in other development areas. He lays down its root concepts, walks the reader through a 10-step methodology for its application, and suggests some communication tools appropriate to the approach. Appended to the body of the book is a summary of the changing perception of the relationship between the twin processes of communication and development as the concept of development communication has evolved over the years. It adds a theoretical background to the material that gives it more depth not only for the development researcher and practitioner for whom the book is intended, but also for development communication students who are the researchers, practitioners and policymakers of the future.
If the definition of development is communities willingly participating in the very processes that lead to it, would not the ‘participatory’ in participatory development communication be superfluous? The author wrestled with the question . . . and finally decided to keep the qualifier in the book title. His decision is understandable. Until people’s participation is universally accepted as the first essential to their development, then one had better continue underlining the point that the communication associated with it has to be participatory!