Information and communication are recognised as essential components of the development process to empower poor communities and inform development agencies and policy makers. Yet information and communication systems are rarely well integrated into development strategies and programmes. This report describes a livelihood approach to information and communication in development, which seeks to integrate the best elements of traditional communication methods and the new ICT revolution technologies. It is based on the results of a six-month study by Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), Department for International Development, UK, (DFID), and Overseas Development Institute (ODI), which included a literature review and visits to Ghana, Uganda and India.
The livelihood approach
The livelihood approach incorporates an analytical framework providing a broad and systematic understanding of the various factors that constrain or enhance livelihood opportunities. The approach builds on some well-developed field-level tools and methods, such as participation and empowerment.
The role of information in the livelihoods approach
Communication and information are critical components of the livelihoods framework, essential for linking and informing decision-making processes at every level: 1) to facilitate the acquisition and exchange of information by the poor necessary for developing livelihood strategies; 2) to improve communication within and between the institutions responsible for making decisions that affect livelihood options; and 3) to empower poor communities to participate in the decision-making processes.
Information needs for rural communities
Rural communities need up-to-date information on sources, availability and cost of inputs for production, also on the potential of different techniques and technologies used for production, processing and marketing. They need information on the role and responsibilities of different institutions in the provision of key services including health and education, and where to go and who to ask for more specific information. It is important that this information is available in an appropriate format and language, and that rural communities have the capacity to analyse and act on it.
Existing policies, institutions and processes
There are a number of international initiatives to help build developing country communications and information policy. FAO, UNDP and others are all involved in providing advice and practical support to governments and other national organisations. At a national level, government departments, private sector organisations, non-governmental organisation, research institutes, and the media are all involved.
Although there are many examples of apparently successful approaches in many developing countries, and much qualitative evidence of the benefits to rural communities, there is little empirical data of the impact on livelihoods. The study identified seven key recommendations, to promote a livelihoods approach to communication and information systems.
Determine who should pay
Privatisation is the predominant paradigm in development economics today, but experience has shown that the private sector is unlikely to invest in communication and information systems in remote poor areas, or in systems for which the poor can afford to pay. It is important therefore to work with international agencies, intergovernmental organisations and national government to develop a new consensus on who should pay for information for poor communities.
Ensure equitable access
New systems must deliver the right kind of information in the right format, for poor people. The wrong information, in the wrong format, or, if information is only available to wealthier groups, may accentuate existing inequalities. It is important therefore to identify and empower the marginalised groups and ensure they can access the information. But this takes time, and most communication and information programmes have a very short time-frame. There are opportunities to use government’s and multilateral organisation’s own information systems to demonstrate how new technologies and approaches can be used to make public information more accessible as is happening in the Gyandoot Network in India
Communication for poverty eradication, Uganda
The need for improved information highlighted in the Poverty Eradication Action Plan, and addressed through its communication strategy, has spawned a rash of communication strategies in sectoral programmes (e.g. the Plan for Modernisation of Agriculture), and their component parts (e.g. the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) and National Agricultural Advisory Service (NAADS) communication strategies). Most fail to focus on disadvantaged groups. Most stakeholders stressed the need for greater coherence and coordination within and between these strategies.
Promote local content
Poor people need locally-relevant information, in the right language, to meet their immediate needs, and it may be more useful to promote more information sharing between local institutions than bring in new information from outside. It is important therefore to promote information as a catalyst for community initiatives and encourage the adaptation of new technologies within decentralised and locally owned processes.
Strengthen existing policies and systems
Communication policies in many countries are fragmented and unclear and further work is needed to make them effective. The emphasis should be on supporting existing information systems at community level, identifying existing information system infrastructures that can be improved or enhanced with appropriate new technology, and encouraging multi-disciplinary, cross-sectoral, inter-organisational communication and information systems that can inform rural development strategies.
Strengthening human capacity is at least as important as new technology. Capacity building is needed at all levels, from international and bilateral agencies down to community level