Thursday 13 March 2014


On this blog, I've been writing about subjects as I teach myself about them. This is a way of leaving behind a trail of breadcrumbs for newcomers to optimal mass communication - so that they can see how to learn the subject from scratch. But in so doing, I have used language sloppily without realizing it, kind of like a philosophy newb that says "that's a valid point," not knowing the word "valid" has a technical meaning in philosophy.

I've often referred to terms like "behaviour change communication," "health communication," "social marketing," "communication for social change," "media advocacy," and "media interventions." But although I've acted as if these words are interchangeable in many situations, they can actually refer to pretty distinct approaches, models, and strategies of communication.

The main line I need to draw is between two distinct camps: behaviour change communication (BCC) and communication for social change (CFSC). Although most scholars think the two approaches should be combined, most uses of media fall more into one camp than the other.

Parks defines the two schools of thought as follows:

  1. "Communication approaches based on modernisation theories and information-persuasion strategies used by Western governments and industrial sectors. Examples include: Diffusion of innovations, Social Marketing, Information-Education-Communication (IEC), Behaviour Change Communication (BCC);
  2. Communication approaches based on critical theory, collective learning, information-sharing and dialogic processes forged during social and political struggles against colonial and dictatorial powers imposed on poor communities and countries. Examples include: Participatory Communication, Communication for Social Change."

So while the former approach focuses on the top-down transmission of information, products, and services to individuals, the latter approach targets the more fundamental systemic problems that cause other issues such as illness and violence. In the case of a million kids with malaria, the first approach is to disseminate messages teaching people how to avoid malaria and to distribute insecticide-treated bed nets so that people have the means, as well as the desire, to change their behaviour. The second approach is to increase press freedom, change totalitarian policies, and stimulate cultural change through the use of interpersonal communication. According to users of the second approach, the first approach focuses too heavily on disguising symptoms when it should be targeting the underlying issues that trigger those symptoms.

CFSC is a bottom-up approach whereby professionals mobilize groups of people toward better outcomes. Rather than tell people what they need to do in order to become healthier or happier, they stress the dialogue process through which people identify values, obstacles, and goals. One way of understanding this is to see researchers as helping people go from preferences to idealized preferences.

Personally, I'm more interested in BCC, as it's more quantifiable and closer to the kind of conversation I'd like to be having about mass communication. I suspect that in CFSC it can be difficult to tell the difference between useful and useless conversations. So far, I've yet to find much useful writing on CFSC although I think the approach has merit in theory.

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