Many years ago, I was part of a team of evaluators tasked with assessing the efficacy, impact and sustainability of a community radio station. One of the things we had to do was to measure whether the radio station had any listeners. I sat in during one of the station’s interactive programmes where the local councillor had been invited to talk about the council’s development programmes.
One of the programmes he spoke about was the government’s ambitious programme to turn former hostels for male workers into comfortable family units. By the time he was finished the telephone was ringing of the hook with angry listeners accusing him of lying, the government of corruption and other countless accusations. Some threatened not to vote for his party again because of unfulfilled promises. At the end of the programme, he challenged listeners to take a tour with him to some of the developments that he had spoken about during the programme.
So, off we went the next day, apprehensive, because we were not sure how this whole tour would turn out. Would people come? Would they be waiting with stones ready to punish the councillor for what they felt was betrayal? When we arrived, we were greeted by a crowd of more than a hundred people, which confirmed that indeed, the station had listeners.
We were taken on a tour of some of the refurbished houses, which had been transformed from hostels into comfortable family homes. It was clear that there was still a lot of work to be done to complete the programme, but work had begun. People’s expectations were high. By the time we left, people were not as angry as the previous day but they still had many questions for him – with the majority of the hostel dwellers wanting to know when their own quarters would be refurbished…
As we sat in the car on our way back to the radio station, I commended the councillor on all the good work his council had done. At the same time I pointed out to him that the reason why there was so much anger and mistrust towards them was because they had failed to communicate. They needed to communicate more with their people – the radio programme was a good start because it got the council to interact with people and to gauge people’s perceptions. But more importantly, election messages needed to be broken down into more practical actions and messages in order for people to understand and to have realistic expectations. In this case people needed to know among other things:
- What were the different phases in the process of refurbishment?
- How many units would be refurbished at any given?
- How were the beneficiaries selected and who made the decisions?
- How much money had the government set aside for this task and what budget was available to the council each year?
The councillor confessed that he had not thought about it before, but would now go back and put together a team to draft a communications strategy.
The council had failed on a simple but often overlooked task – communicating. People did not understand enough about the government’s plan to deliver housing to them and there was no feedback on progress or the people’s perceptions on whether they were satisfied or not with the government’s programme.
At CommsConsult we are passionate about communicating. We want to make sure that you avoid the situation described above. We want to help you to think about the communications component of your programme as part of the overall design, planning and implementation of your programmes. We want to make sure that you set aside adequate resources for effective implementation; that you create the right partnerships to feed into your work. We want to help to tell other people stories of your work – both the successes and those that could have been done differently, so that others can learn from it. We want to show you that you cannot do development without communicating.
Farai Samhungu, CommsConsult Director