PREPARED FOR PAKISTAN NATIONAL CONSULTATION ON IDD ELIMINATION 1994
DAVID P. HAXTON
6 February 1994
A fundamental lesson learned over the past few decades in national endeavors to eliminate IDD was that a communications strategy must be an essential component of the endeavor from the beginning. The absence of planned communications has been a significant factor in the waning support and sagging political will for the work.
For years it has been said that of all the malnutrition problems, IDD was perhaps the easiest to prevent. Why then is it still a global problem?
The principle reason is that the science that was known was not communicated to those that could consider it and act upon it. When attempts were made to share, they were often cautious and limited.
Communications between professional circles were restrained. The idea that representatives of medicine, health, education, agriculture, industry, communications, management, and mining could share information and plans for the national good did not come into fashion until recently.
In other places the programme planners are still grappling with the idea that communication is a process that conditions and permeates to effect all development action ... be it public or private. It is required to sustain political commitment; to sustain community interest; and to measure and sustain progress.
Positing a good idea on the airwaves alone is not good communications. Social communications is more than dropping a letter in the mail system; sending a periodic newsletter; or sharing a document.
LESSONS LEARNED In communications planning it is necessary to understand that information possession is power. Lack of information, is a facet of underdevelopment. Sometimes there is a reluctance to share information since it means sharing power.
Communications is still confused with media transmission of
information; or public education campaigns; or project support activities. All of these are useful methods of supporting a project with materials and visual aids to describe a good thing we are about to for people.
Communications includes and uses all of those tactics in a strategic comprehensive plan to inform of the problems and dangers; of the prospects for progress; of actions to be taken; of the methods of measuring progress. It requires communications horizontally between and among professional groups, government agencies, private industry, and communicators. It requires communications between each of those and other actors in the process. It requires vertical communications from people to programme managers through KAP studies and demand for good health and a good product as well as vertical communications in ministries and private industry to satisfy public demand.
Communications is a resource equal to finance, physical inputs, and manpower. The decade of the 1990s should be a lesson to us of the power to alter behavioral patterns due to the relentless communications assailing people to change. Significant changes in political structure and management have been the results. Personal health management changes...such as the reduction of smoking and the increase in exercise are due to persistent communication on a persistent theme.
In what are considered to be remote communities products not essential to survival or to life are available and purchased as a result of effective communications.
The accelerated expansion of communications in recent years is awesome to behold. The challenge for development planners is to seek ways to apply these existing communications networks in each nation for the new technologies for life improvement such as the elimination of IDD. C. P. Snow sadly predicted that a good portion of the world would sit comfortably in homes watching others suffer of starvation on television and that is all too frequent. But radio, television, print media, traditional media, can all be sensitively and creatively cultivated as allies in the task to elimination the stealthy scourge of IDD.
The message of IDD elimination must become as ubiquitous as the transistor radio and the video tape.
Over the past few decades marked progress is evident but in large part, the full potential for development was not realized. The prospect that this might in large part be due to the lack of social communications in development plans must be pondered.
As the concept of social communications began to be considered it was evident a reluctance remained to consider social marketing as a public health measure. In part this skepticism was understandable. Marketing was a process considered a negative without social conscience. Women were seen buying packaged foods for infants and mixing them inappropriately by pressure from marketing techniques.
A good marketing effort..like a good development programme should never ask people to incur a transaction with a higher performance cost than they are prepared or can be persuaded to pay.
Work on the communications plan should proceed in lock step with the preparation of other elements. First, because it is accepted that prevention is better than cure; second, plans are required to prevent negative approaches to the IDD plan; third, because it places communications into the appropriate perspective for dealing with a range of essential issues.
Ignorance of the magnitude of the problem of IDD on the parts of Governments was a serious problem due to poor communication with them by those that had the knowledge and information. A stimulus to assess the problem was also lacking. Persistent mystification of essential health information due to poor communications is still a serious problem.
The need to depend upon professional communicators for the work from the beginning of the situation analysis to the application of the intervention and to the monitoring of results is another lesson learned. Public officials and many scientists are not yet fully comfortable working with communicators, especially in the public sector. But all the evidence shows the value of such collaboration once the roles are understood and mutual professional respect is attained.
A communications plan and strategy for any national endeavor should begin with the recognition that the success of the venture is not dependent upon one ministry alone. Success requires the full participation of a range of organizations both public and private. In the private sector it will include the salt industry, the packaging industry, communications outlets, the visual, audio and print media. In addition, the traditional forms of communication should be enlisted for support.
Governments and private industry approach development problems in different ways. But in the case of IDD elimination, while there is much of mutual interest. It is difficult for government officials and officials of industry to work together, but this is also due in part to the lack of practice at doing so and in part to lack of agreement on mutually supportive roles. For IDD elimination, it is vital that these alliances be created.
Effective communications plan will help to assure that.
Industry is the arm of society which processes and packages and sells food and has the professional marketing experience in to create and sustain a public demand for iodated salt and for the elimination of IDD.
A communications plan as part of the whole endeavor will
also include strategies which encourage change. The application of power alone is not enough, since quality assurance is still required, and ingenuity will find escape routes. Logic will be a part of the strategy using the facts of IDD and the consequences of poor actions. A strategy of appeal will generate emotion and cause reactions perhaps favorable. Incentives can be used to assure a consistent quality product. Above all a communications plan will attempt to address questions before they become problems (i.e., be preventive in nature), and to facilitate matters by removing obstacles to the success of the programme.
The essence of the communications plan; in fact the entire enterprise is persistence. IDD elimination is a permanent endeavor, not a campaign which can be allowed to wax and wane.
The best marketing over time of commercial products has demonstrated to us that it is essential to get a good message and repeat it, repeat it, repeat it, repeat it. Everyone recognizes slogans of products that have applied this technique successfully.