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Participatory Model

One of the criticisms of the social marketing/entertainment-education strategies is that these are top down approaches formulated by outsiders, without corroboration from the local community. Critics claim that in these approaches the receivers of the messages are passive recipients of information, with the underlying concept that local people are badly informed or misunderstand a particular subject (Servaes, 1989). Communities do not feel responsible for the interventions, since they are dictated to by outsiders, usually bringing the voice of the government or agencies. Consequently, communities feel that if anything goes wrong with the innovation, the government is the one to solve it. The lack of opportunities for rejecting or modifying an intervention, also contributed to this feeling of disempowerment (Waisbord, 2000). According to Dragon (2001) the concept of establishing dialogue with the beneficiaries is based on these two perceived criticisms. The involvement of the beneficiaries in the intervention is important to foster a sense of “ownership” in the community. This would be helpful in terms of continuity of the project once the external input ceases. This sense of ownership can not be built without input from the recipients and their participation in the decision making process even before the start of the project.
Another important focus for participatory theorists is the attention to cultural diversity and the specific contexts, which they claim, are overlooked by persuasion theorists (Waisbord, 2001). According to the subscribers of the participatory model modernization projects overlook the importance of local traditions and knowledge, and the contradictions between local and foreign cultures. In explaining the failure of some agricultural projects, McKee (1992) cites that it is difficult to convince people to start using pipe water, since they dislike the taste. They use the water mostly for washing, rather than cooking or drinking.

For the participatory model communication means a process of creating and stimulating understanding as the foundation for development, rather than information transmission (Agungal, 1997). Differing from the dominant paradigm, the channels of communication are horizontal and not vertical. The process of knowledge acquisition is contributory and interactive, rather than unilateral.

The central ideas of the participatory approach are dialogue and community empowerment championed by Brazilian educator Paulo Freire (1970). The alternative offered by Freire is the concept of liberating education, the combination of education as a dialogue, participation, and critical thinking, namely “dialogical pedagogy.” Education in dialogical pedagogy is not the transmission of information from those who have knowledge to those who lack it, or from the powerful to the powerless, but it is a mutual discovery of the world (Freire, 1970). Therefore, this model argues that the objective of development is to empower people to have greater control over decisions that affect their lives, hence fostering social equalization and democratic practices (Morris, 2003). The core of the participatory model is to work with the community to determine their needs, rather than imposing an intervention. Describing the view of participatory scholars, Waisbord (2000), states:

Communication is the articulation of social relations among people. People should not be forced to adopt new practices no matter how beneficial they seem in the eyes of agencies and governments. Instead, people needed to be encouraged to participate rather than adopt new practices based on information

Attesting to this concept, Freire criticizes developmental agencies mainly in northeastern Brazil arguing that development programs introduce foreign concepts, to enforce Westerns ideas and practices without asking how these match the existing culture. He contends that the programs failed to educate small farmers because it tried to persuade them about the benefits of adopting certain innovations. This went directly against the real meaning of communication, which is translated into community interaction and education (Waisbord, 2000).

Even though some participatory projects are criticized for not fully applying this concept, genuine participatory projects are considered to be those in which there is grassroots control over key program decisions (Servaes, 1996).

In a report to the Rockfeller Foundation, “Making waves: stories of participatory communication for social change” Gumucio Dragon (2001) relates the efforts of participatory communication for development around the world. Kothhmale Community Radio one of the projects converging the Internet and radio. The Kothhmale Radio is created in 1989 to help families relocated for Sri Lanka’s largest damming project. The local authority set up the radio mainly to inform people about self-employment and health issues. In 1998 UNESCO (United Nations Education Social Cultural Organization) made a financial contribution to start the implementation of the Internet aspect of the project. Listeners of the station ask questions to the radio station about a specific subject, in turn, trained volunteers research the web for appropriate information and return the information to the audience in their language. It also provides two free of charge Internet access points to community libraries. Another component of this program is the creation of a computer database from the information researched on the Internet.



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