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Strategic Communication in Water Resources Management: Building Community Capacities for greater Sustainability

Congress: 2008
Author(s): O. P. Singh

Keyword(s): Water, Communication, behavior change
AbstractIntroduction: Communication is being increasingly recognized as critical for achieving the goals of sustainable development that in turn entails adoption of ‘change’. In this framework, the significance of communication becomes paramount because for adoption of most of these changes, there is need for change in the existing behaviors in the community which rests upon communication. However, in the water sector, where sustainable access to safe drinking water is the goal, primarily through installation of new low-cost technologies, the linkage between behavioral change and achievement of the goal are yet to be fully explored and adequately addressed. Objective and method: The paper aims at delineating the factors that influence the fulfillment of water needs of local users in India from the perspective of communication. It is based upon the findings of an empirical study conducted in rural communities in 3 states, namely, Bihar, West Bengal and Madhya Pradesh. Results: As revealed by the study, technology delivery for achieving the goal of ‘sustainable access to safe water for all’ emerges as a problem because of problems of effective adoption, equitable access, and sustainable management of the technology at community level. The underlying causes in turn lie embedded in the realm of behavior of the targeted technology beneficiaries and their larger communities. The various water-related IEC (information, education and communication) already implemented in the field appear to be insufficient. It is not known that different segments of the beneficiary group/community are heterogeneously placed in terms of their behavioral response to the IEC provided, thus constituting a ‘behavioral change continuum’. These levels and their corresponding communication needs are: Level 1 - Unaware (need knowledge on the problem/solutions); Level 2 - Aware/knowledgeable but reluctant to change (need right motivation for change); Level 3 - Concerned and motivated to change (need support for sustained access to technology/requisite resources); Level 4 - Try the new behavior (Need motivation for sustaining new behavior); Level 5 - Sustain a newly experimented behavior (reached the goal but may need continued support). The ongoing IEC campaigns tend to target the communication needs of only the beneficiaries at level 1 – aiming at awareness-generation and knowledge-building alone. Conclusion: Given this situation, where capacities of communities to create and manage their own water resources is to be built, and the current communication strategies fall short of equitably addressing the communication needs of all, there is need to define a strategic communication framework in the sector. It is proposed that such a framework should have four progressive steps, namely, (1) assessment of aspects such as the behaviors that need to be encouraged or discouraged, audiences to be reached, etc. (2) planning for devising a clear course of action on this basis, (3) implementation of communication activities using multiple channels, (4) monitoring and evaluation carried out simultaneously with implementation so that corrective measures are applied on time. Messages must fit into the mental and socio-cultural context of peoples’ lives and the frameworks that audiences use to understand and define their actions concerning a problem.
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