Communication for Sustainable Development online certificate course

Global Goals Movement
Newsletter Vol 1. Issue 3, May, 2020

Communication for Sustainable Development Goals
Dr Sanjay Marale

The global COVID 19 pandemic teaches us some lessons and brings us towards the reality of life. It is possible to take control of such a devastating disease with unity, scientific knowledge and proper communication. The advanced and smart technologies helped us to reach every person on this planet and to some extent change his or her behaviour towards understanding and responding to COVID 19 disease. Similarly we can use such communication and smart technologies to reach people to make them understand SDGs and to act on it. Present paper highlights the framework in which we can make communication more powerful and accessible for achieving SDGs.

Though the SDGs framework was adopted by the UN and all the countries of the world In September 2015, the global coronavirus pandemic COVID 19 has caused unimaginable devastation and hardship, to our way of life to an almost complete halt in 2020. The outbreak will have profound and lasting economic and social consequences in every corner of the globe,” says the United Nations. However we must remain mobilized, because this crisis also tells us several things like use of communication technologies, global messaging as well as distance learning, scientific cooperation, and information support.
Technology is playing a crucial role in fighting the global COVID-19 pandemic and in keeping us connected. And technology will be crucial in restarting society as we slowly return to ‘normal. The question now becomes, how can we continue the momentum and use the lessons learned in the crisis to leverage technology for good — especially for accelerating progress on the SDGs. It is also important to see how we can change our activities to be more sustainable; with less travel and modern means of communication & technology (WTISD, 2020).
Communication for SDGs
The importance of Communication for Sustainable Development is widely acknowledged worldwide (FAO, 2007). It has the potential to achieve lasting, positive impacts on education, economic prosperity, social inclusion and environmental protection, taking us all forward to a new era of peace and sustainable development (UNESCO, 2019). It is about dialogue, participation and the sharing of knowledge and information among people and institutions. It takes into account the needs and capacities of all concerned in the development process. It is thus a social process. Communication media & interpersonal communication are the important tools in achieving this process (Jan Servaes & Patchanee Mallikhao, 2007).
Earlier powerful-elite groups totally controlled the communication channels—press, broadcasting, education, and bureaucracy but with advancement in communication resources no one can be denied access to and participation in communication processes (Jan Servaes & Patchanee Mallikhao, 2007). The Agenda 2030 adopts specific targets on awareness raising, education & access to information and gives all of us a mandate to mobilise citizens & other stakeholders into action:
SDG Target 4.7 sees all learners acquiring the knowledge and skills needed to promote sustainable development and global citizenship
Targets 12.8 & 13.3 call for public awareness and education to promote sustainable consumption and production, and climate change
Targets 16.6 & 16.10 require countries to establish accountable and transparent institutions, and to ensure public access to information.
Crafting new narratives for sustainable development, understanding SDG audiences & listening to them, forging new partnerships, making the most of digital technologies & innovations & mobilising resources for public engagement are basic steps to start (DevCom 2017).
Advocacy Strategy for SDGs
From education, to environmental protection, to women’s rights, the SDGs represent a progressive, global vision for the future. However, committing to those goals and actually achieving them by their 2030 deadline is not the same thing. An enormous amount of work must be done to bring the SDGs into reality. Education, advocacy and social mobilization are important tools in achieving sustainable development goals. Communication & advocacy are the key elements of implementation. The UN (UNDG, 2020) provides practical guidance on how to start, where to go and a plausible path of action to get there through following points:
Advocacy strategy defines advocacy goals and how to reach them. It enables structured, systematic & and logically framed approaches to communication, advocacy and dissemination work to achieve stated goals in an effective way. An advocacy plan (UNDG, 2020a) typically contains the following elements:
A set of clearly defined advocacy goals and objectives for policy action and change
An analysis of context and target audiences comprising actors who can drive and/or influence relevant decision makers.
An analysis of channels to reach target audiences
Communication & advocacy products to be developed according to different audiences & engagement channels.
It is a path of action that begins where you actually are, ends where you truly want to be, and has a plausible chance of taking you through the full journey from one to the other. A thorough strategic planning process on the 2030 Agenda, revolves around three basic and essential questions (UNDG, 2020) as follows:
What do you want?
What does the political map look like?
What is your plan of action for real results?
1. What do you want?
Defining and being clear about what you want is about answering three basic questions:
Advocacy is about seeing a problem and setting out to solve it. In the case of Agenda 2030 those problems are already laid out at a very high level – poverty, environmental degradation, inequalities, etc. We should seek to solve them by using facts & data and through compelling & authentic local stories (UNDG, 2020).
The 2030 Agenda already lays out the solution in the very broadest of terms, for example all the goals itself are the long term solutions. For example gender equality, reducing inequity, environment protection, sustainable economic growth etc. We have to simplify these solutions and make them particular to the local context.
We need to achieve the 2030 Agenda piece by piece through a series of concrete and specific objectives that build on one another over time. We need objectives that achieve two things simultaneously: they lay the policy or programme and also deliver something concrete and valuable in people’s day-to-day lives. The UN (UN, 2020a) provides a list of objectives on which we can build our advocacy action plan or we may modify these objectives. The objectives are:
Objective 1: Engage specific actors particularly the most excluded populations, so that they can actively participate in Agenda 2013 and to ensure that no one is left behind.
Objective 2: Build general public awareness on the 2030 Agenda and the importance of achieving the SDGs by 2030 during the elaboration phase of the report.
Objective: 3: Inform public & other actors about achievement and challenges in implementing the 2030 Agenda & SDGs.
Objective 4: Frame evidence -based national communication strategies and public campaigns on the 2030 Agenda at the national and sub-national levels.
2. Political Map
In implementation of the advocacy plan there will be several obstacles, opportunities & a set of actors and institutions we should engage. Mapping those actors and dynamics is required as an important task (UNDG, 2020). Understanding the political power through political map includes:
In almost every instance there will be some person or institution that has the formal authority to do (or not do) the thing you want done. That person’s or that institution’s decision will be heavily influenced by a wide range of other actors – the media, citizen groups, unions, corporations, political donors or others. At the start of advocacy planning it needs to identify all of these key and specific actors who will affect the success or failure of their efforts (UNDG,, 2020).
We can plot the people on the paper where we can understand who and how many of them support us in our task? We can also identify what kind of politics they are playing and how much power they have? This ‘power grid’ can serve as an indispensable tool for planning strategy (UNDG, 2020).
As you look at that mapping you will realize who has power that you most need to convince to take your side? Who is on your side that you need to help make you more powerful? With whom do you need to develop a deeper working alliance & who is powerful and against you that you most need to deal with? This helps to offer a clear-eyed view of what you are dealing with so that you can set your priorities based on that insight (UNDG, 2020).
3. What is your Plan of Action to Win
Once objectives are defined & political complexities are understood then we can start planning out actions & activities in a following four areas:
Models that use medium to longer term interaction engagement and interaction with the audience (dialogic models) are much more likely to gain traction than sender-receiver (“monologic”) approaches (OECD, 2014). However, social and traditional media has a power to amplify messages for change. Using new platforms like online meetings, online classrooms group calls via Google Meet, Zoom, etc we can speak to one another easily & dissolve prejudice and cliques within the workplace. Effective messaging is central to the 2030 Agenda. It is about narrative, about telling a story. Effective SDG messaging (UNDG, 2020) has to operate at three different levels at once.
The first level is about the aspirations of the SDGs, why they are historic and what they seek to achieve.
Then the importance & explanation for each goal, for example, why education for girls benefits both the girls and the nation as a whole.
Localising these universal messages with reference to local situations.
Objective 1: Engage specific actors
Activity 1: Mapping key civil society organization at country and regional level to ensure targeted communication plan.
Activity 2 : Reaching key civil society organizations to brief them on the SDG progress report.
Activity 3: Organize workshops to share the results of the report among civil society groups.
Activity 4 : Developing key communitition products (fact sheets ,presentations etc) to facilitate the conclusion process.
Objective 2: Build general public awareness
Activity 1: With the government & civil society organisations reach to key audiences.
Activity 2 : Implement the communication campaign ensuring a participatory approach
Objective: 3 Inform public about achievement and challenges in Agenda 2030 implementation
Activity 1: National and regional media workshops can explain the reporting purposes and its importance, and show journalists how to use the data for reporting purposes
Activity 2 : Establish a journalists network in support of the 2030 Agenda
Activity 3: In collaboration with partners, identify human interest stories related to the issues being addressed in the report to pitch to the national media
Objective 4: Frame communication strategies & public campaigns
Activity 1: Identify key areas that are lagging behind according to the SDG results report; engage key ministries in discussing potential communication campaigns that can be developed to change or enhance certain behaviors (UNDG, 2020a).
Primarily governments are responsible for implementation of the 2030 Agenda. Hence engaging with governments at all levels, national and subnational, with an understanding of where the key actions must be taken in each nation’s political context is required (UNDG,, 2020). Effective, accountable and inclusive institutions are essential to achieving the SDGs. Government should take urgent action to change the institutional arrangements for taking control of the implementation of the SDGs and reviewing progress (UNDESA, 2020). Besides government participation, Agenda 2030 also emphasizes responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels”.
Communication has to play that role of outreach to everyone. Although, at the heart of all communication lies the ambition to reach an audience. Communication has never been simple, as it involves complex matters that are not easy to present in an appealing way. However, good news is that the study by DevCom & OECD (2015) indicates that there is a significant proportion of the population interested in sustainable development and creative & innovative channels and networks like mass media, social media, mobile phones, regious and teachers unions can bring large scale change. These media resources can now be used for online SDGs learning and global education (DevCom & OECD, 2015).
Possibly the most serious question we have to ask ourselves is whether our advocacy & communication strategy is working well or not? Or some changes are required or do we need to change the entire strategy? Because sometimes we may experience that in reality people do not give much value or importance to our work. So the question is did you hit a wall that you didn’t anticipate in advance? Are your tactics having the impact you hoped? What are the mid-course corrections that make sense along the way? Finding alternate strategies or making modifications in the existing strategies is essential as we keep working on our goals. The effectiveness of the strategy can be evaluated by some indicators like:
Statements of support (private and public)
Introduction of rules & budget provision
News articles and stories and social media posts
An increased number of allies.
Government approval of new laws or programmes.
Effective advocacy strategy & communication require us to answer three basic questions. First one is What do we want? What is the problem we are trying to solve? What are the long term solutions we are proposing? And what are the short term objectives? Second one is looking the political map. That is identifying the authority and its influence, and whether they will support/oppose us on the SDGs. Based on that support or opposition decide your strategic priorities. The last one is deciding on the plan of action to win. It includes three parts one is messaging, i.e. how will you talk about your issues, second preparing list of activities and actions to work on the objectives and the last one is evaluation of the strategic action plan. Whether the action plan is effective or require some changes? Thus the communication for SDGs has to be scientific, smart, powerful and reliable with data and evidence and should reach to as many people as possible. This could be achieved by using advanced communication technologies like mass media, social media, internet etc.
DevCom (2017) 10 Learning areas for SDG communication. OECD Development Communication Network
FAO (20027) Communication & Sustainable Development. Selected papers from 9th UN roundtable on communication for development. Food & Agriculture Organisation of United Nations, 2007, Rome.
Jan Servaes & Patchanee Mallikhao (2007) Communication & Sustainable Development, FAO Communication & Sustainable Development, 2007, Rome.
UNFPA 2002, Communication for Development Roundtable Report of the Communication for Development Roundtable, November 26-28, 2001, Managua, Nicaragua, New York.
W.AA. 2003 “Shaping Information Societies for Human Needs”. Civil Society Declaration to the World Summit on the Information Society, Unanimously Adopted by the WSIS Civil Society Plenary on 8 December 2003
Fraser, C. & Restrepo-Estrada, S. Tambuli: The Electronic Carabao Horn in Communication for Development, I.B. Tauris & Co Ltd: New York 1998, pp. 190-218.
Fraser, C. & Restrepo-Estrada, S. Putting Politician Under Pressure: A Case Study of Advocacy and Social Mobilization for Children linked to Decentralization and Elections in Colombia draft Sep 1992.
Servaes J. 2000, Advocacy Strategies for Development Communication, in SERVAES J. (ed.), Walking on the other side of the information highway. Communication, Culture and Development in the 21st Century, Penang: Southbound, Penang, pp.103-118
Servaes J. 1993, Development Communication in Action: Report of the Inter-Agency Meeting on Advocacy Strategies for Health and Development. WHO Conference, Geneva, 9-13 November 1992, Geneva: WHO, 36 p
Mckee, N., Manoncourt, E., Saik Yoon, C. & Carnegie, R. 2000, Involving People Evolving Behaviour, Penang: Southbound & UNICEF: Penang.
Mckee, N., Manoncourt, E., Saik Yoon, C. & Carnegie, R. 2003, Involving People Evolving Behaviour, in SERVAES, J. 2003. Approaches to Development. Studies on Communication for Development, Paris: UNESCO
UNDG (2020) Fulfilling the promises a practical guide for UN advocacy to promote implementation of the 2030 agenda.
WRISD (2020) The Impact of COVID 19 on Sustainable Development Agenda, 19th May, 2020, ITU News.
UNESCO (2019) Sustainable Development Goals for Communication & Information
DevCom & OECD (2015) Good Practices in Development Communication
UNDESA (2020) Public institutions for Sustainable Development Goals.
UNDG (2020a) Guidelines to support the country reporting on Sustainable Development Goals.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top