Crossing the ‘Dev-Code’ Divide: Easier said than done?

Cartoon by Popa Matumula - Courtesy Cartoon Movement
Cartoon by Popa Matumula – Courtesy Cartoon Movement

“To garner public support for their causes, the development community must connect with rest of society using everyday phrases, metaphors and images. That is a far better strategy than expecting everyone to understand their gobbledygook.”

This is the central argument in my latest op-ed essay, just published on the Communication Initiative blog.

Titled Crossing the ‘Dev-Code’ Divide, I revisit a theme familiar to my regular readers: getting development pr0fessionals to communicate better.

Another excerpt:

“After working with technological ‘geeks’ and development workers for many years, I know they have at least one thing in common: their own peculiar languages that don’t make much sense to the rest of us.

“Talking in code is fine for peer-to-peer conversations. But it’s a nonstarter for engaging policy makers and the public.”

An example of coded language is the oft-bandied Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – lofty ideals, badly packaged.

This essay is a tribute to my mentor and former colleague Robert Lamb (1952 – 2012), who was a grandmaster in communicating development to public and policy audiences using simple language and powerful imagery.

Working with Robert for 15 years, I saw how he brought seemingly dreary development issues alive on TV and video – dominant media of his time — through simple and sincere story telling. He mixed inter-governmental processes with stark ground level realities. In three decades he produced or commissioned hundreds of international TV documentaries exploring what sustainable development meant in the real world.

Read the full essay: Crossing the ‘Dev-Code’ Divide

Republished in The Nation newspaper, Sri Lanka, 16 Feb 2014

Cartoon by Patrick Chapette
Cartoon by Patrick Chappatte, IHT

See also related blog posts:

November 2009: Satinder Bindra: It’s the message, stupid (and never mind the UN branding)!

July 2009: Asia’s Other Eclipse: The one that doesn’t make TV news!

March 2009: Mixing oil and water: Media’s challenges in covering human security

March 2009: Missing Mothers: How acronyms and jargon can kill innocent women

April 2007: MDG: A message from our spin doctors?

April 2007: Say MDG and smile, will ya?

Author: Nalaka Gunawardene

A science writer by training, I've worked as a journalist and communication specialist across Asia for 30+ years. During this time, I have variously been a news reporter, feature writer, radio presenter, TV quizmaster, documentary film producer, foreign correspondent and journalist trainer. I continue to juggle some of these roles, while also blogging and tweeting and column writing.

One thought on “Crossing the ‘Dev-Code’ Divide: Easier said than done?”

  1. I remember another professional who was really good at communicating, specially in translating subject related terminology to everyday-language. Prof. Nandadasa Kodagoda. He did a TV series in early 90s, explaining medical conditions, illnesses and medication to the common viewer.

    This is one of the major issue with Left-Wing political parties in Sri Lanka too. They use the language as a tool for recognition rather than a tool for communication. I think sometimes this ‘miscommunication’ is done purposely. Many people who are trying to be leaders without a proper cause, do not want understanding from the public. They just want followers.

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