Communication is an integral part of our existence as social beings. Through the exchange of information, shared and received, communication is a perpetual force on our daily lives. While there are numerous communication methodologies and techniques available for discussion, I want to concentrate on one area of communication referred to as Communication for Social Change. It may not be evident at first, but communication for social change is present in all areas of our lives and intertwined throughout everyday communication practices and media. Different approaches to communication for social change are used across all three of the primary divisions of communication which include: mass communication, interpersonal communication, or organizational communication. A communication for social change approach provides the techniques required to inform, motive, and guide people toward positive and sustainable social and developmental changes. For the remainder of this paper I am going to explore the six most important ideas I learned about communication and social change from two books “Communication of Innovations: A Journey with Ev Rogers” edited by Singhal and Dearing (2006) and “Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change” written by Kahane (2010) and state why I believe they are especially significant for social change practitioners today.
1. The Diffusion of Innovation
The Diffusion of Innovation theory that originated with communication scholar Ev Rogers, is an important concept to understanding communication in general but even more important to understanding the effectiveness of communication that leads to social change. I am placing the diffusion theory as the most important concept I learned from the two books mentioned above because it is the grassroots to understanding communication for social and developmental change. Without diffusion of a message, idea, innovation, there would be no motivation for social change. Dearing and Meyer (2006) describe diffusion as “a social process by which an innovation is communicated over time among the members of a communication network or within a social sector” (p. 33). The innovation, which can be any new concept or device such as an idea, a belief, a technological process, etc., is communicated with the purpose of adaption into society. Innovations are spread over numerous communication methods such as one-to-one communication (verbally, email, text message) or one-to-many communication (social media, entertainment media, radio) and are adapted at different rates by different people.
2. Communication’s Triad of Social Change
This takes me to the second important topic about communication and social change I learned from reading the two books mentioned above, that is the triad of social change. Described by Bandura (2006) in the Social Cognitive Theory, communication of social change involves a process of three stages: acquisition, adoption, and proliferation (pp. 114-126). Understanding these three stages are important to the success of social and development change because each stage is depended on the next. Without a single person adopting the innovation, there would not be a proliferation stage for the innovation to diffuse. Bandura (2006), referring to the diffusion of innovation within social networks, makes an interesting point by stating, “Adoption rates increase as more and more people in one’s personal network adopt an innovation” (p. 125). These three stages are really the steps to social change that produce active results. This three stage diffusion process reminds me of the way rivers and lakes interconnect and merge together. The rain drop falls (the acquisition stage) and starts to accumulate to form a stream (the adoption stage). The stream then flows into the river and connects with the ocean (proliferation stage).
3. Innovation Diffusion Always Requires Learning
The third important topic about communication and social change I learned from reading the two books mentioned in my introduction continues to build on my previous thought. Leonard (2006) states that innovation diffusion involves the process of learning and can be described as the “transfer of information from brain to brain” (p. 96). At each stage of the social change communication process there is a degree of learning required by both the innovator and the adaptor. If the innovator does not learn what the adaptor needs, understands, or is ready to adapt, then the diffusion of innovation process is inhibited. Also, following with the idea of learning and knowledge, I found reading about explicit and tacit knowledge transfer very interesting. The point that “much of the know-how is unconscious” (Leonard, 2006, p. 87) really made me think about the importance of detail knowledge transfer and techniques. Leonard (2006) says, “innovations are considered to be essentially bundles of knowledge…that must be generated and then transferred from origin to users” (p. 86). This puts me in mind of a power generating station that first produces electricity and then passes it on for consumption by its users.
4. Like Minds Think Alike
The fourth important topic about communication and social change I learned from reading the two books mentioned in my introduction concerns Ev Rogers concept of homophily and heterophily. When I first read about these I immediately thought of the statement, “Like Minds Think Alike” and I realised how that could become in itself a barrier for the creation and spread of innovation. If everyone thought the same then there would be no room for new innovations and no need for adaptation to occur. Leonard (2006) argues that “in the initial stages of an innovation, intellectual diversity is highly productive” (p. 90). On the flip side, too much diversity can also become a barrier to innovation diffusion and social change. This became clear to me in 2009 when I was asked to join a team of researchers whose purpose was to visit an indigenous tribe on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines and visually document their existence and extreme living conditions. Approximately 14 hours after leaving our camp in the valley, we reached the Mt. Halcon Mangyan tribe. There is no direct form of communication with the “low landers,” as described by the mountain people, by phone or radio. Because their culture is steeped in superstition, the Mangyans actually regard the towns’ people as “bad” and avoid contact as much as possible. It was very difficult to communicate any form of innovation or social change with the Mangyan tribe because of the cultural and language differences that separated our thinking and experiences. In this environment it was the similarities that linked us and provided understanding, through the translators, toward introducing innovation and communication for social change.
5. Participatory Empowerment Approach to Communicating Social Change
The fifth important topic about communication and social change I learned from reading the two books mentioned in my introduction is regarding the participatory empowerment approach to communicating social change. I believe this is essential to the adaption and proliferation of social and developmental change especially in third world countries where many cultural and environmental barriers exist as I mentioned above. This type of approach allows individuals to experience the innovation first hand and creates a feeling of ownership of the innovation. Continuing with the previous story of my experience regarding the Mt. Halcon Mangyan tribe, the leader gave our group a tour of the small village. The village consisted of approximately 10 straw huts each with a single bamboo floor that were home to ten or more people. They were built on stilts providing room for the animals to move about under the floor.
The sanitary conditions gave literal meaning to the expression, “living in a pig’s pen.” Each day was a challenge to survive. I was told the nearest water source was one km down the backside of the mountain and for three months each year the mountain becomes completely clouded over and cold. Most Mangyan tribes in the higher regions of the mountains have no blankets and many have no clothing or very little. In order to help the village, our group arranged for several locals to regularly visit and teach the people better farming and sanitary skills by getting them involved in hands on work and preparing them for the future. The tribe’s people became so excited about their new knowledge that they built a small one-room shelter designated as a school for their kids. Through participating in the innovations, social and developmental change was adapted by the entire village. It reminds me of the saying, “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for today. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”
6. Power-to vs Power-over
The sixth and final topic about communication and social change I learned from reading the two books mentioned in my introduction is the idea of power having two sides. Power can be employed negatively over others through violence and manipulation or employed positively with others in a supportive way. This concept was explained very well by Kahane (2010) throughout the reading and was described to have a generative side and a degenerative side. The generative side of power provides a framework to empower others, lifts people up. The degenerative side of power is described by Kahane (2010) as “the stealing or suppression of the self-realization of another…Not to see another person, or to see her or him as a non-person, is the extreme manifestation of power-over” (p. 17). Power is central to communicating social change because of its ability to influence.
While there are numerous other topics and concepts important to me from the two communication and social change readings, “Communication of Innovations: A Journey with Ev Rogers” edited by Singhal and Dearing (2006) and “Power and Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change” written by Kahane (2010), I have chosen the six shared above as the most important. I tried to present them in a way to show their connection and importance not only to each other but also to everyday communication of social and developmental change. In summary, the six most important ideas listed above are: 1. The Diffusion of Innovation, 2. Communication’s Triad of Social Change, 3. Innovation Diffusion Always Requires Learning, 4. Like Minds Think Alike, 5. Participatory Empowerment Approach to Communicating Social Change, and 6. Power-to vs Power-over.
Bandura, A. (2006). On integrating social cognitive and social diffusion theories. In Singhal, A. & Dearing, J.W. (Eds.), Communication of innovations: A journey with Ev Rogers (pp. 111-135). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Dearing, J. W., & Meyer, G. (2006). Revisiting diffusion theory. In Singhal, A. & Dearing, J.W. (Eds.), Communication of innovations: A journey with Ev Rogers (pp. 29-60). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Kahane, A. (2010). Power of Love: A Theory and Practice of Social Change. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.
Leonard, D. A. (2006). Innovation as a knowledge generation and transfer process. In Singhal, A. & Dearing, J.W. (Eds.), Communication of innovations: A journey with Ev Rogers (pp. 83-110). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Singhal, A. & Dearing, J.W. (Eds.). (2006). Communication of Innovations: A Journey with Ev Rogers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.