Making your research accessible

Moving development communications beyond journalism in Nepal: My undergraduate teaching experience

By 29/01/2018

In my last seven years in the development sector, working as a development communications professional, my audiences have primarily been researchers, programmers, policymakers, and general interest groups at large. However, actual ‘demand’ of development communications prospers in an environment where the subject is actually taught and debated.

So I was excited to be asked to teach Development Communications at National College (one of the reputed colleges in Nepal affiliated to Kathmandu University), a course that is part of the undergraduate Development Studies programme.

After getting the course outline, I designed my lectures to focus on topics such as theoretical and conceptual foundations of development communications, political-economy and sociological dimensions of development, and the use of mainstream mass media and alternative channels such as documentary, street plays and community radio to communicate development agendas. I also covered the Sustainable Development Goals along with practical tips on developing project communications and advocacy strategies.

During the 48-hour, 3-credit course I mixed lectures with workshops, individual and group assignments, and guest lectures. I particularly enjoyed students performing street plays and a group assignment to develop a project communication strategy where they came up with innovative and interesting ideas. It was great to see how students in their early 20s explored different ways to highlight the core development problems in Nepal such as poverty, gender discrimination, the rural–urban divide, and social inequalities. The slogans were catchy and the messages were loud and clear.

I am a firm believer that teaching becomes effective when it is relevant. So I sneaked in a few ‘practical’ lectures on the professional communications and knowledge management skills considered essential in the development field such as email communications and document management, developing your CV and LinkedIn profile, preparing for a conference, tips on writing blog posts of your research, media monitoring on development themes, grant writing, professional handling of social media, and using word clouds and info-graphics, among others.

Most development communications education in Nepal is viewed through a ‘journalistic’ lens. Most of the lecturers are media professionals. While they bring good experience and expertise, particularly in media and communications, the broader understanding of development discourses is limited compared to development practitioners. While media professionals do engage with development organisations more often these days, particularly through media fellowships and consulting jobs, the ‘out-sourced’ nature of this engagement doesn’t really match the experience that a research uptake or C4D professional would have, as he/she would have exposure to wide range of development-related discussions and resources.

It is high time that development communications as a field evolves further – both academically and professionally – in countries like Nepal. It needs to move beyond the journalism field, with greater emphasis on understanding and communicating development discourses in a better way.