Community engagement at scale: getting into people’s living rooms

Riff Fullan, 16 January 2015
Community engagement at scale: getting into people’s living rooms

I’m probably no different from many of those I work within inside and outside my organisation in that I spend a significant proportion of my time writing and reading emails, looking at websites, participating in online dialogues, etc, etc.

Having this almost daily experience, it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of people in the world do not spend their time this way, even though more and more have access to mobile phones, and increasingly to the internet in one way or another via those phones.

Still, it’s nice to be reminded of other avenues of communication. When the ICT-for-development train started it’s journey in the 90s, I remember occasionally raising the issue that the primary ICT most people based in rural areas of most countries used on a regular basis was radio. This was mostly a ‘push’ technology, sending out information. However, there were increasing examples of more interactive use such as having local guest speakers and soliciting questions from the community on issues of local importance that would then be discussed on radio programs. Community radio stations were pioneers in this respect, and in promoting the use of radio in the interests of the communities they served. They also shared (and continue to share) their knowledge and experiences with each other on an ongoing basis through the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters.

What prompted this trip down memory lane for me was the Access to Justice Project of Helvetas Tajikistan, which is aimed at improving awareness and access to justice in the area of family law for poor and marginalized groups and individuals (especially young women) in the country. In an effort to increase its reach, the project recently produced a series of videos illustrating typical marital situations and important legal implications. The videos are now being shown on local TV channels in Tajikistan, so they will indeed make it into many living rooms. They are short, simple and each include 5 key messages. Here’s the one on marital breakdown:


I’m grateful to my Tajik colleagues for sharing their videos, which remind me to always think about the primary audiences of whatever activities we pursue. We need to recognize the importance of linking the solutions we come up with to the contexts of the individuals and groups we want to engage with in order to be really effective. A good lesson in making a habit of stepping into someone else’s shoes instead of relying only on our own experience.


Riff Fullan

Riff Fullan

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