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Reflection on the theoretical aspects of
community conversations method
For the ‘Nordic Network on Media, communication and popular
culture in Africa’ seminar
By: Sintayehu Ch. Assefa
7 Nov. 2008, Malmø University
• Community conversations approach, has emerged from the
work of the Salvation Army (Zambia) and Enda Tiers
Monde/Sante, (Senegal) in the mid 1990s, and improved by
UNDP in 2001 (Community Capacity Enhancement Handbooks,
2004 & 2005).
• Community conversations – ‘facilitated dialogues’
• To provide a platform in which people can engage in open
discussions about sensitive issues like HIV/AIDS in their
• People are supposed to identify their concerns as well as
strength and agree where specifically they need external
• In Ethiopia- in 2002/03 in two pilot areas in Southern
part of the country - as an initiative of the UNDP in
collaboration with the local NGO’s.
• The evaluation study funded by the same agency
(UNDP) revealed that the CC method is playing a
significant role in bringing the intended change
processes in HIV/AIDS related community attitudes
and practices (Ayalew Gebere and Yeraswork
Admissie, 2005).
• Afterwards, the method begun spread widely
through out the country, especially in Amgara
regional state.
What strikes me to initiate my study?
• The feasibility of the premises of CC method
in the context of cultural, social, economical
and political aspects of Ethiopian society in
general and the Amhara community in
(Has the CC method really brought/bringing
what it intends to? How CC method is going
on in Amhara society? What the practice of
CC looks like?)
Some facts about Ethiopian society
• Ethiopian society in general (and the society
residing in Amhara Regional State in particular) are
highly conservative, patriarchal and agrarian society
in which 80% out of the 79 million population is
living in the rural areas.
(Zenebe N. Bashaw,?, Central statistical Agency of Ethiopia, Feb. 2008)
Adult literacy rate (ages 15 and older) is estimated
to 35.9% which put the country 169th out of 177
countries world wide.
(The 2007/2008 UNDP Human Development Report)
• Dictatorial governments of the near past and the current one
forced the society to be fearful, suspicious and not to trust
government officials and their policies.
Steps in CC methods
At the center of this method there are six steps to
facilitate the community conversations sessions
1. Relationship building
2. Identification concerns
3. Exploration of identified concerns
4. Decision making and commitment to action
5. Implementation
6. Reflection and review
• It is assumed that adhering to the six systematically
arranged processes strictly in CC sessions will bring
the desired outcome.
The premises of Community
Conversations method
• There are a lot of efforts to integrate and use
elements of different models and strategies
of development communication interventions
Some of the concepts
• Dialogue or Horizontal communication
• Stimulus changes within
• Empowering the grassroots
• The role of people as agents of change
• The need for negotiating skills and partnership
• The ultimate goal of CC method is to
help people show transformation in
many aspects of their life.
• But it is questionable whether the
actual CC practice has the capacity by
itself to help communities to transform.
• How the transformation of the
community can be measured? Or how
the characteristics of the community
transformed by community
conversations sessions can be
• CC method- a ‘‘magic bullet’’ or ‘‘superman
‘‘[T]he Community Conversations approach promotes human
rights principles. Dignity of individuals and families are
preserved and enhanced in an environment that promotes
compassion, acceptance and accountability, where people are
free from stigmatization, coercion and violence. UNDP has
identified a core group of human rights principles that are
guiding responses. The principles include equity,
equality, non-discrimination, human dignity, nonviolence, participation, inclusion, accountability and
(CC concept paper, 2004: 3)
• Too ambitious- the method has given responsibilities
to solve multiple social, cultural, economic and
political problems which seem difficult to achieve
Question remains- whether the actual CC sessions can bring such
complex socio-economic and political responses or not.
Few CC assessment reports, from countries where CC method has
implemented so far, have disclosed that the method is mainly
successful in raising awareness (?) and encouraging the participants
to express themselves.
Local people are often too busy running their daily business to
become involved in participatory activities and even questioned the
value of investing time and effort in a project;
The legitimacy of those who chose to participate representing the
views of the wider community is questionable.
Communities are often loaded with divisions, tensions and conflicts,
and certain vulnerable groups may be unwilling or even unable to
Some communities are already experiencing the so called
‘‘conversation or participation fatigue’’ in which facilitators have faced
the challenges of motivating community members to participate in the
scheduled sessions
(Parry & Wright, 2003 and Cecilia Strand, July 2008)
Main Objectives of my study
1. How the theoretical framework and premises
of Community Conversations method can be
explained in the context of different
development communication theories and
2. To what extent the premises and guidelines
of community conversations method are
implemented in the process of community
conversations sessions going on in the
Amhara Regional State?
Research Methodology
• To address the research questions, an unedited audio data on
the actual CC sessions retrieved from Amhara region’s radio
programs will be analyzed using qualitative method supported
by social constructionist approach.
• Extensive critical review literature will be conducted to reflect
on the concepts of community conversations in the context of
development communication theories and models, particularly
from community participation perspective.
• To support the whole analysis process, different documents
such as UNDP’s CC Handbooks, CC concept paper,
implementation guidelines, facilitators’ manual, annual reports
on CC, different statistics, etc retrieved from different sources
and will be consulted.
• I have planned to go to the actual places where CC sessions
are currently running so as to conduct interview, focus group
discussion as well as observations.