The focus of this third article of the series centers on the role of effective communication in initiating and maintaining community ownership. What do we mean by an effective communication? What kind of communication do we need to help us spur on community participation at every level in every part of the country? Why is communication important for the right kind of community engagement? The second article on spreading community ownership everywhere in Liberia observed the following salient points:
One way communities can remain engaged with their own and national issues is to maintain and build on the gains made with the involvement of the local communities in the fight against the Ebola pandemic. There was a massive effort from many partners to engage the local communities and get them to spread the awareness messages and the needed actions to halt the transmission. This was done through the use of local administrative structure and the huge training of chiefs, religious leaders, teachers, women and youth leaders, and getting many ordinary people at various levels of the community engaged with the process. In no time every local community in Liberia was in action in fight Ebola.
This much training and community involvement should now be used in creative ways to attend to other critical needs of the nation such as keeping our schools and all learning institutions safe and promoting the restoration of basic health services (immunization of our children and building the required confidence in our health system).
Through practical actions from government and others, communities should be taught and shown that the solution of their problems and promoting their own good causes lies in their own hands. Others can help but they must take the lead. Such vital lesson can be conveyed through involving, in a persistent and continuous way, the local communities in planning and implementing program and projects in the areas of health, education, agriculture, infrastructure, and inculcating local entrepreneurship. Communities must be consulted and made active partners in every part of the county. They can be active forces for the good of all.
A required element of community engagement is appropriate communication. Communication is a two-way activity. It requires both speaking through verbal and non-verbal means and listening. One speaker speaks and the other listens and the other speaks and the one listens. Keen listening means the listener attempts to feel what the other feels, hear what the other hears and to put one in the other’s shoes.
An effective communication is absolutely vital to any attempts to persuade people to do something, especially if it involves asking them to change their mental attitude and behavior. Any kind of propaganda (whether it is a war of any kind, a political platform, a new policy, a marketing strategy, an evangelistic undertaking, or any human endeavor that asks the voluntary involvement of other people) requires the right kind of communicating if it is to succeed. In fact, communication is a necessity for all who lead or influence others in one form or the other. Sometime the difference between success and failure depends on one communicates his/her vision.
If communities are to find self-generating solutions to their problems and improve their total wellbeing there must be effective community at every level and stage of a continued process. Those who initiate and remain with community engagement have to be effective communicators.
This requires an entry into the community. Community entry is about the strategies employed to get the community to open herself up and disclose its true needs, concerns and aspirations. There are all sorts of ways of doing this, depending on each particular community. Whatever means one chooses has to include involving the local leadership on the ground.
Effective communication takes a lot more listening than talking. It means honestly and earnestly seeking to understand and learn from the community as opposed to telling her what one wants to communicate and coming to teach the community something. When one listens empathetically very often one learns something valuable from and about the people that one desires to engage. Effective communication overcomes barriers and creates countless opportunities for community participation and ownership.