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Participatory communication approach has emerged from the criticism of the role play communication in the modernisation and dependency paradigm. Nowadays, this approach is considered as new paradigm on communication for development. This approach points out of the participation from local community for self-development by communication from bottom up perspective. In brief, participatory emphasizes more understanding of multiplicity opinions to overcome stereotyped thinking by give many respects for the counterparts attitude to accommodate self-determination and self-reliance (Servaes,1996). In spite the promises of participatory communication, opponent of this perspective argue that participatory has obstacles in its implementation. Moreover, how the theory and practice of participatory communication has become the dominant paradigm will be examined in this essay by presenting its superiorities and limitations in term of communication for development.

To begin with, in 1970s, the participatory approaches were raised by Paolo Freire notion called dialogical pedagogy and the UNESCO issues of public participation and self-management. The dialogical pedagogy idea implies group dialogue as a communication tool rather than such reinforcing media as television or radio. On the one hand, the UNESCO discourse of participatory communication reveals three main aspects, namely access participation and self-management (Hemer & Tufte, 2005). These aspects points out the accessibility of media to fulfill public interests in varied programs (e.g education and entertainment), the feedback and responses from community as public involvement in communication systems, and self management notion when public have power to make decisions in communication policies and big influence to communication enterprises. The Freirean and UNESCO discourses are the foundation how participatory communication has been implemented for social change. According to those discourses, Basette (2004) opined that participatory communication is an arranged activities based on participatory process on media and interpersonal communication to facilitate a dialogue about development issues and initiatives among stakeholders.

Nowadays, concept participatory approach has been used to empower people by using their own intellectual and cultures to make a change and development in several sectors of people life, for instance politic, health and education. In context empowerment society, there is no universal blue-print for development and each society must develop its own development strategy by doing participatory approach. This communication approach put people as core of development. People have freedom and right to communicate and do effective communication in accordance with the requirements and conditions apply in their social relations (Samovar, Porter & Jain, 1981). Furthermore Servaes & Malikhao (2005) stressed that participatory communication has been used to support development by gaining communitys pride of its own resources and culture, educating and stimulating people to be active as change agents. This idea is reoriented the role and process of communication in development context which stresses out of the participation of beneficiaries.

According to Freires notions in Cadiz (2005), participatory communication perspective has several strengths to be used as a good foundation for empowering people and development. Firstly, this perspective accentuates equality between the development partners with the agent of changes. In this concept, Servaes (1996) stated that everybody can be a student and teacher at the same time because everybody has something important and interest to share each other. Moreover, he argues that the mutual symbolism among them is going to create reciprocal collaboration throughout all its degree. This kind of position put community or people to be agents of change for development, neither policy makers nor researchers. In the past, development partners are assumed as teacher and expert who disseminate information but their roles progressively change to facilitator, mediator and consensus-builder (Quebral, 2001). Even though in ways to get public involvement, this concept should be identified, operationalized, and conducted by professional who has knowledge, proper methods and good credibility to do so, communication for empowerment takes big part of listening and learning together than delivering information and teaching the other(Celeste, 2005).This equality view also part of indicators the growth of a deeper understanding of the communication nature. In the previous dominant paradigm, communication was perceived as a tool for transmission information and technology which had one-way process from a communicator to a communicant.

In 1950s communication was identified as tools of externally driven development which introduced the idea of modernization in development context. At that time, the development communication emerges to be information theory rather than communication theory, when communication appears from top-down perspective from government to people which denied people power to determine their own decision based on their own knowledge and traditional thought (Kasonggo,1996). Now, communication focus has moved to a receiver-centric orientation.

Moreover, this orientation has resulted disseminating information for which there is a need (Servaes& Malikhao, 2005). Furthermore, participatory communication facilitates vertically communication and horizontally communication. In terms of communicate vertically, the flow information comes from the participants with the development benefactors, such as government or National Governments Organizations (NGOs). On the other hand, participatory communication has horizontal communication when participants can have a discussion and learning session among themselves (Kasonggo 1996).Furthermore, this opinion leads to acknowledge traditional knowledge which is relevant as well as other knowledge (western). As revealed by Davis and Wagner (2003) in the case of Local Ecological Knowledge (LEK), they pointed out that local knowledge is an epistemological system which is separate and unique from other knowledge, especially for Western knowledge. Understanding and acknowledgment of local knowledge has been part of development which enhances peoples capacity to self-direct and self-manage. Furthermore, the local knowledge or indigenous knowledge has gained a lot of support from international world (UN forums and agencies) related to empowering community through what they know and what they want for sustainability development. In this case, participatory communication has a role to be a bridge for facilitating the gap which mediates the facilitators, technical expert and the local community as the beneficiaries. It creates a climate of mutual understanding and effective develop interventions between local knowledge and other information.

The other strength of participatory communication is problem-posing. This idea shifts the attitude towards problem from problem-solving in modernization paradigm (experts view) to identify problems which has been rooted on local society. Furthermore, when participants do problem- posing they do self-assessment and problem and context analysis. Oakley (1991) noted the self-assessment comes from their observations about situation surrounded by exploring the limitations and the urgency of the problems. Hence, the analysis can be gained through self-analysis, group discussion and identification of solutions and projects to overcome the problems. There are several participatory approaches used to identify problems in community, such as participatory mapping and photovoice.Sletto (2009) argued that participatory mapping has arisen to be a dominant paradigm for planning, community development and conservation super intendance in the Global South based on participatory approaches. In her experience when she conducted participatory mapping in Kumarakapay, Venezuela, she appraised the mapping project for the complicated of the culture‐making which were drawn. The map tells not only about local knowledge but also a product of art, the limitations, reflections, and actions from different people within the society. The process of participatory mapping was as important as the final product. Moreover, it had showed the problems, the history and the hopes of social relations, landscape, identities and power in the society.

On the other hand, when people use their hands to speak in participatory mapping, particular people use photos to identify and to enhance their community known as photo voice. This approach makes people record their experience, local knowledge and their potential resources in visual images. Wang and Burris (2013) explained that photo voice has three objectives: (1) To make people able recognize their community strengths and concerns, (2) to enhance people awareness of critical dialogue and to expand people knowledge about community issues through focus group discussion by photographs, (3) to reach policy maker attention. This technique has been implemented in Yunnan Womens Reproductive Health and Development Program in China. It has purpose to build capacity for action about womens health issues in that area. Photo voice approach posed the health issues problem by photos and opinions derived from focus group discussion. Another benefits to do participatory communication is increasing conscientizing, a process of how to advance critical consciousness in community. In this process, people as participants have intention to take risks for doing social transformation. Furthermore, the successfully of participatory development communication is indicated when conscientization comes to praxis, a cycle of action and reflection in communication practice (Cadiz, 2005). This idea forces people to think critically about what happened in the past and present. This consciousness will be a foundation for decision making in the future. It was believed that conscientizing may lead a shift from information society to knowledge societies and trends of participatory democracy for empowerment. To form knowledge society, critical thinking creates a deeper meaning how to make and interpret information. Servaes and Malikhao (2005) argued that if in the past people accept all information lead all the growth sectors such as society and economy, now people are more selective to use and understanding information to be a true knowledge.

Participatory communication opens chances for them to access and contribute on issues which directly impact their own live. It makes society can become better to learn and act on knowledge .In terms of participatory democracy, Vachta (2010) opined that this kind of democracy involves acitizen engagement to make consensus on policies which accommodate priorities, values and identities of each citizens. Participation is assumed as a dialogue share from diverse opinions to understand community interests. This argument puts any debates that expectation of consensus to balance power between policy maker and society are fail to sufficiently identify social and economic problems and stratifications within communities. However, pro-participatory democracy persuaded that civic engagement will improve familiarity with the diversity of characteristic of citizens and local values. Those kinds of effects are predicted to effect policy choices, to foster accountability and mutual responsibility within communities and policy makers. However, the participatory communication for empowerment and development has experienced several limitations in its implementation. Those limitations are divided into two categories, namely the real participants and disparity power within participatory actors. In the participant category, Conyers (1982) opined that this communication approach has two main questions of participants engagement as follow

  • Do the people really want to be involved
  • Do the people know what they want

In the first question, local peoples willingness and enthusiastically to do participatory activities is considered to be one of obstacles. Somehow, people are reluctant to be participants in the activities that they have no particular interest or which are unlikely to give an impact for them directly. Furthermore, many facilitators feel frustrated when most of people more likely to participate voluntarily in discussing trivial matters while few crucial issues are neglected. For example, Conyers and Simpson (1978) told this case was happen in Eastern Highlands, Papua New Guinea. At that time, the national authorities disappointed of community governments performance which put attention only for small-scale enterprises and for resolving local conflicts not for development activities such as infrastructure improvement or agriculture.

However, when they gained opinions from people who live in that area, they feel the community governments were successfully institution which addressed most important issues in community. As a result, the planners, facilitators or development partners should adjust their mind set and their perception about what is and is not important factor for society. To optimize the result, the participatory facilitators should release all the framework that they have been created and they are ready to receive new information that might not unexpected. In the second question, it indicates that there are probabilities of vague opinions derived from participants who cannot recognized their needs and the opinions what have been told by the local authorities about what they should want. This communication approach also may create a culture of silence when people become passive recipients (Kassonggo, 1996).

One of main aims of participatory is to identify the peoples needs and peoples opinion in order to empower them based on their capabilities. Otherwise to reach this goal, passive participant and vague opinions may lead to invalidity information and misappropriate actions toward social change. On the one hand, people are reluctant to identify their willingness because their scepticism of the participatory approaches result which fails to fulfill their expectations. Conyers (1982) argued that the problem of unfulfilled expectation is a complex problem which has no simple solution. People should be given explanation more about what are the impact from their contribution properly, so that they are able to participate effectively. Other critique of participatory communication is power disparity within participatory actors. The actors can be participants, facilitators, government or development practitioners. As a concept, participatory approach creates power reduction in development and research by giving chances for voices from the marginalized society as an object of development. However, Chambers (1997) told that participatory approach has been redistributed power in reciprocal relations between insiders and outsiders.

In this case, term insiders is used to describe people or community, whereas outsiders represents facilitators or external parties. Few scholars believed that participatory approach may impose power relations when it is transferred as a technocratic cargo from outsiders when the facilitators put less attention to insider potency for instance their local knowledge and communitys opinion in the real practice.

Those facts show that participation builds a form of power within participatory process (Cooke & Kothari, 2001). Moreover, this disparity power between outsider and insider in participatory approach may involve people participation in the broader project of modernization (Kesby, 2001). Participation may be perceived as dualistic approach to power, culture, and the local as a tool to forms domination operating through Western projects. Beside this argument, disparity power may influence the meaning of participatory. The participatory process and its product could be controlled by authority which is unnoticed by participants. For example, media sphere provides a forum for people to contribute in government policies or to give opinion in particular issues. They can participate in dialogue interactive in television, radio, or printed media which is considered as neutral dialogue to facilitate public perception. This kind of democracy in public sphere creates public debate, radio movements, an increasing of media industries and media technologies, and a dynamic interaction among citizens which causes the loosening of government to control over information (Deane, 2005). However, political will of ownership media may lead public perceptions to say what actually they want public to argue.

Previous studies showed that there are significant influences of the ownership media companies in setting political agenda of a nation. The democratizing media sphere for public discourse is controlled by dealing with political concession (Ida, 2011). Even though participation brings the idea of voice of people, power may constitute how participatory approach is implemented and interpreted. The participatory actors have their main roles which accommodates diverse intentions and opportunities. To conclude, participatory communication approach has become the dominant paradigm in every development activities. This approach has several main aspects how to empower people and do development based on what people need. Participatory communication put the equality position between facilitators and participants, equal knowledge value between local or indigenous knowledge with modern or western value, the problem-posing base on community interest, and a trigger to think critically as a foundation to be more develop, self-sufficient and self-management. Additionally, participatory approaches adjust to community characteristics. There are no standardization guidelines of how to conduct participatory activities. However, there are limitations of implementation this approach. The main problems are whose voices that should be heard and who are the real participants. Participatory approach stresses out the bottom-up perspective as development point, but the facilitators should be more selective to interpret voices to be accommodated. Thus, its limitation leads to disparity power within participatory actors and stakeholders. Power may influence the process and the product of participatory itself. Furthermore, disparity power may create bias meaning of people participation

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Yutainten M. Commun


Subbagian Fasilitasi Pemasyarakatan Ilmu Pengetahuan dan Teknologi

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