Transformational communication for sustainable change

Stephen Kimotho, As­sistant Professor of Health Communica­tion at USIU-Africa. [File, Standard]

In today’s digital age, dominated by social media platforms, many communication professionals, including those in the development sector, have become fixated on online metrics such as likes and shares.

However, this emphasis on popularity often obscures the true potential of communication as a catalyst for social change – a tool capable of effecting transformational influence within society.

Transformational influence stands as the ultimate goal of effective communication within the development sphere.

It represents the lasting, positive change that communication professionals strive to enact. This influence manifests in the transformation of individuals, communities, and entire systems, leading to the adoption of new practices, shifts in social norms, and advocacy for policy reform. 

Superficial Communication

Today’s digital landscape is inundated with content engineered for instant gratification – posts designed to garner likes, shares, and comments. This superficial communication fails to benefit projects meaningfully. In fact, such engagement metrics merely serve to momentarily boost online presence.

The prevailing culture of chasing online popularity neglects the essence of communication, which should be rooted in driving positive change and societal transformation. 

The solution lies in shifting focus from temporary online buzz to strategic, transformative communication. Unlike superficial trends, transformative communication facilitates lasting change by altering values, beliefs, and attitudes within individuals, communities, and systems. It empowers people to make decisions about development projects, fosters a shared vision for the future, and motivates collective action – a phenomenon referred to as transformational influence.

Transformational influence represents the desired outcome of strategic communication. Its impact results in positive changes, such as adopting new practices, challenging harmful social norms, or influencing policy reforms. In essence, transformative communication serves as the strategic “how” that enables communicators to achieve transformational influence.

Role of development professionals

As individuals who communicate for causes aimed at improving lives, development professionals play a crucial role in shaping stories that drive positive change. This responsibility extends beyond sharing facts; it entails crafting messages that foster understanding, collaboration, and empowerment among project stakeholders, particularly beneficiaries. To do so effectively, communicators must adopt a more intentional, strategic approach. 

Influencers within the development sphere wield extensive reach and influence, making them powerful agents of change. They can leverage their platforms to advocate for social causes, amplify marginalised voices, and challenge societal norms. However, this influence must be wielded responsibly to contribute positively to transformative influence within communities.

Moving Beyond Vanity Metrics

Vanity metrics like likes and shares offer a limited view of communication success. While important for visibility, they fail to capture the true impact of transformational initiatives.

Shifting focus to measuring policy changes, community well-being, and shifts in attitudes and behaviors allows development communication professionals to gauge the lasting impact of their strategies.  Let us measure success not by online buzz but by the tangible, lasting impact of our communication efforts. Only then can we address deep-rooted issues and build a more just and equitable world.

 The author is a communication consultant and As­sistant Professor of Health Communica­tion at USIU-Africa