Communications for social change (CFSC) is a model of development communications that describes an iterative process in which community dialogue and collective action work together in order to produce social change in a community. The goal of CFSC is to improve the health and welfare of all members in the community.

CFSC integrates a number of theories into its framework, including group dynamics, conflict resolution, leadership, quality improvement, and network/convergence theory of communication. In particular, the network/convergence theory of communication represents communication as a process of horizontal sharing between two or more participants within social networks. In this theory, information is shared or exchanged between two or more individuals rather than than transmitted from one to the other. In other words, there are no passive receivers of information. Furthermore, this theory stresses the importance of the participation and interpretation of participants: it draws upon the principles of semiotics and hermeneutics, which treat understanding in terms of a dialogue or ongoing cultural conversation. Finally, this theory reprents a horizontal, symnetrical relationship among two or more participants, which is created by the sharing of information.

One of the more influential thinkers who has contributed to this framework is Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator who conceived of communication as dialogue and participation for the purposes of creating cultural identity; building trust; creating a sense of commitment; ownership; and empowerment.

Some of the key distinctions of this model that contrast with various development communications theories that come from the modernization paradigm are:

  • Dialogue vs. monologue
  • Horizontal vs. vertical information sharing
  • Equitable participation, local ownership, empowerment, and social vs. individual

According to the Rockefeller Foundation, sustainability of social change is more likely if the individuals and communities most affected own the process and content of communication. Communication of social change should be empowering, horizontal (versus top-down), give a voice to the previously unheard members of the community, and be biased toward local content and ownership. Communities should be the agents of their own social change. Emphasis should shift from the persuasion and transmission of information from outside technical experts to dialogue, debate and negotiation on issues that resonate with members of the community. Emphasis on outcomes should go beyond individual behaviour to social norms, culture and the supporting environment

Community Dialogue

The 10 Steps of Community Dialogue includes:

  • Recognition of a problem
  • Identification and Involvement of Leaders and Stakeholders
  • Clarification of Perceptions
  • Expression of Individual and Shared Needs
  • Vision of the Future
  • Assessment of Current Status
  • Setting Objectives
  • Options for Action
  • Consensus on Action
  • Action Plan

Collective Action

The Model of Collective Action identifies five key action steps:

  • Assignment of Responsibilities
  • Mobilization of Organizations
  • Implementation
  • Outcomes
  • Participatory Evaluation