Skip navigation

Communication for Social Change: An Integrated Model for Measuring the Process and Its Outcomes


The model of Communication for Social Change (CFSC) describes an iterative process where "community dialogue" and "collective action"work together to produce social change in a community that improves the health and welfare of all of its members. It is an integrated  model that draws from a broad literature on development communication developed since the early 1960s. In particular, the work of Latin American theorists and communication activists was used for its clarity and rich recommendations for a more people-inclusive, integrated approach of using communication for development. Likewise, theories of group dynamics, conflict resolution, leadership, quality improvement and future search, as well as the network/convergence theory of communication, have been used to develop the model.

In bringing together the work of practitioners and scholars we have found that there is considerable agreement on the role of communication in development even though at various times over the last 30 years the two groups have diverged. In this sense, special recognition should be given to the practitioners convened by the Rockefeller initiative for reigniting the dialogue and re-examining of the role of communication in development.

For social change, a model of communication is required that is cyclical, relational and leads to an outcome of mutual change rather than one-sided, individual change. In Section 1 of this report we provide a description of such a model. The model describes a dynamic, iterative process that starts with a "catalyst/stimulus" that can be external or internal to the community.This catalyst leads to dialogue within the community that when effective, leads to collective action and the resolution of a common problem.

The catalyst in the model represents the particular trigger that initiates the community dialogue about a specific issue of concern or interest to the community. This catalyst is a missing piece in most of the literature about development communication, which often assumes that the community spontaneously initiates dialogue and action. The model describes Community Dialogue and Action as a sequential process or series of steps that can take place within the community, some of them simultaneously, and which lead to the solution of a common problem. The literature and previous experience indicate that if these steps are successfully completed, community action is more likely to be successful. In this sense, the model is descriptive (what happens) and could be used to describe and explain why previous community projects were successful or unsuccessful. In another sense, it is a prescriptive model (what should happen), one that can be used by members of the community and external change agents to increase the likelihood that community action will be successful. Section 2 of the report includes a set of key indicators to measure the process of community dialogue and collective action.

The model also postulates that every time a community goes through the dialogue and collective-action processes to achieve a set of shared objectives its potential to cooperate effectively in the future also increases. Likewise, after each problem-solving process is completed, all of the outcomes of social change specified by the CFSC model will be strengthened. Seven outcome indicators of social change are proposed in Section 3: (1) leadership, (2) degree and equity of participation, (3) information equity, (4) collective self-efficacy, (5) sense of ownership, (6) social cohesion, and (7) social norms.Taken together, these outcomes determine the capacity for cooperative action in a community.The model also describes a learning process, which increases the community's overall capacity for future collective action, and increases its belief in, and value for, continual improvement.

The proposed list of indicators is a work in progress and includes different types of measurements given the range of levels of analysis that can be conducted. Four types of measurements are included: (1) dichotomous (yes/no) measures, (2) word scales (Likert-type), (3) numerical scales, and (4) qualitative assessments.The first three types of measures can be computed to yield proportions and averages.The introduction to Section 2 also addresses the question of who uses the model for evaluation and for what purposes.We suggest that three different groups can conduct the assessment and evaluation of the process and its outcomes:

1. Members of the community who want to know how well their effort has achieved the objectives they set for themselves and would like to share the results with the rest of the community,

2. External change agents involved in the process who need to document how well a community has performed to inform governments, funding agencies and the community, and

3. Social scientists who want to conduct a systematic analysis of the relationship between the process and its outcomes across a sample of communities, to share with practitioners as well as other scholars. The distinctions made across the three types of evaluators reflect the difference in goals that each one has, and these differences also determine which indicators are used, the methods for collecting them and how they are reported. For example, at the level of the community the yes/no type of measurement and some proportions may be therecommended and most-appropriate measures, together with some qualitative self-assessments. It is important to emphasize that this type of self-evaluation (by the community) is central to the participatory development communication. In practice, self-evaluation is often skipped over, especially when projects are initiated by outside agents who hold a limited notion of evaluation or an anti-participatory ideology (Servaes, 2001).The communication for social-change model explicitly incorporates participatory evaluation into the process itself rather than leaving it entirely for others to do at some other time.

Section 2 of the report also includes a set of two matrices that can be used to keep a record, by the community, the change agent or anyone interested, of each stage of the Community Dialogue and Action process. Each matrix documents whether the step was undertaken, who participated, whether there was any conflict or disagreement, the way in which it was resolved and the outcome of each step. A suggested analysis of these data is also included in Section 2. The matrices also include a space to document the forces that enable or hinder the socialchange process.

Although most of us working on development communication agree that social change can not easily fit into a rigidly structured model, some systematic approach or structure is needed to help identify what makes some community initiatives succeed and what may be lacking in those that fail. For example, the stories in Making Waves (Gumucio Dagron, 2001) are wonderful examples of social change. If further analyzed, in terms of their internal dynamics and external environment, these case studies would provide clear guidelines for communities to use in order to solve their own problems (achieve change) and to enable themselves to make these kinds of initiatives happen.The structured model proposed here is designed to help practitioners in the field to monitor their projects and to facilitate the dialogue and collective action in the communities in which they work.We hope that the proposed model will be applied to analyze cases of participatory social change such as the ones featured in Making Waves in order to discover how they overcame the "constraints they faced since their individual inceptions" and why they "often failed to reach solutions." (Gumucio Dagron, 2001)


Label Value
Author Maria Elena Figueroa, D. Lawrence Kincaid, Manju Rani, Gary Lewis
Keywords community, social change
Delivery Area
  • community education
Outcome Area
  • community change
Participant Area
  • community