The Rome Consensus, which outlines how policymakers can use communication to speed efforts to improve food security and healthcare and reduce poverty, was formulated at the first World Congress on Communication for Development held in Rome, Italy last week (25-27 October).
Delegates provided overwhelming evidence of the benefits that communication can bring to development. In Tanzania, for example, farmers who were given access to mobile phones to get information about the price of rice were able to make US$600 per ton that they sold, compared to just US$100 before the project began.
The consensus says that development programmes should engage with communities by communicating their activities and results to them.
Daniel Okenu, a Nigerian scientist at the US-based Morehouse School of Medicine, told SciDev.Net that effective communication of science and technology is key to sustainable socio-economic advancement in Africa, "especially with the incessant migration of its well-trained scientists and technologists to the West".
The consensus warns that people-related factors can often complicate and threaten the success of development efforts, these include not respecting or acknowledging cultural norms or gender dynamics, or ignoring people's rights to equality and autonomy over issues that affect their lives.
These factors are especially relevant for projects involving marginalised social groups such as indigenous communities or people with HIV/AIDS. Thus delegates stressed the importance of two-way communication.
"Giving people a voice, helping them to make that voice heard, only then does development become sustainable," said Jacques Diouf, director-general of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization. "It also helps to be a good listener because there is much to be learned from the other side."
The document also advocates for communication within communities, through the provision of forums for community debate, and access to media such as radio or the Internet to allow individuals to share knowledge about their skills with others in the community.
The consensus calls on policymakers and funders to adequately fund and monitor communication in national development policies and within development organisations, and advises countries and organisations to strengthen their capacity for communication about development at all levels.
Jean-Marc Fleury, executive director of the World Federation of Science Journalists, told SciDev.Net that "without media that translate complicated issues for the public, societies lose the contributions of their best minds. No society can afford that."