Great solutions deserve strategic communication

The desert in Africa is always hungry, looking for fertile land to devour. The SAWAP project develops new ways to fight the desert, for instance with smart agriculture. That’s great! But who knows about these innovative solutions? And who adopts them? Experts from 12 countries gathered in Khartoum to strategize communication with guidance from CEC. During a four-day training*, they made plans to activate local leaders and communities.

Feeling save during field trip

It happens to the best players on this planet. From the car industry to sustainable land use: finding a great solution does not mean you solved the problem. Take for example the ‘run-flat-tire’. As the name suggests, with this new tire you can happily keep driving after a blowout. No risk of an accident. This saves thousands of lives. Number one in the market, Michelin, developed the new tire in the nineties. Major car brands jumped on board. Even arch enemy Goodyear joined the team. But the innovation failed gloriously. What happened? These top players didn’t persuade garages and dealers. They had a blind spot for these crucial actors. End of story. 

So for the innovative solutions from the billion dollar SAWAP project**, strategic communication is vital. Informing about a new way of irrigation is not enough. Facts alone do not change farmers behaviour. To get key persons to work land & water in a different way, participants from the sub-Saharan countries spanning the continent, teamed up in Khartoum. The experts*** made action plans to communicate about smart land and water behaviour which stop erosion. Key principles they learned to apply:

Listen first
Always start with listening to the people whose behaviour you want to change. We often push our own agenda’s right from the start. Don’t! First ask open questions and use active listening to find out what their needs are. In this case for instance: villagers cut trees because they need fuel. 

Help people fulfil their own needs
Helping people to do what they already want to do, is one of the most powerful methods for change. We often want to change motives. We often don’t realize we are breaking habits. Changing motives and breaking habits are both very, very hard, with a high risk of failure. 

Starting small 
Many projects fail because they have great aspirations but did not break this down in a sequence of baby steps. So start with identifying a first simple step. 

Creating a series of successes
Focusing on a realistic first small step, greatly increases chances of success. Why? Because one first success leads to new successes. Change is powered by success and blocked by failure. 

Making it easy
As a journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step, so does the journey to use land and water more wisely, start with a small step. First a small patch of land, then half an hectare and next: scale up. Facilitate and enable desired behaviour. Make sustainable agriculture easy to do by demonstrating, providing tools and seeds. 

*Training: designing all vital communication building blocks
During the training, all elements of a sound communication strategy got attention: identifying desired behaviour change, analysing stakeholders, knowing objectives, designing messages and selecting means. Getting support to implement the strategy was also addressed. The four-day training was opened by the Minister of Environment, Natural Resources and Physical Development. The press was present and the opening of the workshop made it to the national newspaper of Sudan. Sudan Sustainable Natural Resources Management Project (SSNRMP) hosted the participants and organised an exciting and informative field trip. Participants received a certificate for successful completion of the training and were eager to implement the lessons learned & action plans. 

**For more info on context go to:

***Organisers and participants
The workshop was organised by IUCN PACO together with her partners. The Permanent Inter-States Committee for Drought and Desertification Control in the Sahel (CILSS), the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Central and West Africa Programme (IUCN-PACO) are the regional Centers of Excellence in charge of implementing the BRICKS project in collaboration with the project teams and actors of the 12 countries covered by the World Bank/GEF Sahel and West Africa Programme (SAWAP). 
The 44 participants were from Benin, Burkina Faso, Chad, Ethiopia, Ghana, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan and Togo. 

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