Preventing Folklore, Rumors (or Rumours) & Urban Myths
From Interfering with Development & Aid/Relief Efforts & Government Initiatives
In my experience, rumors can come from
A good place to start is with the acknowledgement that interpersonal sources of information play a HUGE role in communications delivery all over the world, whether in a low-literacy village in a developing country or a large urban area in an emerging economy. Interpersonal communications can both promote AND counter rumors and myth and, therefore, must be kept in mind when launching any communications strategy -- or counter strategy -- regarding a development or aid activity.
Also, a conclusion that can be reached in looking at the various ways myth and misinformation has interfered with development efforts is that the more a development activity is seen as outsiders-coming-in, the more likely it can be derailed by rumors. By contrast, the more development activities or government initiatives are perceived as owned by the people to be served, the more rumor-proof such activities will be. If messages come from those a community trusts, and via the ways a community communicates naturally, the messages are more likely to be embraced.
The importance of social mobilization as a part of development activities is tremendous in preventing or countering myth as an obstacle to development:
Social Mobilization, as defined by UNICEF, is a broad scale movement to engage people's participation in achieving a specific development goal through self-reliant efforts. It involves all relevant segments of society: decision and policy makers, opinion leaders, bureaucrats and technocrats, professional groups, religious associations, commerce and industry, communities and individuals. It is a planned decentralized process that seeks to facilitate change for development through a range of players engaged in interrelated and complementary efforts. It takes into account the felt needs of the people, embraces the critical principle of community involvement, and seeks to empower individuals and groups for action... Mobilizing the necessary resources, disseminating information tailored to targeted audiences, generating intersectoral support and fostering cross-professional alliances are also part of the process. Social mobilization in total aims at a continuum of activities in a broad strategic framework. The process encompasses dialogue and partnership with a wide spectrum of societal elements.Another point to keep in mind is the idea of "motivated reasoning." As described by sociologist Andrew Perrin of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill in an article by LiveScience.com's Jeanna Bryner, "Motivated reasoning is essentially starting with a conclusion you hope to reach and then selectively evaluating evidence in order to reach that conclusion." It means working backward from a firmly-held belief to find supporting facts, rather than letting evidence inform one's views. The key to overcoming this is to know what that belief is at the onset.
The ICEC and Global Social Mobilization, October 2000
The International Communication Enhancement Center
With those thoughts in mind, below is a list of activities I've seen reported as being effective in preventing and countering rumors and myth from interfering with development or relief activities, or government initiatives, as well as activities I've undertaken myself. However, please note that this is not a comprehensive list, nor are all of these communications activities appropriate for every development or aid effort:
In my opinion, the three lessons that all the aforementioned activities reinforce altogether is:
(if a URL no longer works, try searching for the title on Google, or look at the source code for this page and cut and paste the desired URL into Archive.org)
Also see Towards Polio Communication Indicators: A Discussion Document, February 2008 from The Communication Initiative (scroll down the page to download the document; the summary doesn't really capture the important points of this document, IMO).
The Debunking Handbook, a guide to debunking myths, by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky. This is a summary of various research literature, offering practical guidelines on the most effective ways of reducing the influence of misinformation. The Handbook will be available as a free, downloadable PDF at the end of its 6-part blog series (which is still underway as of November 2011).
What I'm also wondering: are their any efforts in developing and transitional countries similar to the myth-busting Straight Dope column by Cecil Adams in the USA? Or truthorfiction.com? Or hoax-slayer.com? Or MythBusters? If you know of such, please contact me.
I'm not interested in just urban legends but, specifically misinformation that interferes with relief or development efforts, or government initiatives. And most especially, I'm interested in ways that such misinformation has been countered successfully. If you have related information or examples, please contact me.
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