Strategic Communication in Science and Technology

By

Lex Librero, PhD

Professor Emeritus

U.P. Open University


DISCLOSURE

I delivered the original version of this article as a keynote address during the 7th anniversary of the Department of Development Management, UPLB College of Economics and Management on March 2, 1994.  I was then the Associate Dean, UPLB College of Agriculture. Please read this article, bearing in mind that it was written with reference to events within three years of 1994, not today.  

I hope you get the context so you could appreciate the significance of the observations made, which were as relevant then as they are today, and perhaps even the next few years.  


 

Context of This Article

The theme of this First Development Management Week celebrations that coincide with the 7th year anniversary of the Department of Development Management, UPLB College of Economics and Management, is “Strengthening Indigenous Development Management Practices for People’s Empowerment.”

Such theme is quite interesting, and from the concept paper prepared by Dr. Viviene A. Gonzales, Chair of the Department, I find terms that we in the field of development communication are quite familiar with.  These terms include such concepts and constructs as proactive, information generation, empowerment and other catch phrases. For this reason, I have decided to digress a bit from the original topic I was asked to talk about to one that I feel is of critical importance to us at the moment, both in the fields of development communication and development management.  The topic is what I refer to as strategic communication in science and technology. I feel that this is as much the concern of development managers as it is that of development communicators. After all, we are concerned here about resources (communication and knowledge) that must be properly managed to become useful in our efforts to push national progress at a faster rate.

I shall proceed to describe what I mean by strategic communication (or stratcom), related what, in general, we have managed to do or were unable to do in the past, look at what we can do, and then focus on the management issues associated with this concern.

I hope that this slight detour, rather than unduly confuse the issues you have decided to tackle during this symposium, shall bring to the fore another issue that must be of concern to development managers as much as it is for development communicators.  

 
Strategic Communication … What?

Strategic communication (stratcom) is a term I borrowed from the Institute of Development Communication, particularly from my colleague Dr. Rex Navarro who conceptualized it as part of the strategic plan for development communication toward the turn of the century.  We do not have a final definition at the moment since we are still piecing it together, but suffice it to say that the IDC has organized a faculty cluster in this area. (It should be noted that today IDC has been elevated to the CDC and stratcom has been discontinued.)

Stratcom necessarily has to be outward-looking to gain something inwards.  It is no less critical to our development efforts than trying to understand indigenous management practices.

If by the term “strategic” we mean being of “vital importance within an integrated whole or to the taking place of a planned occurrence,” then strategic communication must be a communication approach and plan toward achieving particular long-range goal, using critically important information not usually or commonly available for day to day public information sharing purposes.  We can have strategic communication for various areas of concern. To dramatize this, I have decided to dwell more deeply into what I refer to as strategic communication in science and technology.

I chose science and technology as an area of concern because this is an area I feel we in the Philippines are still very weak in.  We need to develop our capability not only to generate new scientific knowledge and technology but more and more to undertake global information search in science and technology.  This is a basic requirement for leap-frogging. We cannot afford not to take advantage of what is already existing elsewhere for two reasons. First, it takes a very long time to develop new knowledge and technology by starting from basic research.  We do not have the time even if we might have the intellectual capacity to do so. Second, we simply do not have the necessary resources to engage in basic discovery of new knowledge as basis for developing the technology that we need to progress.

We must utilize knowledge already developed elsewhere, but we must first obtain such knowledge before we can use it.

 
What Have We Done in the Past?

As there are no available data on this, I shall give you my own impressions.  All other things being equal, and based on the general flow of things, we can discern the following:

  1. Over the years, we have been open and completely generous in sharing scientific information with others, particularly other countries.  We never hide anything. In fact, we even brag about our ability to spread scientific information that we may have generated in our own laboratories with government expense through the English language, which we proudly announce to the world that we are experts at.  Look at what happened with our makapuno technology.  Thailand has been commercializing it for decades now after gain access to information about this technology from both Filipino scientists and students.  How about the case of nata de coco?  Our scientists in UPLB proudly gave freely scientific information which could have been considered business secret.  Our scientists not only gave the information freely to scientists of another country but also did not even bother to claim any technical rights to it.  What happened? Japan eventually registered nata de coco as product of Japanese technology and we did not even complain.
  2. When our scientists or university researchers or faculty members travel abroad to attend conferences, they rarely include in their reports new things that they may have observed outside of their itineraries.  That is to say, they have generally not been active in collecting information that could turn out beneficial to the country or at least institution they represented. Among our scientists in the past, the late National Scientist Dr. Dioscoro L. Umali was known to have always brought home seeds of various fruits he had tasted in his travels and found them good for research purposes.  He always was able to dig out advanced scientific information about them as he was a scientist par excellence.

 
What We Can Do

There are three things that I suggest we can do:

  1. We need to understand better how the Filipino scientist communicates.  To some degree, we have started work on this by trying to find out the information seeking and utilization behavior of our scientists.  We have to do more studies in this area so we can come up with conclusive findings. For now, we are simply working on basic assumptions about how our scientists communicate.
  2. It has come to a point when we must now Filipinize publication of breakthroughs in scientific and technological work in this country.  For starters, we have decided in the UPLB College of Agriculture that as much as possible technical papers published in the Philippine Agriculturist must be written in Filipino, but shall carry abstracts in English.  Those that still shall be written in English shall carry abstracts in Filipino. The point in all this is that if there are real scientific breakthroughs resulting from research done, say in Los Baños, we need to announce such breakthroughs to the scientific community.  But he announcement need not be in English. It can be in Filipino. By so doing, we hope that the Filipinos may benefit from the information first before non-Filipinos do.  Scientists in other parts of the world who may be interested in the new knowledge will simply have to communicate with their Filipino counterparts. Our hope is that the Filipino scientists shall share new information in exchange for some that that they have no access to but which may be available from their counterparts abroad.  In this situation, we shall engage in guarded information exchange where we shall not necessarily be at the losing end. Information sharing, after all, must be a two-way arrangement.
  3. It is high time now that we engage in global information search in the field of science and technology.  I have a very simple suggestion. The UPLB should revise the Form used by faculty members to report on their trips abroad.  We should emphasize, for example, that any faculty member going on official trip abroad must make it a point to gather as much information on any scientific activity in the places he visits.  The information he may gather need not be directly related to the purposes of his travel. However, such information must be filed with the university and university officials and scientists musty study seriously such information and find out what advantages we can get out of them.  Global information search is out best way to access advanced scientific and technological information from abroad. We are not in a position to generate our own new scientific knowledge because we do not have the resources. Let us search and use what is already available elsewhere while not necessarily foregoing efforts to seek new knowledge on our own.

We must realize that every country, perhaps except the Philippines, is doing global information search.  We see our visitors in Los Baños, whether they come from developing or developed countries, doing this all the time.  It is high time we did the same thing as well.

 
What are the Development Management Issues Involved?

There are five basic development management issues that I feel we must address now.  They are not easy, but certainly they are doable and worth doing. They are issues that can ber addressed properly by appropriate management practices some of which may even be indigenous.

1. Information generation and utilization.  We do generate a vast amount of information right here on campus through research and theorizing.  What we have been unable to do is put all this information in the right perspective. Much of this information available seem to be unconnected and unrelated.  Such being the case, we are unable to use effectively said information.

We have also been unable to, or perhaps we have been uninterested in synthesizing what is available.  We do research here and there, but how much of this research is duplication of some studies done in the past?  There is a need to study the literature first prior to determining what research problem to work on. This way we can identify the gaps and work to plug these gaps.  Given our meager resources for knowledge and information generation, we must prioritize the things that we want to do in the area of information generation.

How about information utilization?  You and I know that much of the research results remain useless because they have not become public knowledge.  Our scientists, without having to say it, have decided that disseminating the results of their research is no longer their responsibility but that of the communicators.  Sad to say, we in the communications field have not always stood up to the challenge. And so, the new knowledge continues to be hidden somewhere in filing cabinets and book racks.

2. Empowering the people by providing them enough scientific and technological information.  We keep on hearing that the people must be empowered if we have to achieve progress.  I still have to hear just exactly how this empowerment has to be done. As far as I am concerned, the best way to pursue this is to provide the people enough information on which that can base their day-to-day decisions and run their own affairs.  We may push this further by providing people with scientific and technological information so they may be able to participate in the pursuit of national development. This we can provide if we have a strategic communication plan for science and technology in place.

3. Determining the appropriate mix of high-technology and indigenous information and knowledge systems to facilitate the development process.  We cannot and should not completely depend on high-tech as much as we should no longer be completely dependent only on indigenous information systems.  There must be a happy mix between the two, and we must continuously search for this mix that should be appropriate to our needs. While we can engage in high-tech global information search, we must study and understand how indigenous knowledge systems work in order that we may be able to use it to share with our clientele in the country sides scientific and technological information designed to facilitate countryside development.  Identifying and utilizing this indigenous information infrastructure can facilitate better widespread use of scientific and technical information necessary for social, political, technological, cultural and economic development.

4. Providing the right amount of the right information at the right time for the right purposes.  The new technologies of communication enable us to do this.  We have, however, been hard put to make right decisions regarding our telecommunications development plan.  For example, the CALABARZON telecommunications development plan covers only the industrial estates. Telecommunications in the residential areas would probably remain poor since the CALABARZON plan appears to have left to the national telephone program the development of telecommunications outside of the industrial estates and the population centers in terms of information access.

But even beyond CALABARZON, we as a nation must think seriously about information access not only in terms of making information accessible to our farmers and the labor force, but for us as a nation to have access to information outside of our national boundaries.  We must have a mechanism to obtain information from outside. The reason why Japan is so ahead in terms of information access is because it maintains an international network of market information searchers. Any and all information it obtains is made available to Japanese producers, who in turn produce the goods that Japan exports.

One of the most important tasks for our commercial, agricultural, and science attaches abroad would be to search for information and fee such information back to the Philippines, but everybody knows that we are not doing this.  Meanwhile, their counterparts at the various embassies in Manila are extremely busy collecting information from us.

5. We need to develop a culture of science and technology information searching among our people, particularly our young scientists and professionals.  We must develop thirst for new knowledge, for any information that can help our national development efforts.  We observe that our neighbors, i.e., Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos have been sending out their young scientists on educational tours in other countries, including the Philippines.  This may be an indication that the Philippines, in fact, is a good destination for scientific and technological information seekers from our neighboring countries. In the past, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have done the same thing.  The Japanese are particularly adept at this. It is high time we did the same thing.

The issues I have identified are critical development management issues as much as they are development communication issues.  Perhaps we should start dealing with them now with some amount of seriousness.

 
Conclusion

My thesis in this article has been that we need to have a strategic communication plan and that this plan must focus first on science and technology because this is where we are weak in.  The intention of a strategic communication plan is to gain access to information that we need but do not as yet have.  At the same time, we should start at being more discriminating in our sharing of new scientific information with others.  It does not mean that we should not share information. It simply means that when we have new information we should make it a poin t that the first users must be Filipinos.

I submit that this is an area in which development management must now start getting into.  Development management and development communication must, together, get into this area of concern because this is where we will make the difference in the future.

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