Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Communication and Extension in Action

Lecture Series 1: Communication at he Grassroots 

 Field lecture and demonstration as part of Fiesta celebration.  

            “A genuine meeting of minds may result if both parties in interest will
concede to the other side the honor of believing, at least as an initial
assumption, that its point of view is not merely vicious or silly.”
                                                                                       - George H. Sabine

     Communication is the process whereby meanings or ideas are transferred from one person to another. In its simplest form communication takes place between two persons who are in one another’s presence. There are, of course, many less direct ways of communication, and more complex processes involving many more people. But, however long or intricate the trial of communication may be, it always involves four basic elements, and moves through six steps or stages.

     Four basic elements which are involved in very communication process may be easily described. The first element is the communication source, that is to say, the person whose ideas or meanings are to be transferred to another person. The second element is the communication receiver, namely the person or persons to whom the ideas or meaning to be transferred. Thirdly, there must be the message which can be transferred from the source to the receiver. Fourth, and finally, the message has to travel through a channel or medium in order to successfully make the passage from source to receiver.

     The six steps or stages in the process require a little more explanation. In brief, however, they show and how and in what sequence the source formulates a message which he then sends via some channel to the receiver. Let us take the closer look at each of these stages.

     Stages 1: Creation. The person as the communication source conceives of an idea which he wants to transmit to someone else. For example, he may want to tell that person that he is happy to receive him as a visitor. If this is the general idea he wishes to convey, it has to be expressed in such a way that the receiver will understand it correctly and precisely. If the source is not quite sure himself how welcome his guest is, if he does not know whether he wants him to stop a few minutes for a chat, or to stay for dinner, or maybe to remain for some days as a house guest, then whatever he conveys to the receiver will be similarly imprecise.

     So this is the first rule of good communication: be clear yourself about what you want to communicate. A poorly conceived idea will almost certainly result in poor communication. Only when the source knows clearly what he wants to communicate is it likely that the receiver will understand him.

     Stages 2: Encoding. Meanings and ideas are structures of the mind. They cannot be seen or heard or felt by others. Therefore, in order to enable them to be transmitted from one mind to another they must be translated, or encoded into symbols. Symbols, in contrast to ideas, can be seen, heard or felt by others. In fact, they represent ideas and meanings. Words are symbols that stand for meanings. So are gestures, pictures or music. Even the honking of a horn is a symbol, and usually it means something like “get out of my way”.

     Different meaning and situations require different symbols. The choice of suitable symbols is an important matter, and it is not always easy. We all have on occasion been “at a loss for word,” that is to say, we have not been able to find a suitable word symbol for the idea we wanted to express. Perhaps a gesture or a grimace would have expressed our meaning better.

     But it is not enough to choose symbols which accurately express our ideas; the symbols also have to be appropriate to the receiver. Let us return to our previous example. If the source wants to make the receiver understand that he is welcome to stay and chat for a few moments but no longer than that, then he must choose words, gestures and facial expressions which the receiver will correctly and precisely understand as a limited invitation.  If he knows the receiver well, this may not be very difficult. But if he does not, he may choose inappropriate symbols which could be misunderstood in many different ways - causing embarrassment to both parties. Our second rule of good communication therefore is: encode your ideas into symbols which you are sure will be correctly understood by the receiver.
 Meralco Foundation livelihood program 

     Stages 3: Transmission. An idea or meaning which has been encoded into symbols is called a message. A message, then, is simply encoded idea, and it is always in symbols. A well-encoded message is one whose symbols represent fully and precisely the idea which the source intends to communicate. Once the idea been encoded into a message, that message has to be transmitted to the receiver. In other words, the word symbols have to be either spoken, or written and displayed; the gestures have to be shown; the music has to be performed, and so on with other symbols.

     There are many ways of transmitting messages. Speaking, for instance, is a very common one. Writing is another. You are at this moment reading a message which has been encoded by myself into words, which have been transmitted to you in writing. If I had spoken the words aloud instead of writing them down, the message most probably would not have reached you. On the other hand, I might perhaps have recorded by a message on a tape, which could then be reproduced many times and listened to by many people. This, then, would be an alternate channel for transmitting messages.

     The choice of suitable channels for transmitting messages depends in the first place on the total communication situation. Who is trying to communicate with whom? How distant are they from one another? How long is the message? What technical and financial means are available to the source? These are some of the more important points to consider to choosing an appropriate channel for transmitting messages. In each case the source must make sure that the message is transmitted by the channels which will gave maximum likelihood of reaching the receiver accurately and completely.

     Stage 4: Reception. The three steps or stages in the communication process which have been described so far are all within the range of actions of the communication source. It is he who has to formulate his ideas, encode them into suitable symbols and to transmit the encoded message through an appropriate channel. But once the message has been transmitted, it is no longer under his control. Whether or not a transmitted message is received by the receiver depends, firstly, on the environmental conditions under which the message is sent, and secondly, on the state of mind and readiness of the receiver to receive it.

     The environmental conditions which may effect the reception of the message are mainly those factors which can interfere with proper reception. Noise is an obvious example. Poor lighting conditions can be equally detrimental to the reception of visual messages. Distance between source and receiver, either in space or in time, will also effect reception. Some of these factors can be reckoned with and adjusted to beforehand, but others are simply beyond anyone’s control. At best they can be taken as explanations after the fact when the communication process is broken down.

     From the receiver’s side, it is not enough that the message reaches him. He must also be able and ready to receive it, and that will depend on his abilities, his attentiveness, and his predisposition towards the source as well as to the channel in which the message has been transmitted. If, for example, the receiver is tired, or he is otherwise occupied, then the message may reach him but he will not receive it. Similarly, if he dislikes the communication source or he has an aversion to receiving scribbled slips of paper, the chances are that he will refuse to receive a message from that person or in such a manner.

     But assuming that he receives the message, we still have to ask how well or how completely he receives it. This is a matter of fidelity; that is to say, the degree of congruence between the message as transmitted and the message as received. Obviously, the environmental conditions have a direct bearing on fidelity. But beyond that, fidelity depends on which and how many of the receiver’s five senses are activated to receive the message: seeing, hearing, touching, tasting or smelling. The fidelity of our senses is in this order. We say, not without good reason, that “seeing is believing”. We trust what we see with our own eyes, even though we known that occasionally we may be mistaken and suffering from optical illusions. Hearing is not quite as reliable as seeing. Touching is reliable enough under certain specific conditions, but not very suitable for many kinds of messages. Tasting and smelling are even less useful for communication purposes.

     The important thing to remember in this regard is that no single sense is completely infallible as long as it is used exclusively. Therefore, the skilled and experienced communicator tries to transmit his messages by multiple channels, so that the receiver can receive them with more than one sense. We do this intuitively when speaking to one another, because rarely do we rely on the spoken word alone, but accompany it with gestures and facial expressions. Experience as well as common sense tell us that this a very effective way of ensuring reliable reception.

     Stage 5: Decoding. The receiver, having received the encoded message, must now decode it in order to comprehend its meaning. Whether he is successful in this or not depends primarily on his knowledge of symbols. Obviously, one can not decode a message whose symbols one does not recognize. It does happen, nonetheless, that we receive messages which seem incomprehensible to us, as when someone speaks to us in language we do not know. In such cases we usually try to communicate to the source that we do not understand him. If we are lucky, he will try again with different symbols in the hope that this time we will understand.

     A more serious situation arises when the receiver believes he has understood the message, whereas in fact the source intended it to convey a different meaning. The result in this case is a misunderstanding. It is more serious than the previous example because it can easily remain undetected until it is too late and the outcome of the misunderstanding makes itself felt.

     The difference between these two situations illustrates the importance of feedback in the communication process. By feedback we mean the message that is “fed back” by the receiver to the communication source. Communication is a two-way process. The person who is the source when he encodes and transmits a message immediately afterwards can become the receiver when the original receiver makes his reply, being fed back to the original source, tells him whether he has been correctly understood or not, and enables him, if necessary, to adjust his symbols, and channel them to the particular needs to the receiver and the situation.

     There are many communication situations where immediate feedback is not possible, simply because the source and receiver are not in one another’s presence. I, who am writing these words at this moment, may have to wait a long while till I receive any feedback from you, if at all. A person writing a letter is in a similar position, and so are radio and TV announcers. In such situations, therefore, greater care must be taken in encoding messages and transmitting them. It is probably impossible to avoid misunderstandings entirely, but at least we can do our best to minimize them.
Stage 6: Assimilation. This is the final stage in the simple one-way communication process. Once a message has been decoded by the receiver, no matter how correctly or incorrectly this has been done, if it is decoded at all, some idea or meaning takes shape in the receiver’s mind. This idea or meaning must now be integrated with the other ideas and meanings which are already in the receiver’s mind. In other words, in order to “ make sense” of the decoded message, to understand it, the receiver must relate it to what he already knows and assimilate it within the total information available to him. Without such assimilation, the decoded symbols will remain meaningless. The receiver may be able to repeat them, just as a baby may repeat sounds it has picked up from its environment, but he will not be able to attach meanings to these sounds.

     Whether or not this final step is successful will depend primarily on what other ideas and meanings are already in the receiver’s mind. In short, it depends on his existing store of knowledge. Generally speaking, the more life experience a person has had, the more likely it is that his store of knowledge will contain elements with which he can make sense out of a new ideas and meanings. The opposite is unfortunately also true. The narrower the field of previous experience which a person has had, the more difficult it will be for him to assimilate new meanings. In such situations, then, good communication requires small doses of information and very clear symbols, in short, much care and patience on the part of the communication source.

     To summarize: the communication process involves four basic elements and six stages. The four elements are: 1.) The source, 2.) The receiver, 3.) The message, and 4.) The channel. The six stages of the process are: 1.) Creation, 2.) Encoding 3.) Transmission, 4.) Reception, 5.) Decoding, 6.) Assimilation

Communication Chains and Networks

     Direct person-to-person communication is the simplest and probably the most common form of the communication process. In many social situations, however, it constitutes only one link in a chain of similar processes lined up, as it were, end to end. The idea created and encoded by the original source gets transmitted and decoded, re-encoded and re-transmitted over and over again until it reaches its final receiver. The longer this chain is, the more likely it is that the original meaning will get distorted on the way, and that what the final receiver understands and assimilates in his mind will be very different from what the first source wanted to convey.

At the core of all extension work lies the process of communication. Indeed, the very term “extension work” was chosen by its originators to convey the idea of communication lines extending beyond the boundaries of the universities to include the rural population in the surrounding countryside. 
Mechanization for small farms
All extension workers, however diverse their specific fields of expertise maybe, must be highly skilled communicators, because they stand and work at a crucial intersection of a widespread communication network. This network encompasses the rural population, the various service centers in towns and cities such as markets, supplies, experiment stations, educational facilities, and local as well as national governmental agencies. Frequently one or more of these parties depend on the extension worker for information. If this vital link breaks down, the whole network cannot function properly, because alternate avenues of communication are very often simply not available.

Prepared by Prof.A.V. Rotor from the works of Dr. Chanoch Jacobsen, Associate Professor of Applied Sociology, Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa.  Dr. Rotor was visiting fellow at the Afro-Asian Institute, Tel-Aviv in  1992, as chief adviser on food and agriculture of the Senate of the Philippines.

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