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The real project challenges
Can we think at a way to raise the public awareness of the kind of game that the United Nations are playing and about the consequences of its success or defeat?
So from the very beginning it was clear that the project was not just on what is being done to achieve the MDGs but about what is being done in order to communicate them. And that actually communication was a the greatest of the challenges of the global agenda.
Such a challenge had to be faced on two fronts. One is the "audience" size challenge. The other is the communication style challenge.
On the audience side the big problem is that since the Millennium Development Goals are a global effort, our target is to reach a global audience. This immediately creates a big "size" problem, which however can be relatively easily tackled by using a internet based system of communication, bot written and audiovisual. I was thinking at Internet not merely as a big broadcaster and distributor, but also as a platform where written and audiovisual media could integrate and reinforce each other. An internet based platform, used creatively, could also generate a virtuous circle between the "ready products" to be read, watched and listened and the "ongoing" process of criticism of what has been done and creation of what still needs to be done. Some of the finished products could also be distributed outside of the Net, in formats like books, television programmes, etc. But the participated process on the ongoing evolution of the project was really something that needed to be done "on line".
So technologically speaking the "global audience" is reachable and physical distance is no longer a barrier. But the global audience does not have uniform expectations, on the contrary pre-conceptions and stereotypes are diverse and often reciprocally exclusives. So how to the cultural barriers?
And here comes the communication methodology challenge. What can we say that equally appeals to the different stakeholders? What can we say that we appear as sharing the same background in the different contexts? I thought that what really is the common issue is: how can we built a healthy communication and cooperation climate? What are the issues at stake in intercultural dialogue? What are the chances we have for sharing common goals in the international development agenda?
Gradually following this thread we were being taken to a different modality of communication where the priority was not to please a specific audience by conforming to its pre-conceived expectations, but instead to proceed alone towards new territories and then ask to the audience if they find it interesting or not. And then invite the viewers to join the journey and come on board of an open ended search.
To me it was clear that the main problem was that the rhetorical approach that normally is used in public communication in this case it was not working. We need a different mental approach. An action that has less to do with "convincing" and more to do with "sharing". I had the impression that this was a line of thought that had many wider implications and that this research would have taken me deep inside some of the most relevant issues of contemporary philosophy and its general failure to conceptualize a difference between rhetoric and dialectics. I felt there would be a need to search for some guidance from the old master of aesthetics (Croce, Leonardo, Abhinavagupta, Bhartṛhari, etc), but I wanted to do it not as an abstract academic discussion, but as a practical exercise upon a practical problem: how to tackle the evident world failure in communicating the MDGs? And that would have taken me to the hearth of the questions: why it is easier to generate consensus by spreading fears and suspects than by inviting to dialogue and cooperation? Are opinion makers really leading the opinions of the people or are just driving upon the most widespread superstitions? Does it exist an ethical "grammar" for communication? Is there a conflict between artistic creativity and social responsibility?
While taking up this pattern of reflections through the fog of the "big" issues, one clear intuition was leading my way. The fact that United nations had framed its programmes exclusively in a "technical" grammar that had made everything too cold and aloof. That king of social grammar was needed in order to arrive to a consensus and pave the way for a concrete work agenda. But it was not sufficient for raising the emotions of the people and therefore was not really communicable. If we want to communicate the MDGs we needed not just to explain them with alive graphics and rhythmic sound tracks. What was needed was to move from ethics to music, from prose to poetry.
Then how to go with such a big challenge? How to get the right formula to put "poetry" into the bureaucratic language of the UN declarations? Probably the first step is to move out of the "formula" concept. Formulas can catch techniques but clearly the flying yearning of poetry cannot be grounded into lists of ingredients. I thought just to do what was necessary to do. Take the challenge had on and go for the objective without searching for shortcuts and escapee roots. We are going to propose to the media stories about the MDGs that are not pre-cooked in the usual media stereotypes. And we are going to propose to International organizations to communicate their job with transparency and without the usual justification rhetoric. The we see what happens, what are the difficulties, what we will try to do do to overcome them, and we record the process as it happens. It will be like the notes of a researcher. And may be, what we find, is something that will really be interesting. We may fail to find the right way. But it will be a true way. This surely will take us away from the modality of convincing. Will that be enough to take us to the modality of inspiring others? Let's see. We go for it.
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