My good friend Sanjib Kumar Ghosh seems to be a depot of ideas.
Sometimes, he tells me that we as a nation need a Ministry of Ideas and Dreams.
Despite being a finance professional, whenever he and I sit together, he has a tremendous ability to imbue me with ideas for developing ourselves as a nation.
Last week, he seemed quite down with the traffic system that has been created by all of us in many of our cities. Then, he comes up with an idea.
He wants to run short television commercial-like messages for Bangladeshis throughout the year for showing us how we behave in the streets. This he wants to do in order to make us feel ashamed of our way of life.
He tells me: “You must have seen the Gulshan 1 intersection. It’s one of the busiest places in Dhaka city. Given the demographic of the district, where many corporate and government offices as well as residences are located, I assume almost all important people of the country dwell in it -- at least in the day time.
“However, during high noon, if you install a few cameras at Gulshan 1 and record what we do for one hour, we’d document, perhaps, a million types of traffic violations that relate to our behavioural loopholes.
“Either we don’t know how the traffic operates or we simply just don’t care. Care is quite important, you know. A sculptor cares for his or her creation, for instance. If you don’t care for anything, the cared-for aspect from your life would perish.
“So, if you place four cameras in the Gulshan 1 intersection and film the goings-on for an hour, you’d be creating a thousand video clips of the present history of our traffic violations. The government can televise those clips throughout the year on all TV channels of the country. They would also publish the still photos from those clips in all the newspapers.
“We’ll see ourselves in those clips and pictures and how we violate the laws of the roads. I believe some sort of awareness would be created as far as the traffic situation is concerned; the situation is bound to improve.”
Strategies of communication
I believe it’s a fantastic idea as far as raising awareness is concerned. He thought like a true communicator. However, engaging communication tools for changing people’s behaviour isn’t new in this country.
Both government as well as non-government national and international agencies have used this tool since our independence in the health care sector.
And that’s how our family planning campaign was a huge success. I know of an agency that helped the Health Ministry develop a social behaviour communication strategy in 2016.
Why is our behaviour is so hard to change? I believe, we don’t try to change it -- we’re too lazy to run a behavioural change campaign among the masses
I was just wondering whether it’s possible to device such strategies for the causes that we aspire to see change for the better. Changing traffic behaviour is indeed a sector that requires change in the true sense of the term.
Enforcing laws hasn’t worked with us. One fine morning, we decide to enforce the law, but a little later, we surprisingly watch the law-enforcers themselves breaking them. Then the initiative loses enthusiasm, and we are back to square one.
Communicate to educate
Having said that, I must mention the state of the affairs in another sector -- education. Our education seems to be mired with some insurmountable obstacles in the way to become the true backbone of the nation.
The GPA explosion and question paper leaks seemed to have taken us to an abyss from where we’re failing to free ourselves. We need our freedom from the cages of corruption in the education sector.
I strongly believe that communication tools in order to bring about a social change here would work. Applying communication tools for behavioural changes have worked in many countries for centuries. It would also work for us.
However, a question may arise: Why is our behaviour is so hard to change? I believe we don’t try to change it -- we’re too lazy to run a behavioural change campaign among the masses.
Well, that doesn’t mean we can’t do it. We have a proven track record in our health care sector. When we have the zeal and a plan, we succeed.
Now, we’re entering into an era of digitally-driven lifestyle. As a nation, we have also set our goals to become a Digital Bangladesh, and we’ve seen a tremendous amount of success in our journey. Almost every day, either the prime minister or her other ministers are sending out communicative messages to the masses regarding how to become digital.
We can use this domain to communicate to the people in order to change our behaviour in traffic situations.
We’ve tried to change our traffic behaviour by engaging infrastructural tools.
Yes, we need more roads and flyovers, but we also need to educate ourselves on how to use them.
Communication should be a continuous aspect of our lives so that there’s a constant reminder for straightening out our behaviour.
I believe change is possible, as we Bengalis have proven to be an adaptable lot.
All we need to do is develop a communication strategy and implement is.
Ekram Kabir is an author.