An Afterthought: Looking into the Potentials

by Yasmin Khan, Program Director, Bangladesh Center for Communication Programs (BCCP)

There have been numerous occasions when I attended meetings to talk about Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) and found that the topic was put at the end of the schedule.

While other sectors got priority, SBCC got the least significance. Along with many other communication professionals my frustration got into a vicious cycle with an apparently never ending question – is SBCC less important than other components of any development program? The answer that I longed for was revealed in every session and event at the International SBCC Summit 2016.

The first International SBCC Summit was held in Addis Ababa from February 8 to 10, 2016 with the title “Elevating the Science and Art of Social and Behavior Change Communication”. Approximately 750 academics, practitioners and students, directly or indirectly involved in SBCC, attended the Summit representing 55 countries. For the first time, the Summit brought together hundreds of people who spoke in one voice about the importance of SBCC as well as shared their ideas and thoughts revolving around it. A combination of varieties of approaches including Auxiliary Events, Blue Sky sessions, Comm Talks, Plenary, Skills-Building Workshops, Exhibitions and many more made the Summit an engaging, empowering and exciting event for experienced practitioners, and young energetic learners as well. In different sessions, the lessons learned and best practices of SBCC were showcased depicting how theory and evidence-based design could bring a big difference in the lives of people. In spite of its many successes, SBCC as a component needs to go further to become an integral part of the development sector. I actively participated and keenly observed various sessions of the Summit to understand how to establish SBCC as an essential component.

Here is what I feel:

SBCC does not have a consistent positioning which could draw attention of other sectors. As a result, in many cases, other sectors do not put due weight to SBCC knowingly or unknowingly. To overcome the situation, we need to ensure a consistent positioning of SBCC. SBCC is a combination of science and art – this simple positioning might heighten the image and at the same time would help other sectors to appreciate the importance of SBCC. Focusing the science and art of SBCC in the Summit, I found a good start in this regard.

Quite often responsibility of SBCC is given to a person as an additional work who doesn’t have required knowledge, expertise and skills. The person neither puts priority in SBCC nor can deliver quality outputs. The positioning of SBCC might also compel the stakeholders to involve the right person having relevant theoretical and practical knowledge to carry out the responsibilities.  Besides, strengthening SBCC capacity by providing tools and techniques are also imperative in achieving the quality outputs. In various sessions of the Summit, experiences of SBCC capacity strengthening interventions were shared which could be used in wider scales in future.

There is a lack of promotion about the variety of approaches and technologies that SBCC uses.  Still in many cases, SBCC is associated with a poster, a brochure or a television spot.  Other sectors need to know that SBCC doesn’t only use traditional means but also utilizes cutting-edge technologies. In the Summit, I observed a good number of interventions that used various types of ICT as tools and techniques of SBCC. These information needs to be disseminated appropriately with other sectors to change the mindset.

Other sectors need to appreciate that SBCC is not an extra burden but it complements and supplements the development goals. The diverse and flexible nature of SBCC ensures that it can be adapted for addressing any social and development issues, including Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In different events of the Summit it was observed how SBCC approaches addressed issues like family planning, child health, maternal health, nutrition, malaria, HIV/AIDS as well as emerging needs/issues including Ebola.

The Summit left enormous potentials for clear future direction of SBCC. It provided a platform for networking with people from same school of thought. The SBCC practitioners and learners should make use of the network to learn from each other and this opportunity should be utilized to the fullest. I believe together we can establish SBCC as a steering wheel, rather than a spare wheel.