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After 2022 International SBCC Summit, ‘The Work Continues’

With music and impromptu dancing, the 2022 International Social and Behavior Change Communication Summit wrapped up on Friday, capping a week of innovative presentations, conversations about new approaches and catching up with old friends and new.

“I promised you a unique and extraordinary week,” the Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs’ Jane Brown, co-chair of the organizing Secretariat, told the crowd assembled for the closing ceremony. “And it has been a unique and extraordinary week and it’s all due to you, so thank you so, so much.”

“This is just the end of the Summit,” said UNICEF’s Rafael Obregon, a member of the Secretariat. “The work continues.”

The 2022 Summit welcomed nearly 1,800 practitioners, researchers, donors and communicators from around the world to Marrakech, Morocco, a moment that had been delayed by almost three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The participants not only learned about the latest in SBCC and contemplated its future, but were buoyed by the chance to finally see colleagues in person.

Priyanka Kher of Breakthrough India, who spoke at the closing, urged attendees to think about the future of the field and how to include an even more diverse representation and leadership of the Summit going forward. She spoke of a focus on human rights and youth.

“For this to really happen,” she said, “we have to make it happen together.”

The closing was preceded by a final plenary session on insights gleaned and shared from the week. CCP’s Claudia Vondrasek, who led the insights team, was the moderator and CCP’s Tilly Gurman shared the results of the group’s work: Eight key takeaways.

Emanuel Pereira from CDC Mozambique said he heard a lot during the Summit about the need for more community engagement and for making sure community voices are heard when creating SBCC programs. This, he said, “tells us we are not doing such a great job.”

He said that the challenge for the SBCC field is to make sure that programs are truly being community-driven and community-led. He said he heard a lot of conversation about using Artificial Intelligence (AI) to inform new programs and other bold new ideas.

But, Pereira cautioned, “there is a risk of further separating us from the community engagement process if we just rely on these systems. Let’s not replace community engagement with these systems only.”

Said Avexnim Cotji Ren, an indigenous activist from Guatemala, of the Summit: “This is a great place to collaborate. (Yet) we need to involve more communities and put them at the center of this conversation.”

Here are the takeaways presented by Gurman:

  1. Break paralysis around climate behaviors at every level.

Follow the lead of youth and use the strength of the discipline by shift norms and defaults to climate positive behaviors, advocate for governments to take positive climate positive actions and integrate climate into SBCC programs “now.”

  1. It’s our duty to systematically infuse community voices into program design, implementation and evaluation. 
  • We collect the lived experiences of community members in our formative research, but we don’t always include what we gathered from the communities or what already exists in our evidence-based programs.
  • Those experiencing the change should define success and how data are collected and utilized to inform programming.
  • Empathy and co-design are no longer optional principles in social and behavior change programs.
  1. The language we use can drive accountability and inclusion, and shift power dynamics.

Words have the power to connect and catalyze, divide and regress, include or exclude.

The “north/south” dichotomy may perpetuate or dismantle that power dynamic, “donor/recipient” labels may impede the creation of an accountable partnership and jargon may exclude and disenfranchise key stakeholders.

Let’s listen and make space for new language that reflects our desired future. It is imperative that we “include the voices and use language that helps all participate in the dialogue.”

  1. Reframing communication as a right puts equity at the heart of SBCC.

Communication is not just a tool to make change happen. When people can openly express themselves, be heard and understood, they become the principal architects of their futures.

  1. Digital approaches require respectful, ethical engagement.

Given the tension between the speed at which digital technology is evolving and our ability to ethically, safely, equitably and systematically ensure protection of people and data, we need to:

    • Protect data, particularly when working with communities that are at greatest risk of harm when their privacy is violated;
    • Become active fact-checkers;
    • Continue to experiment with software and AI;
    • Ensure free expression.
  1. Embrace failure. Swap competition for generosity and collaboration.  

We should strive to create an SBCC community that feels safe enough for us to honestly share our programs’ failures and generous enough to receive them as a gift.

Competition, lack of coordination and duplication across SBCC sectors and countries limits our potential to improve the human condition and the health of our planet.

  1. Create spaces to expose distress – including our own. 

Poverty, sexism, disease, violence and mental health have a compounding effect on key audiences and those who work to address those challenges. Incorporating opportunities to process and address mental health should be integrated into SBCC programs.

  1. Storytelling helps create meaning and connection and brings data to life. 

Multiple examples about the power of storytelling to motivate behavior change and connect people to an issue have emerged over the past few days, yet we need to do a better job doing this with each other.