Why Gather Now?
The What Works Summit – why now?
This Summit – the What Works Summit – takes place at a moment that confers more urgent relevance to these issues.
Digital transformation forms just one component of that backdrop. The revolution in how people communicate and consume information is having profound impacts – both positive and negative – on how people interact in society and shape their futures.
But it is not just technology that is sparking a reassessment of the role of communication in achieving change. The development community has increasingly well-documented and recognized evidence that shows that how people gain information and act on it, significantly determines development success. The recent trilogy of World Bank World Development Reports, starting with Mind, Society and Behavior, moving on to Digital Dividends and culminating in Governance and the Law, with its substantial emphasis on fostering citizen engagement, provide one litmus test for this. Together, these and other reports constitute a fresh articulation of how a traditional focus on the role of the state and markets needs to be complemented by a deeper understanding of people, politics and societies. A consistent thread running through each of these reports is an acknowledgement that issues of media and communication matter.
In addition, grim reality, not just intellectual analysis, has sparked a fresh interest in and reappraisal of the role of SBCC. Reviews of the response to the 2014–16 West Africa Ebola outbreak have consistently highlighted the importance of communication – how bad communication made the epidemic far worse than it needed to have been, and how good communication became a central component of containing it. Similar conclusions are being reached in response to many other public health issues – from polio to malaria, HIV to vaccine uptake. If a stronger, more effective focus had been made on SBCC on each or any of these, lives (potentially millions of lives) might have been saved.
Broader political, economic and social tremors are also shaping social and behavior change communication contexts. Increasing authoritarianism and populism, shrinking civic spaces, attacks on media freedom and increasingly shaky business models capable of supporting independent media provide a darkening prospectus for the future. Citizens’ trust in the information they have access to is eroding. Violent extremism is on the rise, facilitated in part by the sophisticated use of social media to shift both norms and behaviors in disturbing directions.
Cross-border movements of refugees and migrants are intensifying humanitarian, political, as well as global health challenges. Climate change, and the growing needs of millions to adapt to its consequences, together with the increase in – and increasing likelihood of – humanitarian emergencies add to a difficult backdrop. All of these are shaping both the context of, and increasing the demand for, investment in effective SBCC.
The reality of the past and an increasingly difficult present is catalyzing fresh energy for the future. The 2030 Sustainable Development agenda is ambitious in its expectations – not only of what states, donors and organizations will do – but on what people and societies need to be enabled or empowered to do or change. Of 13 targets set for the implementation of SDG 3 Ensuring Healthy Lives and Promoting Wellbeing for All, shifting social norms, changing behaviors and amplifying voice will be critical to achieving the first nine of them (just one being reducing the maternal mortality rate). Similar claims can be made for Goal 2 (such as doubling agricultural productivity of small scale food producers), Goal 4 (getting children – especially girls – to go to school), Goal 5 (ending discrimination against girls and women), Goal 6 (achieving access to sanitation and hygiene for all and ending open defecation), Goal 7 (improving usage of renewable energy), Goal 8 (reducing the proportion of youth not in employment, education or training), Goal 9 (improving access to information and communication technology), Goal 10 (empowering and promoting the social, political and economic inclusion of all), Goal 11 (reducing the number of deaths caused by disasters), Goal 12 (ensuring sustainable consumption), Goal 13 (improving education, awareness-raising and human and institutional capacity on climate change mitigation, adaptation, impact reduction and early warning), Goal 14 (conserving and sustainably using the oceans), Goal 15 (halting deforestation) and Goal 16 (living in peace, ensuring access to information and protecting freedoms).
Underpinning all of the SDGs is the recognition that their success depends on how effectively their implementation is built into national and local development strategies, and how much these strategies – including SBCC strategies – are genuinely owned and integrated into national governmental and civil society organization systems. Other international agreements, including the Paris COP Agreement on Climate Change, provide yet further demand for strategies that enable and empower people to adapt behaviors and norms.
More fundamentally still, a complex and rich mosaic of innovation is playing out within societies, with civil society; social entrepreneurs; local, city as well as state authorities; media and journalist organizations and others experimenting and innovating to shift norms, change behaviors and amplify voice.
Despite this, the field of SBCC continues to be, in the words of one report published last year, “poorly funded, under-utilized and badly planned, bolted on to Programmes as an afterthought.” There remains no process at present for effectively integrating the opportunities and strategies offered by SBCC into the 2030 development agenda, an issue the conference will also consider.
At its core, the conference will therefore address some of the primary challenges facing the SBCC community: understanding what approaches work and what investments in SBCC programming can expect to deliver, and making sense of the complexity and diversity in the field of SBCC that would facilitate greater investment.
Over 50 countries attended the 2016 Summit, representing some of the poorest, and least connected countries, as well as some of the most developed. The Summit provides a dedicated, immersive environment critical to agenda setting and to rapidly share, synthesize, and provide feedback on research, innovation, and implementation. As a field grounded in engagement and communication, this environment not only accelerates the establishment and dissemination of evidence, benchmarks and standards of practice, it also is essential to sharing ideas across sectors and countries while energizing the morale and commitment of practitioners.
 This is a far from exhaustive list