Compared to a well laid banquet table with an assortment of meals, the first ever Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) Summit provided a varied menu of knowledge and practices from around the globe.
The program areas ranged from to health, agriculture to climate change. Participants could often be seen debating between attending pre-formed or technical panels. Irrespective of field of specialization, there was definitely (and still is) something that would catch your eye. I know many of us would prefer to hear more about the highlights on the innovations or future of SBCC. However, I have chosen to reiterate three of SBCC’s guiding principles and proven approaches that dominated various notable speakers’ discussions.
User- centred Design Approaches: It’s By Them Not For Them
In her keynote presentation dubbed “The Good, The bad and The Ugly”, the Executive Director of Soul City Institute, Lebo Ramafoko reflected on 20 years of proving what we do works. Citing from the 1999 CSC position paper by Denise Grey Felder and James Deane, Lebo reminded us about moving away from people as objects of change onto people as agents of their own change. She passionately remarked that SBCC should be about supporting dialogue and debate on the key issues of concern, moving away from persuading people to do something and onto negotiating the best way forward in a partnership process. We saw this practically applied in the presentations on human centred design principles to change behaviour and social norms for better maternal, newborn and child health. Ashley Ambrose, one of the presenters on this panel, shared how Concern Worldwide used the rapid prototyping approach to involve Traditional Birth Attendants (TBAs) and community members in the design of their Essential Newborn Care Corps project model. Using scenario testing and role play, the TBAs participated in the design of the project logo, preferred uniforms and accessories like baskets to carry health products. The end users determined which products would be included in the product basket and the ways of selling that they considered “respectful” in the socio-cultural context. This approach resulted in nearly 100% participation and retention of TBAs as Maternal Newborn Health Promoters in Sierra Leone
With the media landscape evolving, we can now reach audiences on different platforms but also reach them differently leveraging on the interactive nature of new media to get audiences involved in their health outcomes. A sneak peek into the trending channels observed from the Summit indicates over 15 presentations featured the use Edutainment mainly through radio dramas, games, storytelling and theatre. Use of mobile phone messaging and social media were also popular.
Evidence is Required
It is known that SBCC is a research–based consultative process. The research presented showed that evidence based communication programs can increase knowledge, shift attitudes and cultural norms and produce changes in a wide variety of behaviours. Judging from the high numbers of attendees in the evidence related sessions, the role of research, monitoring and evaluation of communication strategies, channels and interventions cannot be more emphasized. Those who attended the day one plenary will most probably remember this catchy quote from Kumi Naidoo’s keynote speech; “Not everything that counts can be measured and not everything that is measured counts.” The summit’s maiden Blue Sky session moderated by Douglas Storey also constituted research “gurus” and SBCC experts, to discuss what counts as evidence. My takeaway from this session was, it’s not just about the numbers: qualitative results should be given equal prominence. The process of disseminating findings needn’t be studious and boring. Haydee Lemus shared the Guatemalan experience of using theatre to present quantitative research on communication for Family Planning to stakeholders and communities alike. It is no secret that some health practitioners do not take the role of SBCC seriously. In her opening remarks, Susan Krenn, Executive Director of Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs, emphasized the need to illustrate the strong linkage between well-designed health communication and positive health outcomes. This will elevate SBCC’s contribution to the development agenda.
People make meaning of information in their own context. With reference to the panel on Mainstreaming Global Theories of Health Communication, the speakers shared perspectives from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the West. Regardless of shared languages, religions, cultures and practices, it was clearly illustrated that countries within each continent still had different beliefs, social norms, and interpretation of seemingly simple things like colours. As a practitioner, one ought to look for the SBCC theories that are most applicable to one’s country or project when planning their strategies. The principle applies across all other levels of implementation. Any knowledge is as powerful as its application. Resources shared from other sessions on the different forms “context” is applied can be found at firstname.lastname@example.org, www.youtube.com/aliveandthrive and sbccimplementationkits.org.
Want to learn more? Download the entire abstract booklet at sbccsummit.org/abstracts/.