How understanding  communities drives strategies for SBCC success

Governments and NGOs use the Amplio Talking Book as a digital social and behavior change communication (SBCC) strategy. Each Talking Book partner decides what content to share, including behaviors they want to encourage. To achieve success, program managers have to figure out how to create messages that are meaningful to the communities they serve.

Amplio’s affiliates say that community entry is an essential first step for creating effective SBCC content. 

“The program knows what it wants to achieve, but you have to see it from the community’s perspective,” says Phillip Kinyota, senior technical manager at Centre for Behaviour Change Communication (CBCC), a Nairobi-based organization that specializes in SBCC solutions for the public and private sectors. “You have to develop the ideas and campaigns with the people you want to reach.”

Fidelis Da-Uri, content development manager for Literacy Bridge Ghana (LBG), agrees. 

“Traditions, culture, and social norms dictate what is acceptable or not within a given society. Therefore, when you’re developing content, culture can be transformed to achieve behavior change and improve the health and wellbeing of people by adapting positive parts of cultural practices,” he says.

An example of CBCC's social and behavior change communication print material for the Afya Timiza project

An example of CBCC’s social and behavior change communication print material for the Afya Timiza project

1. Understand the community’s values

Kinyota and Da-Uri say that connecting a community’s cultural values is key to  developing effective behavior change messaging. If you understand what people care about and believe and tie your content to those beliefs, you’ll have a much better chance of success. The goal is to show listeners how a desired new behavior fits into their existing belief system. 

In Kenya, CBCC has used Talking Books as one of their SBCC strategies for the USAID-funded Afya Timiza project, promoting health information and services for semi-nomadic, pastoralists in Samburu and Turkana counties. Samburu and Turkana people both have a tradition of warriorhood. As CBCC spent time in the communities conducting the program’s participatory assessment, Kinyota says the team asked themselves, “How do we make health issues cool to a warrior culture?” 

So CBCC created a campaign based on heroism. CBCC’s Nkaing’onisho and Arwon campaigns (“heroism” in Samburu and Turkana respectively). Campaign messages encourage maternal and newborn health practices around the idea that heroes take care of their family’s health.

Fidelis Da-uri plays the xylophone in some of LBG's social and behavior change communication

Fidelis Da-uri plays the xylophone in some of LBG’s social and behavior change communication

​2. Handle taboos and sensitive topics with extra care

Da-Uri emphasizes that understanding sensitive topics and cultural taboos is crucial. Many development projects seek to address and promote or change highly sensitive traditions and social behaviors. Content creators must approach sensitive issues with care.  

“I am always very careful when producing content on sensitive behaviors such as child marriage, gender roles and women’s empowerment, or enrolling children with disabilities in school. The choice of words in such messages can generate a lot of controversies among target groups,” he says.

Because Da-Uri grew up in Ghana’s Upper West Region, he has a strong understanding of local languages and social norms. He often partners with local musicians and theater groups to record songs and dramas. But if a topic touches a cultural nerve, Da-Uri prefers to handle the message himself. “Whenever a message touches on issues or behaviors that have implications, I’ll write the script or compose the lyrics myself, to guide and control the singing group on what they should say or not say.” 

3. See where program goals and local practices overlap

Most SBCC programs focus on ways to improve health and safety, but what happens when a recommended behavior is at odds with a community’s traditions or values? 

Kinyota says look for ways to connect the program’s goals and messaging with the community’s local knowledge, attitudes, and practices—and build from there. CBCC recently used this approach for a reproductive health project they’re implementing.

“The program wants to encourage contraceptive use, but it’s considered desirable in the community for a man to have a large family. It’s a testament to his masculinity,” Kinyota says.

To resolve this potential conflict, CBCC identified where the behaviors they want to promote overlap with the community’s traditional practices. 

“Spacing of children by at least two years is generally accepted as good. Communities have had their own ways of child spacing, such as husbands moving away from the wife after she gives birth and the use of exclusive breastfeeding (Lactational Amenorrhea Method) as a family planning method,” Kinyota says. “Thus, our entry point to these conversations has focused on spacing of pregnancies for at least two years, and why contraceptives are more reliable than traditional methods.”

4. Test your message with focus groups

Kinyota recommends spending extra time on scripts and always testing messages with focus groups that represent your target audience before deploying new content to the communities.

“Once we’ve determined key approaches and messages, we use these to create a creative brief for the content producers who create the first scripts. Then we test the scripts in the community. We play the messages for a variety of audiences including local health workers, county health management teams, and focus groups that represent the target audience in age, lifestyle, community group,” he says. 

“We test content for certain variables—is the message offensive, is the information relevant, do people like the music or story, etc. And we keep testing until no new information is coming out of focus groups. The content needs to be completely infused with insights from the audiences, so it’s relatable, it’s responding to a problem, and the solutions are actionable.”

Ready to learn more?

Contact Amplio to request a free consultation on how to integrate Talking Books into your social and behavior change strategy.

Phillip Kinyota is Senior Technical Manager, SBCC and Innovations, at Centre for Behaviour Change and Communication. He holds a master’s degree in Communications for Development from Daystar University. Phillip has nearly 20 years of experience in marketing, branding, and media strategy for behavior change campaigns.

Fidelis Da-Uri is Content Development Manager at Literacy Bridge Ghana. Fidelis has over eight years of experience planning and producing audio content for Talking Book programs. He has created SBCC content for UNICEF Ghana, CARE International, Ghana Health Services, MEDA, and more.

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