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How are Talking Books Used for Social and Behavior Change? Logistics, Topics and What’s Next

Amplio executive director Cliff Schmidt was interviewed on the OG's Smaller World Podcast.

Q&A with Olivier Girard and Cliff Schmidt about Amplio's Digital SBC Solutions – Part 3

On OG's Smaller World Podcast, host Olivier Girard asked Amplio's founder and executive director Cliff Schmidt how Talking Book devices get introduced into a community. Do they belong to the end-user? The short answer is no.

For most projects, Talking Books are purchased by Amplio’s partners and used for various projects. Typically, the devices are loaned to community members, usually community groups or extension workers. When the project ends, the program team collects the devices and can use them again for a new project.

This is Part 3 of a three-part Q&A series based on Olivier's podcast conversation with Cliff. Read Part 1 or Part 2, or listen to the full podcast here.

Is there a typical length for a Talking Book intervention?

Olivier Girard: I read a few of your case studies that you have on your website, and it seems like the devices are often deployed in the context of multi-year programs. Is there a typical length to the Talking Book intervention?

Cliff Schmidt: We would typically say you want to do this for at least a year, and then see how much further you can take it. That whole process of doing the formative research is to understand the needs, how it relates to your objectives, refine that, produce the content, deploy it, then to listen to people's feedback. Based on that, you learn how you should adjust with new content or with changes in your program.

Can Talking Books combine multiple interventions?

Olivier Girard: Have there been cases where a program has Talking Book devices deployed in certain communities and another program comes along and says, “Hey, we want to do this other intervention in the same communities. Could we just piggyback off of these devices and the fact that the communities are already aware of what's going on, and then simply upload new content?”

Cliff Schmidt: Yes. The best use of Amplio Talking Books are when multiple subject areas are covered because the device can handle multiple subject areas. It makes it more cost effective, and it makes it more useful to the end user. Where it works really well is when one organization needs to shift direction, add something complementary, or respond to an emergency.

The Talking Book experience in Ghana

Olivier Girard: I wanted to spend a bit of time on Ghana specifically. You said you started in Upper West. Can we quickly go through what types of interventions you've done leading us to where you are today in Northern Ghana?

Cliff Schmidt: I'd say most of our interventions have been in the sectors of health or agriculture, and also in child protection. There are a lot of issues you might consider to be separate interventions, but get integrated into an existing Talking Book program. An program like MEDA's Greater Rural Opportunities for Women project might not just teach women farmers how to farm soybeans and what recipes to use, but also include lessons on financial literacy and how to negotiate with a middleman when selling soybeans, and also get into issues of gender roles in a household.

What's the current reach of Talking Books in Ghana?

Olivier Girard: How many Talking Books devices are deployed in Northern Ghana at the moment?

Cliff Schmidt: Off the top of my head, I would say probably on the order of a couple thousand currently, something like that.

Olivier Girard: And do you think of them as households? Like you would say, if there's a couple thousand devices, then there's a couple thousand households?

Cliff Schmidt: Good question—more than that. I don’t know if it’s strictly an average, but a typical number would be a ratio of about 100 listeners to one Talking Book. So for a thousand Talking Books, you'd be talking about a hundred thousand people reached in a typical program. I'll give you a quick example.

Let's say you have a Village Savings and Loan Association, or a mothers group, or a farmers group. A group of 20-30 people will share one or two devices. Every week after their meeting, someone will borrow the device to listen to at home, and all their family members listen to it too. Then after that week, it comes back to the group, and the next person borrows it. That's where you get some really big leverage.

How many hours of content for a Talking Book program?

Olivier Girard: In terms of content that goes on a Talking Book device, how many hours could there be on Talking Book for a typical program like what you have in Northern Ghana right now? Is it like 30 minutes, an hour, multiple hours?

Cliff Schmidt: Multiple hours—three, four, five hours. The limit is certainly not in the hardware, the Talking Book's memory capacity is huge. There typically might be about five or six playlists on different topics, each with five or six different messages. Over the course of a project, the team will update the content every few months.

[Editor's note: While the Talking Book can hold many hours of audio content, we recommend 3-5 hours as a manageable amount of content for people to access and absorb.]

Olivier Girard: Earlier in the discussion, you mentioned radio dramas as a type of content that could be uploaded. Does that work well in terms of more entertainment-like content?

Cliff Schmidt: Yeah. Entertainment is so important. In the social behavior change field, entertainment education—edutainment—has been proven to be so effective. If you want someone's attention, you've gotta entertain them.

Amplio's next big thing: SBC Impact Designer

Olivier Girard: I was reading on your LinkedIn, you wrote a short article about a new project you're working on called SBC Impact Designer or software to manage social behavioral change communication campaigns. Can you talk to us a bit about that?

Cliff Schmidt: Yes. After 15 years, this is the next big thing for us. This is a project that has huge potential in my view. We looked at our Talking Book program, and we didn't have a single thing that helped a partner determine what content should go on Talking Books. We have something that's kind of equivalent to iTunes to organize content and create playlists—you know, upload your recordings, and tag and categorize them. But development practitioners also need help with designing and managing their SBC goals, messaging, and programs. So we thought, well, that's a gap we could fill. And then we quickly realized that this is something that would stretch beyond Talking Books.

So, SBC Impact Designer is software to help any NGO or government agency (not just those using Talking Books) to design, manage, and evaluate their SBC programs. And, to do it in a way that includes communities in the process. It's sort of like taking experts in social behavior change, program design, and evaluation, and putting them together in a tool that will ask questions and guide you through how to create your program, apply SBC best practices, and engage the communities that you're serving.

Olivier Girard: Great. So you're hoping to release it in beta form in 2023?

Cliff Schmidt: Yes. That was one of two purposes for Amplio’s participation at the SBCC Summit in December. One was to showcase our Talking Book program and two was to announce this new piece of software that we're working on. We wanted to bring together ideas and partners from the international social and behavior change communications community to help us do the right thing with this.


Olivier Girard is an international development professional who has lived in West Africa for over a decade, working on and leading peace, security, and development programs for USAID and other donors. Connect with him on Youtube, LinkedIn, or Twitter.


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