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What is Social and Behavior Change? Amplio Talking Book, Radio, and SBC Campaigns

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

A Q&A with Olivier Girard and Cliff Schmidt on using the Amplio Talking Book for Social and Behavior Change in Remote Communities

What is Social and Behavior Change Communications? How can we implement SBCC campaigns in remote communities where access to FM radio and mobile phones cannot be taken for granted?

These are some of the questions Olivier Girard recently discussed with Amplio's founder and executive director Cliff Schmidt on OG's Smaller World Podcast. They discussed how the Talking Book is used in a participatory approach for a wide range of interventions, from maternal health to early childhood education to soybean farming and gender.

This is Part 1 of a three-part Q&A series excerpted from Episode 04: Cliff Schmidt and Amplio's Talking Book: Innovative Technology for Social & Behavior Change in Remote Communities. You can listen to the full podcast here.

Olivier Girard: Amplio has been using the Talking Book as a social and behavioral change communication device in Northern Ghana for many years. Before we get to that, you were in Marrakech a few weeks ago for the International Summit on Social and Behavioral Change Communication. I wanted to hear about that.

Cliff Schmidt: Sure. First of all, just to clarify, you're absolutely right. We started in Northern Ghana in the Upper West region fifteen years ago. Over the last five years, our Talking Book program has reached into other countries. So, although most of our staff is based in Northern Ghana, we actually have programs in 14 countries now.

As far as the SBCC Summit, it was beyond my hopes and expectations.

I'd been to the previous two Summits—in Ethiopia in 2016 and Indonesia in 2018—and those were both great conferences. Each time you attend, you get to know more people and so you get to be reunited with more people. But also, the big difference this time was, of course, it was four years instead of two years because of Covid, and I think everybody felt like there was really no substitute for an in-person conference.

It's not just exchanging information on how we can do social and behavior change more effectively. But also asking, What approaches are we missing altogether? Where should we be prioritizing, especially around community engagement? It's a lot of discussion around evaluation and some great, robust conversations.

What is Social and Behavior Change Communication?

Olivier Girard: Starting with the basics, and this is just a scene setter for those that would not be familiar when we're talking about social and behavior change communication, what are we trying to achieve? What is our goal?

A rough way to think about is social and behavior change communication is sort of like marketing for good—marketing, but in the interest of the individual or community. And that gets at one of the most important questions, which is: what is in their interest?

The best way to do that is to have representatives of these communities at the table in the SBCC design process and throughout the project.

It can be a tricky area. On the one hand, you might say, 'Washing your hands with soap is just good for health.’ We know this. There isn’t a question. We don’t really need to have lots of different input on the pros and cons of hand washing.

But with child labor, or child marriage, for example, there are a lot of social issues.

For us–as donors or international development practitioners–child labor may seem like it is obviously an important thing to address. With an SBC approach, you need step into the social norms of a community and, understanding what it is that they want, ask how can you help them get there? How do you achieve something good for children, for instance, while doing it in a sustainable way that’s rooted in community?

The Talking Book and Social Behavior Change Communication

Olivier Girard: Can you share an elevator version of what the Talking Book is and what it does in terms of social and behavior change communication?

I’m glad we started with the social and behavior change communication question, because that is really the core, important part of what is going on here.

The Amplio Talking Book is an audio device that enables people in remote, low-literate communities – people who lack access to information in any other way – to listen to local language audio messages. The content could be songs or dramas or endorsements from leaders in a community, or interviews with a public health or agriculture expert.

We’re not talking about communities where people are walking around with smartphones. More often, we’re talking about places where most people don’t have any phone. Or where there may be phones around, but they tend be much more in the hands of men than women, for instance.

Social and behavior change involves listening and discussing (issues) together, and a mobile phone tends to be a very personal device. So, having something with a built-in loudspeaker, like an Amplio Talking Book, that people can sit around in a group listening to together, can be a very effective SBC tool for community engagement.

Talking Book content is similar to a radio campaign, but you can listen any time.

Difference Between Radio and the Talking Book for Social and Behavior Change

Olivier Girard: In the years when I’ve been working in West Africa, when I think about social and behavioral change communications, my mind often goes to radio – community radio or interactive radio programs. In that sense, what’s the value add or differentiating factor for Talking Book? What’s different about what you’re doing from what a conventional radio-based campaign would be doing?

Cliff Schmidt: There’s so much great interactive radio programming out there, and a lot of great organizations doing that work. And the content is very similar. The kind of campaign messaging you'd broadcast over radio would be the kind of content that you might have on a Talking Book. You might have a 20-minute drama or a five-minute interview, whereas mobile phone messages tend to be much shorter.

With the Talking Book, the advantage over radio is mostly that you can play the message when you want to. You can pause if you get interrupted, and you can go back and listen to a message again if you didn’t quite catch something or understand.

There are two other key advantages:

First, the Talking Book collects usage data so we know exactly what message or topics people are listening to and when and which communities, and we can compare that on our analytics dashboard. We can look at where is the engagement the greatest and for what kind of content—for each community, group, or device.

Second, there is a microphone built into the device, so when people listen they are encouraged to speak what they think about a topic, to record a question or thought. And if you're interested, I could tell you some good examples of that.

Basically, we are able to get that two-way communication, where people aren’t just listening, they aren’t just passive listeners. Interactive radio accomplishes something similar with mobile phones, but Amplio puts it all together in one device in their hands, within one system where we can compare that data, listen to what people are saying, and identify issues and trends based on what people are saying.

From the ground up, the Talking Book was designed for that two-way communication.

[Editor’s note: Also, the Talking Book is a dedicated device. You can’t go online or listen to a football game. As a result, our partners tell us that Talking Books don’t get lost or stolen, or dominated by a male member of the household—which often happens with radios.]


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. He enjoys conversations on peace, personal transformation, and social change with individuals whose mission is to build a smaller world. OG’s Smaller World Podcast is a personal project.

You can connect with Olivier on Youtube, LinkedIn, and Twitter.


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