Four years ago – while working at Accenture – I began my first project with the Accenture Development Partnerships in Tanzania. My role was to build personnel capacity for the Ministry of Health’s supply chain arm, and to develop public-private partnership between The Coca Cola Company, Global Fund and the Gates Foundation. Since then, my passion for the role of business in development has grown and I managed a few other social impact consulting projects with Accenture Development Partnerships. After these experiences, I decided to do my MBA at Saïd Business School, Oxford and to use the year to think of how I could apply my business experience to international development in a more integrated way.
Thinking about the various challenges faced in international development, I realised that often people’s behaviours present the biggest challenge to development, especially in terms of their acceptance of the tools and practices that are easily available and have the biggest impact on changing lives. For example, changing people’s hand washing behaviour does not require expensive inputs, but it has the potential to prevent various infectious diseases that currently kill millions of people. It became clear that behavioural change, more specifically the ability to influence behavioural change, represented a huge opportunity.
Changing behaviours is often a hard, timely, and costly process. However, an intervention that could be very effective and at the same time cheap given its potential impact, is the use of mass media for behaviour change. Most people in developing countries have access to at least one type of mass media — mostly radio, with mobile phones catching up. Through the use of mass media, it is possible to deliver important messages that foster development in an entertaining and engaging manner. The effects of this can be both in terms of people’s perceptions and on a subconscious level (as opposed to pure educational, instructive, or logic-based messages).
In the pursuit of wanting to learn more about the role mass media can play in changing people’s behaviours, I was able to use the Apprenticing with the Problem grant from the Skoll Centre to spend two months working with Development Media International (DMI). DMI is a London-based non-profit that runs a fascinating range of projects using mass media campaigns to affect behavioural change around the world.
A MASS MEDIA METHODOLOGY
There are quite a few organisations that specialise in using mass media for behaviour change. Many of them target behaviours around health, family planning, education, etc., and often work as part of larger development programs sponsored by the donors like the World Bank, DFIF, USAID, Gates Foundation, etc., that have a behaviour change component.
DMI’s differentiator is that they use a very rigorous approach to impact measurement and evidence collection. The organisation is trying to answer the same question I had been asking myself: how effective is mass media in changing certain types of human behaviour? To answer this question, DMI conducted a thorough assessment of each of its programmes, and is currently conducting a large multi-year randomized controlled trial (RCT) in Burkina Faso, focusing on reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health (RMNCH). The midline results published earlier this year have shown significant changes in some health-related behaviours as the result of the campaign.
The format that DMI found the most effective is the use of 1-minute drama spots broadcasted multiple times per day, and a longer-format evening talk show with a call-in component. The methodology DMI uses is called Saturation+, and it has three pillars – Saturation, Science and Stories. Saturation means broadcasting spots multiple times a day (10 times via radio, 3 times via TV), in local languages and using the most popular stations/channels – to cover the largest audience. Science means using comprehensive qualitative and quantitative research tools to predict, maximize, and measure the impact of the campaigns; and to plan the campaigns in the most impactful way possible. Stories means convincing people to change through developing locally relevant content and highly entertaining stories that resonate with people.
I was smoothly integrated into DMI’s small London-based team, and was kept busy throughout the whole two months working on various initiatives. My time at DMI enabled me to get exposure to the various aspects of running a small company in the international development sector and also continue to explore my passion for the work.
It was a hugely valuable time for me where I was able to use my existing skills as well as learn a lot of new ones. I used my strategy consulting experience to help DMI’s management to review the organization’s strategy and positioning. I helped to design an approach to several of DMI’s new programme areas, including: early child education, tuberculosis and road safety, as well as doing business development to scale up DMI’s existing programmes. The highlight was being asked to conduct a feasibility study for a new potential DMI’s campaign on agriculture where I spent a week in Rwanda doing field research and exploring opportunities with potential partners and donors.