Well Told Story team together with our M&E consultant Dr. Paul Hutchinson of Tulane University were invited to take part in one of the largest gatherings of theorists and practitioners passionate about normative and behavior change through purposeful tailored communication.
Aside from presenting our work to the community, we’ve learned quite a bit as well. Here is the summary of our key takeaways from the SBCC Summit:
Why do we consider the field of Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) to be critical for international development?
• Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) call for holistic and integrated approach to International Development. SBCC programs are most effective in delivering such approach because they are based on deep understanding of individuals within their environment and root their activities in the community to promote sustainable change.
• Well-functioning SBCC is also important for the government as a coordinating and supervising body responsible for creating an enabling environment for change at various levels.
What are the key issues for the SBCC community?
• The subtheme of the Summit is “Amplifying Voices,” i.e., promoting equity for underserved groups. There are several topical areas of immediate importance to the global development community: gender equity, financial inclusion, domestic violence, CVE, and sexual and reproductive health. However, all of them fit under the umbrella of global equity.
• A key challenge for SBCC is to increase the sector integration and ensure that all stakeholders – researchers, practitioners, government agencies, beneficiaries – can harness the power of SBCC to amplify the impact of interventions globally.
What are the elements of a good SBCC intervention?
• Respect – Communities targeted by SBCC interventions are not broken “beneficiaries” – they are agents of change.
• Research – Understanding not what people need now but what they want now, but also understanding stated preferences vs. revealed preferences.
• Reward and recognition – SBCC community need to recognize people’s contributions to progress and success in a visible and positive manner.
In addition, a good SBCC intervention is healthy, sources the energy for change within the community, does not mimic wealthy/developed countries, uses few resources in a smart way, and can be replicated without on-going financial support.
What approaches work in SBCC?
• Storytelling – Stories are memorable, persuasive and engaging. They help us empathize with the person and the challenge. Stories stimulate conversation among people outside one’s typical circle and, hence, expose differences in views, jointly develop solutions and celebrate success. Stories move people along because they can speak to the truth that might be uncomfortable. They also offer a dilemma, a solution and a path to the solution.
• Positive deviant strategy – The idea is to identify unique microbehaviors that make positive deviants stand out and introduce the same microbehaviors to other individuals. This is a strategy of small-steps, which provides social proof, and stimulates change at different levels of the ecosystem.
• A preferred identity approach – One’s identity combines social, emotional and financial aspects of life. It’s a combination of how individuals see themselves, believe others see them, and present themselves to others. Targeting a preferred identity builds relevance and removes the stigma that might be associated with salient characteristics and visible identity.
What is Behavioral Economics’ take on SBCC?
• Behavioral economics assumes that there is intent to act, and the change in choice-architecture will make the decision more accessible. In the real world, the intent to act is rarely there. Socio-cultural dynamics are very heavy and “nudging” the does not help in moving people from the place of no-intent (rejection) to action (adoption).
• We focus on measuring action; yet, it takes time for people to progress from rejection to acceptance/intent before they even think of an action. We need to find proxy/intermediate indicators to (1) assess the progress from rejection to acceptance, and (2) understand the feasibility and timing of the desired action.
• At any point in time, there is some informed decision being made – we need to understand what information from which source feeds into that decision – i.e., we need to design and measure a journey towards action before there is an actual action. We also need to understand and measure the social ecology of change.
What are the examples of proxy/intermediary indicators?
• Girl empowerment/agency – (1) an improvement in girls’ social mobility, and (2) an increased group participation.
• Domestic violence – (1) more conversations between spouses; (2) joint decision-making in a household, and (3) more time spent by spouses together outside home.
• Gender equity – (1) increased agency of both males and females in the household and in the community, and (2) reduction in males as gatekeepers from key community initiatives.
What is norm? Who decides, which norms we promote?
• Desired shifts in social norms and behaviors are guided by the SDGs and are informed by economic and developmental burden of inequity.
• Aside from explicit/spoken/practiced norms there are implicit social structures defining behaviors – e.g., (1) physical infrastructure, i.e., accessibility of public transport and security; (2) structure of the job market and occupational segregation, (3) low economic value of “care” work, and so on.
• Norms remain the barrier to change even when individuals want to change – e.g., in the study of domestic violence, 80% of females wanted to ask for help while only 50% ever did – at the same time 79% of husbands/male partners wanted to offer help to their wives but only 50% ever did. The silent acceptance of social norms hinders positive changes desired by individuals.
• Many norms are driven by fear – fear of being ostracized, fear of being excluded, fear of being alone/lonely, fear of having to change one’s lifestyle.
• Negative social norms are creeping into our digital lives. AI makes assumptions about our gender, race, age, location, etc. – and then develops algorithms that reinforce these assumptions and create digital inequity.
What are the examples of desired social norms?
– Increase in community’s approval of education for girls;
– Women and girls having the right to safely explore their sexuality in ways that feel positive to them;
– Young couples make informed and collaborative decisions about contraceptive use, including method selection;
– Young women (married and not) are able to chose when they wish to bear children.
– Rejection of harmful norms around masculinity and femininity, i.e., girls are submissive and boys are aggressive.
What can mass media SBCC interventions teach us?
– Adherence to the established SBCC cycle — demand design, demand generation, demand conversion – i.e., provide motivation, enable easy action and offer a trigger for action.
• Appropriate/relevant language – i.e., language used by the most disadvantaged audience.
• Ideal amount of content — offering too much content to the point where it becomes harmful because people cannot keep up, they develop FOMO and drop out to avoid the anxiety.
• Multi-topic approach – talking about one topic at a time is boring and not authentic, it reduces audience to uni-dimencial individuals.
• Conscious placement – content placement should be informed by good understanding of the audience profile in a given space, appropriate language, timing, etc.
Can a government play a role in SBCC by changing physical contexts and indirectly influencing the audience?
• Inequity is the worst single problem across the world. Governments can help address inequity by experimenting with symbolic use of public spaces to contest the conditions breeding inequality.
• Today, 50%of the global population live in cities. In the next 30 years, the urban population will double. Urban spaces offer immense opportunities for SBCC interventions.
• Right now, our cities are ridden with problems. If we want to use city spaces to identify and attack the poverty, we need to construct cities for life.
What are the critical factors for transformational interventions by governments?
• Continuity from one government to another, i.e., an aligned government.
• Proper urban planning.
• Community buy in and participation.
• Communication – to govern is to communicate.
When you are in the frontiers of science, the sharpening of the question is more important than finding an answer. In SBCC, we are dealing with human lives, which cannot wait for perfection. In practice, it is far better to have an approximate answer to the right question than a perfect answer to the wrong question or no answer at all.