Expectations: from Sibambene Development Communications

Hi - Patrick Cockayne and Janine Simon-Meyer from Sibambene Development Communications asked me to post this for them re expectations for the Impact: Social and Behavioural Change day in Geneva (and virtual) on 29th March

"The need for a comprehensive typology of approaches

We are development communication practitioners, who, over the past five years, have developed an approach to implementing locally owned communication interventions to promote health in migration affected sites in South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland and Mozambique (for the International Organization for Migration's PHAMSA initiative). The conceptual and implementation work is currently being written up for academic publication.

Going back to basics: our experience is that, at the local level, there are innumerable opportunities for communication, and a rich range of possible tools, processes and approaches that might be appropriate. The question is to use those which will most effectively address the situation at hand, given the specific resources, needs, and intended outcome. The situation is surely the same at any other level of implementation. You wouldn't attempt to speak face to face with an entire population to inform them of the South African Health Minister's campaign to have 15 million people test for HIV; but then neither could you expect that people who have limited access to media (or, for that matter, HCT services) to internalise, or respond to, the vital new direction taken by national leadership. A national media campaign tells most of the population what is afoot; those who can will respond. Those in the corners of the country, with rickety district health services, limited access to radio, and facing a stack of social, cultural and economic conditions that make it unlikely that HIV will be top of their agenda, are unlikely to respond, despite that in many cases they are more vulnerable. What then would be an appropriate communication intervention - at national, provincial and local level?

Our sense, still, is that communication, too often, is a catch-all term assumed to relate to media driven campaigns or materials, possibly with some under-resourced "social mobilisation", with a fairly standard outcome (raise profile/awareness, convey information, improve understanding - and increasingly, " behaviour and social change"). The locus of control and development of the communication content and product is situated at some distance from the concern which the communication seeks to address/influence. The capacity of the communication processes to empower individuals, communities and organisations is not often fully realised.

Our hope and expectation is that the meeting begins to systematically acknowledge and elaborate the variables which influence communication interventions: the full scope of what is possible, the various contexts in which the interventions may be implemented: the severity/complexity of the issue(s) being addressed, varying levels of participation, resources available, and the efficacy/cost effectiveness of an intervention in relation to those contexts and variables.

There is a need for a comprehensive typology of communication approaches (from media-driven to interpersonal and everything in between; from externally-owned to wholly community-owned and everything in between, from national level to local level and everything in between, from one-off campaign-type interventions to sustained, embedded open-ended community processes, etc) so that we begin to get a clearer picture of exactly what we mean when we talk about communication interventions.

We also need to categorise the different types of issue to be addressed (from single issue - eg smoking, to complex issue - eg HIV, gender rights) as well as different types of setting (eg. urban developed, urban marginalised/excluded, rural developed, rural marginalised/excluded, etc). It might then be possible to identify what types of communication approaches have, as it were, competitive advantage over other approaches, what inputs are generally required for each, and the costs of these, what outcomes might generally be expected from each of the approaches (and the criteria for specifying these), what evidence of impact is most appropriate for each type of approach, what "time frames" and "going to scale" might mean for each approach. Clearly there is a mountain of research required in all of these areas.

Unless we can establish an evidence base for the relative effectiveness of each approach in given circumstances, communication will continue in some quarters to be viewed as hit and miss - rather like administering an antibiotic without knowing if the organism is sensitive or resistant. If the meeting can plot a way forward it will have achieved much."

Patrick Cockayne, Janine Simon-Meyer Sibambene Development Communications Johannesburg South Africa 24.03.11