PODCAST: Impactful communications is a must to sustain your mission goals
There is no discounting the fact that the long-term sustainability of any program cannot happen without effective and impactful communications. Critical to every non-profits’ contribution to a cause is the existential question – ‘how is that change you have worked for going to sustain after you’ve left?’
In this Listen In Podcast interview, Priyanka Dutt, Head of BBC Media Action in India tells us how the non-profit sector should communicate effectively but urges the sector not to confuse 3 key strands of communications strategy i.e. social & behaviour change communication where you want to see change happen at the system level, corporate communications which talk about your work and advocacy, which is using a communications approach to affect change in policy.
RA India: Priyanka Dutt thank you very much for speaking to Resource Alliance India’s Listen In Podcast Series.
Priyanka Dutt: Thank you very much for inviting me, it is wonderful to be here
RA India: At the core of what you do at BBC Media Action is the use of media and communications to create change. As your tagline says, ‘transforming lives through media around the world’. What are some of the initiatives that have shown impact?
Priyanka Dutt: BBC Media Action is the international NGO arm of the BBC. We use media and communications very specifically to create development outcomes or to transform people’s lives in 3 specific sectors – We work in health, we work in governance and rights and we work in resilience. Now in India we’ve been around since 1999 and the bulk of our work in India has been around health. There’s a lot that I could talk about in terms of impact. But I think there are a few of my favourite stories really. I think the most one of the most recent ones really is around a tool that we’ve created for young mothers or pregnant women in Bihar. One of the key challenges with a lot of women in Bihar is that even though they know what to do, compliance with whatever’s been prescribed is a challenge. So, for instance with pregnant women taking their full course of iron folic acid tablets is a major issue. I mean they start it and then they stop because there’s a whole bunch of side effects it’s uncomfortable, it’s difficult. It’s not easy being pregnant and it’s not easy being pregnant if you’re in rural Bihar, right? So, our challenge was really to create a communications tool that was going to help women stay the course. We created what we call ‘Khoon ka ristha’ (blood line). It’s a really simple paper-based tool in two parts. There is one part that the frontline health worker, the ASHA or anganwadi worker uses, when she is talking to women in a group. And she actually talks about how IFA tablets help create of ‘Khoon ka ristha’ or blood line between the mother and the child and how missing even one tablet could actually break that blood line. We’re working off a very deep-rooted insight around the connection between mothers and their babies, particularly their unborn babies and building on that very deep emotional insight to create something that is compelling. The second part of ‘Khoon ka ristha’ is something that the mother takes away with her. So, she’s got this little card, the outline of a baby on one side of it with these tears drop shape gaps in the body of the baby. On the other side, she’s got her course of IFA tablets and she’s got strips of bindis, tear drop shaped bindis. As she takes a tablet, she takes off one bindi and covers up those little gaps in the baby’s body. And as she completes her course of 180 tablets she watches this baby become complete. And that whole connection, the deep connection between, I’m taking a tablet and that’s helping my baby form and be whole and complete and healthy, is a very visual, clear, vivid reminder. What we’ve seen in the last, it’s been in Bihar for the last year and we’ve seen all kinds of things. So anecdotally, we’ve heard from chemists for example, an unlikely source of impact but we’ve heard chemists talk about how they have noticed an increase in sales of IFA tablets, because even when women can’t get IFA tablets from the system where they’re supposed to get them free of cost, they actually go out and spend money and buy those IFA tablets because they realize how important it is and how fundamental it is for the health of their babies. We’ve heard mothers and mothers in law talk about how it’s really important to make sure that, it doesn’t matter how uncomfortable it may be in the short term, but it’s really important in the long term to make sure that they can, you know, take this IFA tablet, make sure the daughter in law’s getting her IFA tablets. It about creating something that comes from a deep insight but is really sticky, it’s compelling.
RA India: So, for a lot of civil society organisations that invest in communications, or communications tools, I think their biggest problem is how do they measure impact. So how do you measure the impact of your work?
Priyanka Dutt: We do have a very robust approach to measuring impact at BBC Media Action. We do primary research to evaluate the impact of our services or the impact of our outputs and that could take a whole range of different approaches. So it could be something that’s a simple baseline in-line kind of approach. It could be something that’s much more qualitative and looks at how people have or why people have made the choice to do something different as a result of being exposed to our communication. And at the sort of most robust level – with our work in Bangladesh, we’ve just done a RCT or a randomised control trial looking at how television drama along with a television factual program can actually lead to changes in anti-natal care. So, there’s a range of different ways of measuring impact. But I think the one fundamental thing in civil society approaches to social and behaviour change communication is that impact evaluation is fundamental. I don’t think enough of us actually invest in measuring the impact of our work and that’s not just civil society organizations to be fair, it’s also funders and I think the importance of not just investing in a program, but investing in making sure that it’s working, that it’s doing what it’s intended to do and perhaps something that actually tracks along the life of the program rather than just at the end when it’s too late to change anything if you need to, I think these are all fundamental principles that are absolutely essential in delivering impactful communications.
RA India: So do you think that civil society in India is truly harnessing the power of the media to inform and empower. Where should non-profits really focus their attention on, when engaging with their storytelling?
Priyanka Dutt: This is a loaded question and it’s a loaded question because as somebody who is primarily a communicator and in our assessment of all of the development work that is happening in India, there isn’t enough focus and attention on the power of strategic strong impactful communications to support and complement any work that’s being done on, say system strengthening or supply chain or creating infrastructure or any of those other things. The two things, have to go hand in hand if you want long-term sustainability. Unless you’ve actually changed hearts and minds and attitudes and beliefs. How is that change going to sustain after you’ve left? Having said that, I think there’s two different things that we talk about when we are talking about communications for civil society. And this is one of the things that constantly gets confused and I think is really important to call out as separate. There’s a difference between social & behaviour change communication where you want to see change happen in populations or among practitioners or at the system level. There’s a different change or this a different kind of communication strategy, which is about corporate communications which is talking about the work that you do as a civil society organisation and raising the profile of what you do. And then there is a third kind of a communications approach which is advocacy and which is about using a communications approach to affect change in policy. It’s really important to remember that when you’re saying communication strategy, very often what happens is that we bundle all things into one and you’ve got to be very clear about what your objectives are, from a communications strategy. For us, it starts with ‘what are your objectives’. The critical thing after that is ‘who’s your audience’ and how have you defined them. What do you know about them? You know, how, what do you want them to think, feel, do. So communication strategy really needs to be, it’s something that needs to be evidence based, it’s something that needs to come from the people that your, the subjects if you like of your communications strategy.
RA India: Right, placing people at the centre of your storytelling
Priyanka Dutt: Absolutely, absolutely, I mean communications is all about people, right? At the end of the day, it’s not about, I mean yes you could be talking about machines, but that’s not what we are talking about. So, it’s really, when we’re looking at a communication strategy, I think it’s really important to A. distinguish what kind of communication you’re talking about, what’s your objective, who’s your audience, what are the outcomes you want to achieve and how then are you going to get there. So, it’s simple. I think in civil society and when we’re developing development programs we think through some of these things, we think through what’s our development outcome. What are we looking at? Think about indicators of success. We think about how we are going to get there. It’s about taking the same principles and applying it to a communications strategy. Where do you want to go, how are you going to get there, how are you going to know when you’ve got there.
RA India: And lastly what are the communication efforts apart from all the work that you’ve done that have really caught your eye in the civil society space?
Priyanka Dutt: It’s really encouraging to see that there is a lot of work that’s happening. Breakthroughs been around for a long time and Breakthrough does some really incredible work when it comes to gender and equality and stereotyping and things like that. PHFI is a new entrant so to speak in social & behaviour change communication space. But their work with ‘Mein Kuch Bhi Kar Sakthi Hoon’ has made significant waves. And increasingly we’re seeing people like Alive & Thrive coming in to do stuff around nutrition. We’re seeing a merging of different approaches where digital in particular is helping kind of bring together system strengthening and communication and the work that we’ve seen the Gates Foundation and Dimagi doing for instance with the Ministry of Women and Child development – it’s still in the developing phase, but that’s promising to be something that’s really going to be transformative in the way anganwadi workers approach communications for change. Of course, I’d love to say that the work that we do is, right up at the forefront. We believe it is and you know where it’s at the heart of what we do, so therefore we have a lot more to say about communications. But yes, I mean everything from TV to radio to mobiles to interpersonal communications, it’s just so much that’s going on.
RA India: Priyanka Dutt thank you very much for speaking to The Resource Alliance India’s Listen In Podcast Series
Priyanka Dutt: Thank you very much.