By Jana Melpolder
People are accessing the Internet, smartphones, and social media like never before, and the social and behavior change communication community is exploring the use of digital tools and social media for influencing behavior. The MERL Tech session, “Engaging for responsible change in a connected world: Good practices for measuring SBCC impact” was put together by Linda Raftree, Khwezi Magwaza, and Yvonne MacPherson, and it set out to help dive into Digital Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC).
Linda is the MERL Tech Organizer, but she also works as an independent consultant. She has worked as an Advisor for Girl Effect on research and digital safeguarding in digital behavior change programs with adolescent girls. She also recently wrote a landscaping paper for iMedia on Digital SBCC. Linda opened the session by sharing lessons from the paper, complemented by learning drawn from research and practice at Girl Effect.
Digital SBCC is expanding due to smartphone access. In the work with Girl Effect, it was clear that even when girls in lower income communities did not own smartphones they often borrowed them. Project leaders should consider several relevant theories on influencing human behavior, such as social cognitive theory, behavioral economics, and social norm theory. Additionally, an ethical issue in SBCC projects is whether there is transparency about the behavior change efforts an organization is carrying out, and whether people even want their behaviors to be challenged or changed.
When it comes to creating a SBCC project, Linda shared a few tips:
- Users are largely unaware of data risks when sharing personal information online
- We need to understand peoples’ habits. Being in tune with local context is important, as is design for habits, preferences, and interests.
- Avoid being fooled by vanity metrics. For example, even if something had a lot of clicks, how do you know an action was taken afterwards?
- Data can be sensitive to deal with. For some, just looking at information online, such as facts on contraception, can put them at risk. Be sure to be careful of this when developing content.
The session’s second presenter was Khwezi Magwaza who has worked as a writer and radio, digital, and television producer. She worked as a content editor for Praekelt.org and also served as the Content Lead at Girl Effect. Khwezi is currently providing advisory to an International Rescue Committee platform in Tanzania that aims to support improved gender integration in refugee settings. Lessons from Khwezi from working in digital SBCC included:
- Sex education can be taboo, and community healthcare workers are often people’s first touch point.
- There is a difference between social behavior change and, more precisely, individual behavior change.
- People and organizations working in SBCC need to think outside the box and learn how to measure it in non-traditional ways.
- Just because something is free doesn’t mean people will like it. We need to aim for high quality, modern, engaging content when creating SBCC programs.
- It’s also critical to hire the right staff. Khwezi suggested building up engineering capacity in house rather than relying entirely on external developers. Having a digital company hand something over to you that you’re stuck with is like inheriting a dinosaur. Organizations need to have a real working relationship with their tech supplier and to make sure the tech can grow and adapt as the program does.
The third panelist from the session was Yvonne MacPherson, the U.S. Director of BBC Media Action, which is the BBC’s international NGO that was made to use communication and media to further development. Yvonne noted that:
- Donors often want an app, but it’s important to push back on solely digital platforms.
- Face-to-face contact and personal connections are vital in programs, and social media should not be the only form of communication within SBCC programs.
- There is a need to look at social media outreach experiences from various sectors to learn, but that the contexts that INGOs and national NGOs are working in is different from the environments where most people with digital engagement skills have worked, so we need more research and it’s critical to understand local context and behaviors of the populations we want to engage.
- Challenges are being seen with so-called “dark channels,” (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger) where many people are moving and where it becomes difficult to track behaviors. Ethical issues with dark channels have also emerged, as there are rich content options on them, but researchers have yet to figure out how to obtain consent to use these channels for research without interrupting the dynamic within channels.
I asked Yvonne if, in her experience and research, she thought Instagram or Facebook influencers (like celebrities) influenced young girls more than local community members could. She said there’s really no one answer for that one. There actually needs to be a detailed ethnographic research or study to understand the local context before making any decisions on design of an SBCC campaign. It’s critical to understand the target group — what ages they are, where do they come from, and other similar questions.
Resources for the Reader
To learn more about digital SBCC check out these resources, or get in touch with each of the speakers on Twitter:
- Linda Raftree’s Digital and Social Media for Social and Behavior Change Communication report for iMedia. Follow Linda on Twitter.
- Khwezi Magwaza’s article from the SBCC Summit and her blog. Follow Khwezi on Twitter.
- Yvonne MacPherson’s article on social media and health misinformation. Follow Yvonne on Twitter.
- The Johns Hopkins website for SBCC.