Creating Messages and Materials for Change
Using the formative research results, program planners should design messages to address the determinants identified as significant to the behavior and priority and influencing group. Messages should be personally appealing and discuss only one or two key points. The information should be new, clear, accurate, complete, and culturally appropriate. Messages should include specific suggestions on actions people can take. The messages that are most effective are not treated as standalones. Instead, they are incorporated into stories or multicomponent SBC programs with materials that address different audiences. Messages can be threads woven throughout materials and activities, and they should be consistent across all activities and levels. As messages are drafted, it is important to keep tone or appeal in mind.
Appropriate and well-designed activities and communication materials are essential to all SBC programs. The strategic design and approach are the most important, and usually intangible, elements of communication materials. Once a strategy is agreed upon, effective communication products, such as group discussion facilitation manuals, training manuals and job aids, television, radio or theater scripts, posters, brochures, and text or audio messages, for planned activities need to be created or adapted from existing resources. Products will need to be pretested and finalized.
Developing communication products combines science and art:
- There is science to creating concepts, visuals, and text that is based directly on analysis of the situation: the people, their culture, existing policies and programs, active organizations, and available communication channels.
- There is art in creating products that evoke emotion, motivate audiences, and fit within the chosen strategy.
Before creating anything new, see what already exists both globally and in country, and also see what is recommended (or required) by the country where the program is being implemented. If possible, develop materials with MOH and secure MOH approval. Most health issues are not new, although they may need to be addressed in different and nuanced ways in different settings. Can existing materials be complemented? Adapted? Improved? Expanded? Used in a different way?
A checklist of considerations to use when developing messages and materials:
- Are the messages accurate?
- Do the messages speak to the determinants of behavior change that were found to be significant?
- Can the messages be replicated across a variety of media?
- Are the messages and materials consistent?
- Are the messages and materials appropriate?
- Are the messages clear?
- Are the messages and materials relevant to the audience (e.g., age and gender)?
- Are communication channels appropriate for the message?
- Are messages and materials appealing?
- Are messages and materials of high quality?
Ideally, and as much as possible, practitioners should develop materials together with their audiences to understand if the messages are understood, how they make use of certain information, and what motivates them to change. There are three types of tests that should be employed when creating SBC products:
- Concept testing takes place among the target audiences before materials are drafted and looks at the larger ideas, motivations, interests, and knowledge.
- Draft materials are reviewed by partners, gatekeepers, and other key stakeholders.
- Pretests and field tests take place among the target audiences when draft materials are available to identify aspects that might be misinterpreted, misunderstood, or not liked by audiences and users.
Before deciding what kind of materials to produce, program implementers need to determine which channels will reach the intended audience. Communication channels include mass media like billboards, internet and entertainment education, print media, community outreach and mobilization, advocacy, facility-based approaches, and interpersonal approaches. Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and Center for Communication Programs’ Field Guide Designing a Health Communication Strategy describes each channel, its advantages and disadvantages, and the audience reached.