Category Archives: Communication

“My grandfather inspired me to read and always brought me books. Now when I travel, I always remember to bring back books for my children.”
Pushpa Basnet, CNN Hero 2016-17

“In the 2014 earthquake, houses with strong foundation withstood the damage. Early grade reading is the foundation to improve our children’s future.”
Mr. Baburam Poudel, Director General, Department of Education (DOE)

“Teaching is all encompassing – it is as cultural, social and familial process.”
Dhananjaya Sharma, Education Expert

The commitment and resolve of these statements reflect the focus of the media orientation workshop organized by the Department of Education (DOE) and the USAID-funded Early Grade Reading Program (EGRP).

Held on February 6 in Kathmandu, the workshop was the first opportunity for 28 Nepali print and broadcast media journalists to come together and understand the program and their role in strengthening the program. Using presentations and group discussions, Focal Person, Bishnu Adhikari, Deputy Director, DOE and EGRP Chief of Party, Edward Graybill along with other technical team leads, shared strategic ideas about the relationship between EGRP and the government’s National Early Grade Reading Program (NEGRP).

Further, participants received information packets with community mobilization and peer advocacy materials, developed and designed by the program, with the intention to facilitate better communication amongst beneficiary parents and between parents and teachers about children’s reading habit.

Mr. Baburam Poudel, Director General, Department of Education welcomed the participants and opened the workshop by reiterating the critical nature of quality early grade reading and stressed all involved stakeholders to work in tandem to improve access, quality and management of primary education.

Education expert, Mr. Dhananjaya Sharma called for teachers and other stakeholders in primary education to encourage two-way interactions with students and to change classroom settings to make it child-friendly among others.

Special guests at the orientation included comments by Ms. Basnet, named as a CNN Hero in 2016-2017. She stressed the importance of reading in her own personal development from a shy student to a confident woman.

Deputy Director Mr. Adhikari spoke at length about the National Early Grade Reading Program (NEGRP) and raised issues about program’s implementation including ownership of the program, lack of technical resources and lack of commitment of policy making and implementation.

A key message that came out of the interaction between the journalists and the EGRP and the government teams was that a strong sense of camaraderie and commitment to this important work was required from all stakeholders to implant the love for reading in Nepali children from the very early grades.

A similar workshop will be organized in Bhaktapur, Kaski, Banke, Saptari and Kanchanpur districts in February and March

This blog was prepared by Adheep Pokhrel, Communication Manager for USAID/Nepal’s Early Grade Reading Program managed by RTI International

We are pleased to announce our affiliations with Ljubica Latinovic and Gisele McAuliffe!

Ljubica Latinovic, Founding Partner and Managing Director of LYAHealth

Ljubica Latinovic, Founding Partner and Managing Director of LYAHealth

Dr. Ljubica Latinovic (@LYAHealth) is a Founding Partner of LYAHealth, a woman-owned business that specializes in communication strategies and solutions to health issues. LYAHealth also provides crisis and emergency communication management in public health, digital media, message development, and media relations.

Gisele McAuliffe, President of Advocacy Communications International, Inc. and Bigger Impact

Gisele McAuliffe, President of Advocacy Communications International, Inc. and Bigger Impact

Gisele McAuliffe (@curiousadvocate) is an international communications and advocacy consultant who presides over Advocacy Communications International, Inc. and Bigger Impact. With more than 20 years of communications experience, McAuliffe collaborates with diverse teams to plan, implement and evaluate strategic outreach efforts.

We are excited for our future work with Ljubica and Gisele!

Story by Adheep Pokhrel, Communications Director, Early Grade Reading Program. Another Option is a subcontractor specializing in social and behavior change communication (SBCC) under USAID/Nepal’s Early Grade Reading Program (EGRP) managed by RTI International. EGRP operates in 16 districts in Nepal’s terai (plains) and far west regions. Targeted to parents of students in Grades 1 – 3 from minority ethnic populations and their teachers. Another Option and its research partner, GTA, conducted qualitative research among these target audiences. The qualitative research findings were used to develop messages and the SBCC strategy.
 
A Message Development Meeting called by the Department of Education was held on February 8, 2016.

What do you say to parents to encourage them to support their children in early grade reading, or to be engaged in their children’s early grade reading program?

Turning correct information into memorable and effective communication messages is not as easy as it might first appear. The Department of Education and USAID’s Early Grade Reading Program (EGRP) organized a Stakeholder’s Message Development Meeting held on February 8th to develop key messages that will be used in radio advertisements, social mobilization and a communication campaign targeted to parents, teachers and key stakeholders.

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Representatives from the Central Line Agencies (CLA) and the EGRP communication team worked together to develop messages that combined parents’ and teachers’ personal goals with desired behaviors.  The participants actively engaged in the message development session and produced a series of creative messages that reinforced positive behaviors and came in many forms, including songs, poems and rhyming verse and even a promise of a peaceful and happy life.

The meeting was led by Mr. Bishnu Adhikari, Deputy Director, Department of Education. In his remarks he emphasized the role of the media and education journalists in mobilizing communities to promote early grade reading, and the need for correct messages.

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Mr. Madhav Prasad Dahal, Deputy Director, Distance and Open Learning Unit, NCED, said in his formal remarks, “My office welcomes collaboration with EGRP to develop radio Public Service Announcements for early grade reading that will be aired on national radio. My staff is available to work with EGRP.”

Through community and media mobilization, EGRP will focus on building understanding of the importance of children reading in their first language among parents and communities, as well as engaging parents and community-based organizations in evidence-based practices to support young readers.

The meeting was held at the National Center for Education Development (NCED) in Bhaktapur. Participants included government officials from the Central Line Agencies (CLAs) and the EGRP communication team.

Insights from personal observations and interactions with two ethnic communities in Sekong province.

September 30, 2015. By Cecile Lantican.

Sekong Province, Lao People’s Democratic Republic – Early in the morning, our team traveled to Sekong province. With less than 100,000 residents, Sekong is the second smallest province in Lao. It is also one of the poorest. Sekong province is located in one of the most remote areas in Lao: most of the province’s 42 villages are inaccessible by road because the infrastructure has been poorly developed.

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Sekong province, Lao PDR

Our mission was to pre-test communication campaign concepts, materials, and messages for the Lao government’s sanitation program among representative audiences in two rural communities. The district coordinator of the Center of Information and Education for Health (CIEH) arranged for our group to meet villagers of Toungkeo in the Lamam district. Lamam, which means “lowland plain,” is one of the four districts in the province.

The ferry we took en route to Ban Tok Ong Keo.

The ferry we took en route to Ban Tok Ong Keo.

From the ferry station, we drove through rugged terrain and winding mountain slopes. We passed by three small streams that indicated the richness of the water reservoir further up in the hills. It was almost midday when we finally reached Ban Tok Ong Keo. Four staff of the village health center greeted us and joined us for a quick packed lunch.

One of the streams we passed.

One of the streams we passed.

Nestled in between the undulating mountain slopes, the village was covered by lush vegetation following the recent rains. The air was hot and humid. We noted electrical posts in the village, but none of the houses were connected to the main lines. There was no mobile signal and our phones did not work. Considering the distance we traveled, I could imagine how tedious and expensive it would be for latrine sales agents or businessmen to travel here with their latrine products and supplies.  Sales agent never reached this village.

Sekong province is very remote.

Sekong province is very remote.

Almost all of the houses followed a similar construction design: they were made of wood and standing on stilts. Under the houses, we noticed piles of firewood and free-range animals like pigs, goats and cows. Villagers also use the space under these houses as work and rest areas.

A typical house in Ban Tok Ong Keo.

A typical house in Ban Tok Ong Keo.

We proceeded to the house where we would meet our pre-test participants, who had been waiting for us since that morning.

Ethnicity and Language

Sekong province is ethnically diverse. There are 14 ethnic minority groups, and only three percent of the population is Lao Loum. While the government verbally recognizes the use of ethnic languages, it officially encourages people to read and write only in ethnic Lao Loum.

Village women and children.

Village women and children.

 These villagers belong to the Alak ethnic minority, which reportedly constitutes 21 percent of the province’s population. The government categorically includes them among the “Lao Theung” ethnic group, the “mid-slope Lao.” The Alak women are known for weaving unique and high quality Lao “sin” (skirts).

A group of 12 women was assembled to meet us in one of the houses.  The field coordinators explained that people are shy about talking to foreigners, so we did not ask for their names out of respect for cultural sensitivity. Instead, we noted their ages and education levels. We asked the most senior woman her age.  She said,  “I [am] maybe between 50 to 60 years old.” She could not remember her birthday. This is common among Laotians; people do not always know their birthdays and in practice, a majority do not celebrate birthdays. When asked about the names of her 19 children, she could not remember them all.  But she claimed that all 19 children and her grandchildren from her three married daughters are living with her in one house.

Women participants in Ban Tok Ong Keo.

Women participants in Ban Tok Ong Keo.

Most of the women pre-test participants spoke limited Lao language. Only three women could read Lao characters. These women reported that they had reached fourth grade in the primary school before leaving school. The rest of the women had reached only the second grade.

The government built their houses. This could explain why the majority of the houses had similar architecture. One elderly male neighbor said,  “A few years ago, the government resettled us to our present location. We used to stay in a much lower ground along the river. But every time it rained, the river overflowed. We experienced flooding.” As a result, the government built their houses in higher plains and provided gravity-fed water to a cluster of households.

The government also built a latrine for every family. But as the number of families grew over the years, others did not build more toilets. Older villagers in particular reverted to open defecation.

A government-built latrine.

A government-built latrine.

In the neighboring village of Ban Nava Kang, we met eight Alak women. None of them had attended school. They could speak very limited Lao, but could not read Lao characters. Two of the older women were asked of their age. Like the older woman in Ban Tok Ong Keo, they could not also tell us their real ages and birthdays.

Households in this village do not have latrines. We were informed that everyone goes to the open field to defecate. This observation was validated by our pre-test materials.

 Rethinking our BCC Materials and Messages for Sanitation

Among the four communities where we tested the proposed campaign concepts, messages and materials, the responses of villagers from Ban Tok Ong Keo and Ban Nava Kang led us to believe that open defecation is strongly related to factors specific to the culture of groups that practice it. The Alak villagers we met have particular ways of thinking about latrines, and they reacted to situations or events as they understood them.

Men participating in our pre-test.

Men studying our initial communication materials.

The Alak villagers of Ban Tok Ong Keo did not maximally use the pour-flush latrines built by the government. The men respondents suggested the following reasons for this disuse:

  • It is a hassle to collect water before defecating.
  • The water source is too far from their houses.
  • They would need to carry a lot of water because they have to clean the latrine after using it. If they do not clean it, it will smell bad because it is near their house.
  • They prefer to defecate in the open because they can do so easily. Feces will dry up quickly outside in the heat, rather than in a confined and unpleasant-smelling toilet.
  • They worry that neighbors will notice them walking to use the toilet.
  • They prefer the privacy offered by defecating in the bush instead of at home.

The Alak men agreed that latrines would help ensure their daughters’ safety, but the current structure of their toilets does not offer privacy. The Alak women of Ban Nava Kang told us that our visual showing the girl who feels the need to relieve herself was a woman who feels the pain of giving birth. After further probing, one of the women associated the girl’s stomach ache with “diarrhea” from eating unclean food.

Pre-testing our communications materials.

Pre-testing our communications materials.

These two Alak communities showed us that having a latrine was not among competing priorities of their daily needs. The open field where they defecated was seen as more convenient than a latrine. The open field was big, unlike the very small, closed, and hot latrines.

Open defecation has been part of their culture. It is a behavior that they have acquired over time. Hence, these communities could be resistant to changing their sanitation practices. They may choose to stop open defection, but it may take time.

The environmental conditions surrounding these villages further shaped their attitudes in favor of open defecation. In Ban Tok Ong Keo, the geophysical conditions of the village make latrine construction difficult. The soil can be too hard, and the ground water is sometimes too low. Thus, villagers were not motivated to construct new latrines.

This pre-test experience taught us valuable lessons about our communication approach to change sanitation practices among ethno-linguistic populations. It led us to strengthen the effectiveness of our approach by making it adaptive to specific local contexts.

Initially, our team agreed that a communication campaign to improve the sanitation practices of Lao communities like the Alak would require:

  • Determining the socio-cultural beliefs and ecological/environmental context of target communities,
  • Identifying the relevant communication networks, decision-making processes, and social leadership that could be utilized by the community to facilitate change, and
  • Identifying and building the capacity for trusted sources of information in the community.
CAPTION

We left Sekong province with valuable insights.


The National Centre for Environmental Health and Water Supply together with the World Bank’s Water and Sanitation Program and other development organizations have partnered with Another Option, LLC to create a series of communication products that will help to inspire the use of improved sanitation facilities in rural areas.

DENGUE

 

When you’re getting ready for a quick summer break to Florida the glaring headline that there are 81 known cases of chikungunya* (chik-en-gun-ye) being reported in Florida does bring you up short….especially when your day job includes prevention communication on neglected tropical diseases.

Though the cases are reportedly from people who recently visited the Caribbean it still has not been a virus that is prevalent in this hemisphere….and not in the US.

I hope they all get well soon…and that the mosquitoes stayed there and not here.

In the meantime….just in case….

Prevention

And the prevention guidelines are:
• Clean up standing water around yards and homes so mosquitoes do not have a place to breed
• Put up screens on windows and doors
• Wear long sleeves and long pants when out at night – when mosquitoes are prone to bite
• And if you don’t wear long pants and sleeves….use an insect repellant

Be safe.

…As for  me, I’m rethinking my packing.

* Chikungunya is a virus transmitted to people by mosquitoes. The most common symptoms of chikungunya virus infection are fever and joint pain. There is no vaccine to prevent or medicine to treat chikungunya virus infection. Travelers can protect themselves by preventing mosquito bites. Centers for Disease Control website

Picture is from Naples Daily News 2014…I hope it is the right mosquito!

g4c

I really don’t go to conferences any more…they are usually repackaged versions of the same old topics with the same old speakers. But attending the 11th Annual Games for Change Festival in New York last week was a breath of fresh air. There was no exhibition hall at G4C …only an entrance hall filled with gaming consoles and lots on interesting games to play. The audience was fun, smart and very causal and yes I did see a few participants with Google glasses!

The topics were diverse and fascinating. Some random observations:

  • Social games can deal with serious topics but at the end of the day they must be exciting, challenging and fun if they are going to engage players and keep their attention. Interesting games can cover serious topics.
  • A handful of presentations analyzed award winning games such as Papers, Please, Gone Home and Games for Peace. On the surface they appear to be interesting “play” games, yet on closer examination, presenters explained that they are constructed to engage players in more serious issues such as ethical decision making, developing empathy, roll playing behaviors, and teamwork.
  •  A hot topic discussed at the conference was using research to develop and refine games. Opinions on this topic were shared throughout the meeting.  Some developers had no use for research.   Other, especially those game developers who had worked in teams with educators or health providers such as Planned Parenthood supported the important role of research in getting the content right. It reminded me of trying to get creative directors at an ad agency to pretest their ads. Sigh.
  •  Most games for girls fall into two categories: makeup and dress up or educational games.  In a study of girls ages 8-14 presented by Rajal Pitroda, girls interviewed stated they wanted more variety; games that reflected their interests: adventure, sports even “shooter” games. They also wanted more variety in the girl characters that are portrayed in games. Seems to me there is a big untapped market there.

I sat in on some panels on using games to cultivate creativity and innovation in schools, make math fun and even promote conflict resolution in the Middle East among young adults. I learned that PBS has reincarnated Mr. Rodgers as a cartoon tiger called Daniel Tiger. He stills wears the cardigan sweater but it is just not the same.

I also learned that parents whose kids play games are the same as parents whose kids surf the internet and parents whose kids watched television. They worry about the time their kids spend playing games; they worry about the effect of games on their brain and personality; they limit the time they can play and they encourage them to go outside and play.

To find out more about the conference go to: http://gamesforchange.org/festival/.

It is easy to forget that behavior change theories and principles can be applied effectively to energy conservation and climate change as it is to disease prevention.

What is amazing to me is that what we’ve been doing in global and domestic health for more than 40 years has not crossed over into the energy and environmental sectors as much as it should have.
This became apparent when I participate at a panel session at the American Council for Energy Efficiency Conference in Baltimore on 31 March.

As background, Another Option was invited by its colleagues at Cadmus to be on the A Shift in Perspective: From Measures to Customers panel and to present examples and experiences of successful behavior change from another sector. Public health has been applying behavior change for years and that’s our primary sector….so it was quite fun and revealing to participate.

Though I’ve done behavior change for energy efficiency and climate change in Africa what I learned at the conference about US consumers was very interesting:

I learned there are over 21 actions a person can take to be energy efficient….wonder how many there are for staying healthy?
But several of these are one-time behaviors…such as recycling old appliances, participating in a home energy analysis, or upgrading HVAC and water heating systems. Then there are the others that require on- going actions — controlling electrical use, purchasing the energy efficient appliance, and buying and loving the new light bulbs.

On paper it seems so obvious because economics or policy have changed our selection options or pocketbook choices. Appliances are more efficient in its water and heating usage; the new light bulbs have replaced the old amid grumbles and complaints; and energy isn’t cheap so keeping the windows closed and thermostat down is a no-brainer.

But for the other less regulated choices the energy companies need to know more about their consumers and users. What has been missing is an analysis of solid consumer research and segmentation by practices and behaviors, gender, geographic areas that tell us about the energy consumers and the environment that they live in – whether it supports or discourages good consumers’ behaviors.

This attention to understanding consumers is a fairly recent trend for the energy efficiency sector, and there was great interest in the programs discussed in the session. But it still is a hard sell. As it was in health. Even now we hear “just tell them and they’ll do it.”

Hmmmm….I don’t think the data supports that.

energy efficiency

“Big data is companies knowing things about our behavior almost before we’re aware of them ourselves.”

Kai Ryssdal, American Public Media, Marketplace

When did the current rush to turn data into pictures begin?

Perhaps it was when Hans Rosling wowed the world from the TED stage in 2006 with his dramatic data visualizations of global development myths. Data visualization has been around for millennia, of course, and Ren Descartes is credited for inventing the notion of graphing data in the 17th century.  Bar and pie charts followed in the late-18th/early 19th centuries, thanks in large part to the hard work of William Playfair, a Scottish social scientist, according to Stephen Few, author of “Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data.”

As Few details in his excellent white paper on data visualization’s past, present and future, the field exploded in the 1980s thanks to Edward Tufte’s seminal work, “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” in 1983, and Apple’s debut of its personal computer.  Suddenly, everyman could become a wizard of telling data stories through pictures.

Now, of course, there’s an app for that, and everyman/woman can make a graphic and via social media share it with an audience of potentially millions in seconds.  Twitter and Instagram are alive with maps, graphs and doodles. The quality of our data imagery varies greatly, but strong pictures are emerging, and we’ve never had better opportunities to literally have a picture of our collective behaviors.

The results are fascinating: The Chinese search engine Baidu heat mapped the migration pattern of millions of Chinese as they trooped home to celebrate the New Year in January.

 

Graphic: Baidu

Graphic: Baidu

And Mediabistro’s “A Day in the Life of the Internet” chronicled how billions of people spend their time each and every day. We could go on.  

On a more serious note, Dan Munroe pointed out in Forbes.com recently, seeing outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases on a map – this one, a world map from the Council on Foreign Relations —  is brightly colored yet hard-hitting proof of the damage of the behavior of refusing vaccines.

Graphic: Council on Foreign Relations

Graphic: Council on Foreign Relations

 

Mobile phone data in particular may be priceless information for development, as a technology pervasive in developing markets.  One mobile carrier analysis showed where folks needed buses in Abidjan, leading to a rework of the city’s transport system. Another mHealth data analysis showed how human travel leads to the spread of malaria.

What does this mean for those of us involved in measuring and changing behaviors? For one, graphic data leads to greater awareness, particularly as information flows across social and mobile media.  We like shiny, pretty things.  And what makes good data visualizations? Some schools, including Harvard and MIT, are helping us move toward a more scientific understanding of what makes visualized data memorable, and the Rhode Island School of Design is working on how best to put across complex scientific concepts.

And as we become more sophisticated in creating good graphics, with an evidence-based understanding of what truly imparts information, we’ll be that much better in conveying ideas in ways that transcend cultural and even language barriers – and changing behavior on a visible, grand scale.

Being in Washington has professional advantages. We are assailed by all types of communication on a variety of issues—advocacy, mobilization, public awareness, and, too often, crisis.

It isn’t unusual for these types of communication campaigns to happen concurrently and for different issues.

Some of the best strategic communication thinkers are here in Washington and we get to see their talents on display in the traditional news, digital media, and on the street (spontaneous protest are not so spontaneous).

Credit: CQ Roll Call

Credit: CQ Roll Call

Unfortunately, we also get to regularly witness some heavy-handed or non-strategic communication…

And this week has been a good example of that.

The www.healthcare.gov website finger-pointing went to the Hill today…and it was a vivid reminder of what not to do when handling a major crisis situation.

For those fortunate enough never to have had to deal with crisis communication, here are the basics of crisis management:

Step 1: Admit Wrong. You wouldn’t be here if something didn’t go haywire.

Step 2: Take responsibility for the situation. Don’t blame others. This is especially true when your client is the US Government (Just saying). Explain what the problem is in simple and clear language.

Step 3: Explain how you are fixing the problem. Spell it out in practical, concrete language. Describe how and when you expect things to be righted.

Step 4: This goes for all the Steps: Don’t lie. Don’t complain. Don’t whine. Don’t overstate. But especially: Do. Not. Lie.

Step 5: If you don’t know something, say you don’t know. Don’t speculate and don’t hypothesize.

Hope you don’t need to use these. But now when you watch people and organizations handle a bad situation you’ll know what to listen and look for….and determine how they do.

 

It was Jim Lehrer who told the story of how technology has changed the way news information is gathered and how it is reported.

Several years ago the digital operations and the TV production team for News Hour with Jim Lehrer began to share office space. Shortly after that co-habitation the Fort Hood shooting took place…the story goes that when word came that there had been a shooting the TV/Print journalists grabbed for the phones and started calling their military/Pentagon contacts to find out what had happened…while the digital journalists were very quiet (as I remember the story) and focused on their computers….no reaching for a phone….reading screens.

The digital journalists were getting updates via Twitter (primarily) as well as other digital and social media….the information was current and in real-time. It was eye witnesses accounts and even official reports came through digital media.

Yesterday as the Navy Yard shooting was unfolding…I was in downtown Washington…in meetings, in cabs, at lunch, more meetings…and in between I followed my Twitter accounts to keep up on the shooting and its aftermath.

This was a local story. And the Washington media and national media that are based here did an remarkable job on air, in print, and digital. Kudos to them….(and yes, most print and broadcast journalists have Twitter accounts…)

I appreciate ALL of the news coverage no matter what format. And last night and this morning I read the news stories and listened to the analysis…but in the heart-stopping moments of the event I appreciated Twitter.

It was my source of information on the shooting, road blocks and closings, metro closings, and general updates from the District MPD.

Late-breaking news indeed.

 

PS…my apologies to Mr. Lehrer if have the specifics of his story off a bit