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Published on: 22/11/2011

Communications for behaviour change: You can find Coca Cola in slums, but not toilets. Products charged with emotion and passion spread most quickly. Everold Hosein, an expert in what has become known as communication for behavioural impact (COMBI), questioned whether the phrase ‘behaviour change’ is limiting conversations in the sector. We need to find a phrase that recognises the good behaviours that communities are building on, rather than entering dialogue with notions of change that have the potential to alienate. Face-to-face communication is most effective. While there is definitely a place for integrating different media channels within communication strategies, it is important not to be overwhelmed by technology. Remain focused on the response we want to elicit.

Communication can “shift perspectives and save lives”. Communication is an “inseparable” part of programmes, but too often seen as an “afterthought”, said Sidharta Swarup, BBC World Service Trust. Communication must be people-focused and dialogue-based to really connect, while the afterthought model leads to didactic health education messages that do not give the community the chance to feed in their good practices.

Film is a great way of working with people who are illiterate, said Naomi Allen, of Video Volunteers who use media channels to help communities have their voice heard as part of a dialogue. Her experience in slums showed that videos showcasing people’s opinions were powerful enough to halt privatisation. She encouraged us to look at the videos: Olivier Nyirubugara from Voices of Africa shared his experience with training community reporters who use mobile phones to tell people’s stories, a technology that is familiar to the community and puts people at ease.

The key finding from this session was that behaviour change needs to be seen as central to the sanitation and hygiene transformational project and needs to respond to the particular needs and motivations of the community to whom it is targeted. Radical new ideas based on a thorough understanding of the target audience and the key behaviours is essential

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