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How to Use Behaviour Change Communications for COVID-19 Digital Response

behaviour chnage communication covid-19

As COVID-19 spreads across the globe, we are faced with travel bans, project funding restrictions, and the increasing need to operate remotely. A multi-faceted COVID-19 Digital Response, including behaviour change communication on personal and respiratory hygiene, proper handwashing, social distancing, and so on remains a critical need.

Trying to get these vital messages out to the remotest and most marginalised communities is a significant challenge from human-centred design, implementation, and impact monitoring perspective: how can we know what technology people are using and who they trust? How can we work with local groups remotely in an effective way? How can we be assured that behaviour change is in action?

Report Back on the Salon

Recently we convened a Technology Salon on How to Use Digital Behaviour Change Communications for COVID-19 Response? to discuss these important issues and more We were joined by around 80 people from all corners of the world. We heard opinions, experience and insights from three excellent speakers:

A recording of the video is linked above and a list of resources is also available on this topic, and other COVID-19 related topics covered as part of this series. Below, we outline the key points discussed at the salon.

SBCC Tech Salon

Right now, we are facing trade-offs

As Benjamin Kumpf pointed out in his talk, as the COVID-19 pandemic develops, we are facing dynamics like trade-offs between rigor/speed or clarity of message/speed. In our endeavour to respond quickly and provide accurate messaging, we are at risk of not taking the time to understand context and ensure the message is clear to the audience and from a trusted source.

We need to take a hyper-localised approach

Building on the above point, whilst we are in a position where we must respond with speed, we must equally make sure that our approaches are tailored to the target audience.

Our speakers, and attendees in the moderated sessions, discussed a wide range of concerns around this local approach. We all recognised that there is no “one size fits all” approach, even within a small community. In a recent blog post drawing from our human-centred design experience, colleagues at DAI outlined what lessons can be taken in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is vital that we recognise that many of us in the community do have experience in designing with the user, and this expertise can be adapted to a remote context by using communications tools at our disposal, working with local communities, and using local networks.

Digital access and inclusion are a key concern for all: how can we engage women, ethnic minorities, people living in rural areas, and other marginalised communities in behaviour change messaging.  We spoke about working with those who understand the local community, and combining methods to ensure that we reach those with differing levels of access: for instance, drawings and cartoons in poster format could operate alongside radio programming.

Indeed, it was great to hear all speakers advocate for the use of more traditional technologies, particularly being cognisant not to introduce anything new at such a difficult time. Blythe McKay at Farm Radio spoke of their interventions in Africa, which combine radio programming and WhatsApp groups, building upon networks already in place amongst broadcasters. Benjamin Kumpf, Head of innovation at DFID, gave a nod to the digital principles, which advocate for being data driven: reminding us that, using the information that is out there, we can commit to using technology that is not overly complicated, is already in use by the populations we seek to reach.

Use trust networks to meet users where they are

Benjamin raised the vital point that it is not just about the message but ensuring that the messenger of the information is trusted. For instance, a local NGO who has the communities’ trust may be a better source of information than the government or the Twitter page of a donor-funded project. However, participants caution against pure reliance on these channels at the expense of looking for new methodologies, maximising the use of other technology, or capitalising on other trusted avenues for information sharing.

Blythe McKay outlined an interesting approach by Farm Radio, whereby they use new and existing technologies and connections to support radio broadcasters to share accurate information. Through WhatsApp groups, journalists support one another in ensuring information is fact-checked, and health experts – advised by WHO specialists – are available to listeners on radio hotlines. Indeed, there was consensus among attendees at this TechSalon that trust is a huge component of behaviour change.

Misinformation and Two-Way Communications

As we are all seeing during the pandemic, misinformation is a key risk in COVID-19 response and can be spread even by trusted networks or through trusted platforms. During the breakouts, we discussed the importance of not just pushing out messaging but using digital tools to create two-way communication channels to reduce misinformation and understand how local attitudes are shifting. Two-way communications allow us to be proactive as well as reactive to misinformation in the short and long term.

For instance, the WhatsApp groups used by Farm Radio to engage with broadcasters allow them to manage fake news and misinformation, in collaboration with government. They also a network between radio broadcasters, SMEs, and the community by phone and online forums so needs, opinions and advice can be shared.

By working together with government, communities and other stakeholders, we are more likely to be able to help people navigate the plethora of information out there and simplify the messaging.

Monitoring efforts, without bowing to vanity metrics

Nicola reigned us back in to thinking about how – despite the need to react quickly – we must monitor the work that we are doing, whilst being cognisant of privacy and security. She pointed out that there is not a cost-effective way to gather metrics remotely, but that it is vital to understanding the impact behaviour change messaging is having. Some ways discussed were to do surveys or follow-up with listeners, focusing on areas we understand less or know less about in order to be more effective and efficient in monitoring. One option, for instance, could be logging audience feedback by having hosts fill out a simple form, drilling down on particular concerns such as misinformation. This is much more valuable than gathering metrics on fake news who’s listening and how many.

A final but vital point was on ethical concerns on privacy and security, and being aware of vanity metrics like page-views clicks or likes. For a deeper dive into these issues, read up on or take a listen to the previous salon on privacy.

By Chloe Messenger of DAI.


Resource List

In this resource list you will find additional resources on How to Use Behavior Change in Communications for COVID-19. This list is accumulative from the Tech in The Time of Coronavirus series.

Tech in the Time of Coronavirus Series

The Tech in the Time of Coronavirus Series is co-organized and supported by Technology Salon in conjunction with ThoughtWorks, Pivotal Act, the UN Foundation’s Digital Impact Alliance (DIAL) and GitHub. This particular Salon was also supported by DAI and Accenture. The series aims to bring together the wider technology sector with humanitarian and crisis response sector experts, specifically those who have worked on past crises situations, to highlight good practices and to avoid repeating well-documented mistakes and re-inventing wheels.

We also hope that through connections made at these Salons we can find effective and impactful ways to work together on the COVID-19 response. We record the first part of each Salon and share it publicly. For the second hour, we divide participants into moderated, off-the-record break-out groups for frank and open discussions aimed at identifying and working through challenges and moving towards collaboration.

We will cover several topics over the next few months, including the issue of responsible and ethical use of data during COVID-19; effective ways to volunteer; the role of the corporate, foundation, and other donors; the impact of COVID-19 on online education, economy and jobs, domestic abuse and gender violence, mental health and substance abuse, and other emerging secondary effects of the pandemic.

We will also cover topics that aim to help agencies working on the crisis to move towards effective digital response necessitated by the need to avoid face-to-face contact with communities and one another and government mandates to quarantine to avoid spreading the virus.

Read about past and future Salons in the series:

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