How to transform social norms through radio and other media

Written by Mbathio Diaw Ndiaye, RAES, Senegal

Please describe a situation when your organisation or project has faced challenges that you addressed by working on changing social norms.

RAES wishes to be a leader in the implementation of social mobilisation and political mobilisation projects for the sexual and reproductive rights (SRHR) of young people and women in Francophone West Africa. Using various types of media is central to the way we deliver our work on health and education. We use radio, film and social media as tools to educate and inform various target groups on issues related to health and well-being, and to prompt social-norms change and make people take action, for example by seeking SRHR services. We find that use of media is a good way to open up debates about topics that may be taboo in certain societies. However, we faced challenges with our messaging when we just relied on existing reports and did not have good data related to our topics. We needed good sociological research and good data analysis to be able to address SRHR issues using media in an effective way.

How did you work on this problem and what changes did you make?

To produce effective social norms media content, the most crucial step was to conduct thorough and high-quality research. For our current project, C’est la Vie, a multimedia SRHR social norms change project, we conducted research in eight countries across West Africa. We then took the results to develop key messages, and tested these messages using focus group discussions, ensuring equal gender representation. Only then did we start to produce the content. We also select the best media format depending on the country we want to work in: in some countries film will work better, while in others radio is a better medium, due to larger rural populations. We also modify the message based on the country/region.

What did you achieve?

We have produced material that can be modified for different countries and into different formats. C’est la Vie is currently running in 11 countries and we see that it successfully opens discussions about taboo topics and creates spaces for conversations. We have a lot of engagement via our social media platforms (22,000 YouTube and 187,000 Facebook followers). We are still in the implementation phase, but we plan to commission an evaluation to measure the extent to which our programming has led to the uptake of SRHR services.

What did you learn from this experience?

We learnt how crucial it is to conduct high-quality research. We had some setbacks in the first phase of the project where our messaging was not received well by one target group, as we had focused too much on profiling one group for a campaign that was carried out nationally. We learnt how important it is to understand your target group and tailor your message.

What are your top tips for someone facing the same or similar issues?

  • Conduct formative research either by in-house experts or with academia if you do not have the in-house expertise;
  • Understand the technical specifications of the medium you are going to develop the message for. For example, television series should not be longer than 26 minutes per episode, whilst a radio show is most effective when it is between 10 and 20 minutes;
  • Give opportunity for listeners or viewers to participate actively during and after the show, for example by calling in to comment or ask questions;
  • For radio programmes, ensure good selection of the correct radio channel, programme and host, and research their reach, target listeners and language used;
  • Share experience in regional and international platforms whenever possible for learning and improving the material you develop.

Mbathio Diaw Ndiaye, RAES, Senegal

Mbathio is the executive director of RAES, an NGO that uses media, combined with community action, to implement information and awareness programmes in health, education and citizenship. Mbathio ensures the quality of programmes and the respect of RAES action principles (commit, analyse, listen, collaborate, innovate, advocate, share)  during the implementation of the projects. Mbathio is a women’s rights activist and makes a daily commitment to improving their living conditions.