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Expert Views: How Can Communication Improve Nutrition?

Members of Malnutrition Deeply’s expert community share their key takeaways from the recently concluded Social and Behavior Change Communication Summit in Bali.

Written by Amruta Byatnal Published on Read time Approx. 4 minutes
Women line up to learn about nutrition during Maternal and Child Health Week in Makeni, Sierra Leone.Ann Johansson/Corbis via Getty Images

Share failures along with successes, recognize the agency of community members, and acknowledge the necessity to evolve along with changing technology. These are some of the takeaways that emerged when more than 1,000 social behavior change communication (SBCC) experts and practitioners from over 90 countries converged on Bali last month to discuss ways to use communication strategies to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

We asked three experts from the Malnutrition Deeply community to weigh in on their experience at the summit, and lessons they could use or adapt in their programs in their respective countries.

Tanushree Rao, communication and storytelling advisor, Catalpa International

“It’s as important to share failures as it is to share successes, and risks are often necessary to find effective solutions with communities.”

My biggest takeaway from the summit was that not every SBCC project is going to be successful. It’s as important to share failures as it is to share successes, and risks are often necessary to find effective solutions with communities. Honesty can build trust both within programs and externally.

To me, the most interesting new SBCC intervention was PCI Media’s partnership with [comic and film production company] Marvel to produce Ozone Heroes, which was fascinating. The project was designed to create a positive campaign around progress in the ozone layer, which was once a major environmental concern, but has seen incredible progress over 30 years since the Montreal Protocol. It celebrated individuals, enabled user-generated content, reignited momentum on ozone layer campaigning, and used highly recognizable, exciting Guardians of the Galaxy characters to create an effective multi-platform campaign within a short period of time.

Another intervention I really liked had something that the nutrition community could incorporate in their programs. The Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves introduced a low-budget, Masterchef-style reality television show to promote clean cookstoves and engage the community in a fun way. Despite the low budget, drama was still hilariously conveyed around community members cooking off against each other. This is an easy one to adapt for food-and-agriculture-focused nutrition programs, such as incorporating specific foods in cooking and showing participants’ processes from crop to meal.

Kristina Granger, social behavior change adviser, Alive and Thrive

“Why is this a novel idea to involve community members as their own agents of change? It’s something that I think we still struggle with as a community.”

Something that rose to the top throughout the summit for me was the focus on interactive and highly participatory approaches that really engaged communities in their own change. I think that there could’ve been more emphasis on that. But still, I don’t know why we are surprised by this approach. Why is this a novel idea to involve community members as their own agents of change? It’s something that I think we still struggle with as a community. This highlights the importance of bi-directional conversation and participatory approaches.

I attended a session on “edutainment” and I was pleased that they were having the same conversation in that session as well, about really highlighting these more interactive media approaches that ensure that they’re creating a dialogue with the audiences that they’re intending to reach from the very beginning, from the design through the implementation phase.

Additionally, there’s a lot of emerging work around social norms changing as a result of social behavior change. Some fields, like reproductive health, family planning and violence against women have done a bit more of a deep dive into changing social norms. I think that we should really take a step back and strategically look at these for nutrition, rather than just saying, “Let’s change the way people feel about healthy food.” We need to think about it much more holistically and strategically. It’s interesting, because with that comes a lot of ethical considerations and ramifications when you’re looking at changing the norms of a society.

Sonali Khan, co-chair, program committee and senior adviser, Dasra

“There has also been a huge change in technology, which has also meant that the tools that are available for communication are different now.”

I was part of the organizing committee, and it was a long and exhaustive process, and I’m glad it resulted in this output that was participatory in nature, and a diverse audience could come together. The social and behavior change community has always had a lot of challenges in terms of fighting of space, funds and resources. Ten years ago, it was unimaginable that we could host such a conference anywhere in the world. The community has come a long way.

There has also been a huge change in technology, which has also meant that the tools that are available for communication are different now. The way messaging is delivered has changed, too. There was a session that used online gaming to spread their message, which was fascinating.

One of the ongoing debates in the SBCC community is whether we should push for evidence, or focus on pure service delivery. There are some things that are difficult to measure when it comes to nutrition programs, and some panels reflected this debate. We hear that nutrition messaging doesn’t convey a sense of urgency, but what needs to change is perhaps the process of delivering these messages.

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