Another Sunday evening recently found me fuming through another science infotainment show as they abound these days on not-so commercial broadcasts. It made me think about how important science education is in development and how easy it is to do it wrong. Popular science education is essential, and not only in development. Climate change is one of the most obvious issues where people need to understand what’s going on and need to understand it fast. Health issues are another area where a better understanding of scientific principles can contribute to behavior change that could promote better public health. What I tend to see around, however, is not as useful as the producers may think.
It requires people to be active participants in development, demanding services and products that add value to their lives and engaging in behaviors that are conducive to increasing their own welfare. Health prevention is a case in point.
At our HIV Impact Evaluation Workshop in Cape Town, South Africa in 2009, I listened to Nancy Padian, a medical researcher at the Women’s Global Health Imperative, presenting a systematic review of random control trials testing the effectiveness of HIV prevention campaigns.
The study she presented explained how three dozen HIV prevention campaigns had failed to change sexual behavior and reduce HIV incidence.
The presentation gave us pause. The review dismissed the communication campaigns as an ineffective means to change behavior and slow down the HIV epidemic.
A closer look revealed that the campaigns lacked inspiring narratives, and were communicated through outdated and uninteresting outlets such as billboards and leaflets.
The question we asked ourselves was: Can we do this differently?