When we talk about how mass communication can be used to foster development effectiveness, what kind of communication are we talking about? Well, I would say that we often talk about information-centered mass communication – be it in political media or through other channels. Communication centered on facts and bits of information is certainly a wide-spread approach in development, but let’s think about communication that does not so much focus on facts, but on emotions and context.
Entertainment education seems to be a promising avenue of communication for development. Entertainment education, or edutainment, is about placing specific messages in an entertainment context in order to achieve changes in attitudes, norms, and behaviors. For instance: Search for Common Ground produced a soap opera on soccer, called “The Team.” In this soap opera, which combines human interest and sports, the actors and scenes address a range of social issues, such as ethnic conflict, tribal rivalries, racial inequality, or socio-economic problems. “The Team” then shows how the members of a soccer team overcome their differences to work together toward their common goal – winning the game.
Imagine you are trying to communicate the message that vaccines can save children’s lives, and you want to reach young mothers to convince them to take their babies to be vaccinated. You can do that with, for instance, a public service announcement on the local radio or television station. Another way is to embed the topic in an entertainment context: have a popular actress portray a young mother in a popular soap opera and show how the mother is taking her baby to get vaccinated because she believes the vaccine will make sure that her baby stays healthy. Which option do you think would have more effect? I’ve been wondering what the factors are that make entertainment a potentially more effective avenue than straightforward information. I would like to point out two: embedding and contextuality.
By embedding I mean that the behavior change message is packaged into a storyline in a way that the audience is not aware that there is a specific message targeted at them and that someone is trying to get to them to do something or think in a certain way. If it’s a public service announcement, or an ad, or a poster, it’s much more obvious what the message is and that there is a message to begin with. That can have advantages – messages are probably clearer that way – but it can also cause people to tune out or to turn away because they don’t like the message or don’t like to be told what to do or what to think. Wagging a finger might go down a lot better with the audience if the wagging isn’t so obvious.
Providing a context for a specific problem should make it not only easier to understand the issue but also easier to relate to it. A story line can define a complicated issue without a lot of difficult words, and it can also easily make a connection to our lives. Take microfinance. Want to read the World Bank’s definition of it? And what does it have to do with me, anyway? Entertainment can simply show what microfinance is and what it looks like in real life, and can stage a situation that the audience can relate to. Not only is the issue effective explained, but specific tools that might be useful to the audience can also be introduced that way.
Entertainment has been used for a wide variety of development issues: climate change (“My Island, My Community”), financial literacy (“Fire and Gold”), sexual violence (“Tosalel’ango”), and all of the above (“Makutano Junction”), just to name a few. It’s a form of communication that can have great impact, and in some situations possibly more impact than information-centered messages. It’s well worth considering for those who want to achieve behavior change in development.
- The World Region
- The Team
- Soap Opera
- Search for Common Ground
- My Island My Community
- Makutano Junction
- Health Communication
- Fire and Gold
- financial literacy
- Entertainment Education
- communication for development
- Behavior Change Communication
- behavior change