Published on Voices

Edutainment changes the way we do development

Improving people’s lives is more than offering services.  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A closer look revealed that the campaigns lacked inspiring narratives, and were communicated through outdated and uninteresting outlets such as billboards and leaflets.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?

In 2016, the World Bank Development Impact Evaluation group (DIME) launched “Narrating Behavior Change”, a new research program on entertainment education that aims to scale up evaluation research in the main entertainment hubs. Since then, DIME has launched new randomized control trials in Mexico, Brazil, Nigeria and India to prevent addictions, increase aspirations and reduce teenage pregnancies, help send girls to school, and reduce gender-based violence.

The program tests a revolutionary idea: that professional storytellers can do what others cannot. They can attract huge audiences and exploit narratives to draw emotion and elicit reaction. Audiences can change the way they feel about issues, made aware of acts and consequences and perhaps change their own attitudes and behaviors. By rigorously testing whether in fact they do, we can identify the type of communication that works and revolutionize the way we think of communications campaigns in development projects.

The results of our first study done in partnership with the MTV and Gates Foundations were striking! MTV Shuga, a sex in the city-type series set in African cities, raised our eyebrows when we first watched it but it did lower the transmission of a sexually transmitted disease by a massive 57% among treated women relative to control populations in Nigeria. This (educational but very fun!) drama made audiences reduce the number and quality of sexual partners. In addition to being effective, a show like MTV Shuga can scale: MTV Shuga is aired in over 70 countries, reaching an estimated 720 million people. The billion-viewer benchmark is close, as new seasons now focusing on gender-based violence will soon be shot in Egypt and India. 

Our next workshop planned for later this month in New Delhi, “Impact Evaluation Workshop of Mass Media Entertainment to Improve Development Outcomes” will gather an impressive number of partners and donors to provide participants with the latest evidence of entertainment education research. With the support of the professional storytellers in documentaries (ITVS) and girl education (Discovery foundation), DIME will be working with project teams in the next generation of edutainment research.  

DIME will continue building stronger links with the entertainment industry and like-minded donors. Better funded and supported, we can help projects make a huge contribution to development. In addition to the Gates Foundation and DFID, we extend a warm welcome to NORAD, the Norwegian development agency, as a new and valuable partner in this endeavor!


Arianna Legovini

Director, Development Impact Evaluation, World Bank

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