I made it along to two of the fringe events organised by the Institute of Development Studies at the Royal Society, ‘Media as a Tool for Development’ and ‘White Man to the Rescue? International Development in the Media’. Discussions at both meetings ranged across international development issues, but it was behaviour change campaigns proved a consistent theme.
The delegates were mainly from academia, NGOs and broadcast and press media. Yet behaviour change communications is also a major theme for government. Having worked in both sectors, it struck me over the course that in this so-called age of austerity that there were many lessons government can learn from the way NGOs conduct their campaigns. That said, on reflection, there are lessons that civil society can learn from government.
First the lessons from civil society for the public sector:
1. Money doesn’t always bring success. Scale can be achieved at a fraction of a cost. Just look at the award-winning Samajhdari from Equal Access, which regularly reaches up to one million listeners in Nepal with radio programming covering the correlation between violence against women and HIV/AIDS and cost a mere $300k over 2 years.
2. Do nothing without a baseline. Campaigns like The Team don’t kick off until a baseline has first been set so that they see whether they are succeeding or failing.
3. Involve the users in design. Equal Access’ Samajhdari took its inspiration from direct contact with its core audience and its ongoing success is put down to the listener groups held after every programme where staff sit down to get reactions and ideas for the next show.
4. Do it because you need to. There is no vanity in projects like Samajhdari and The Team. They run because they absolutely need to; if they don’t people’s lives are poorer and even at risk.
5. Live or die by your results. For the like of Equal Access and Search for Common Ground (the organisation behind The Team) you are only as good as your last results. No results, no funding. There is no sweeping under the carpet.
And now the lessons for civil society:
6. Get together. While government has not been great at it, these days it is recognised that to achieve scale, to get cut-through departments need to pool their efforts. For NGOs working together there is surely more visibility, more resources and more impact.
7. Blow your own trumpet. Government has always been good at promoting its campaigns from the off. Yes, NGOs rarely get funding for marketing but it is worth dipping into the reserves to give a campaign a good start in life and to crow about achievements. Invest to progress.
8. Be slicker. Quite simply good quality creative has often eluded civil society. Yet, good looking campaigns don’t need to come at the expense of the issues, in fact they amplify the message.
9. There’s always [more] room for digital. Everyone talks about digital but still NGOs struggle, almost to the point of inertia. Yes, your campaign may be radio or television based, but digital gets the word out and it’s a place to listen and learn. A cliché perhaps but digital is the glue that can hold a campaign together and bridge one project to another. It’s simple and it’s cheap.
10. Speak to me in a language I can use. Civil society needs to start learning and using the language of policy and of business to unlock doors and develop long-standing strategic partnerships. Worthy doesn’t work. Tough but true.
These lessons may seem self-evident – common sense even – but they are too often over-looked.
NGOs and government rarely share communities of practice; when they do meet it tends to be as funders and recipients. Clearly this needs to change. With the advent of forums like Third Sector Foresight to the Big Society there’s definitely an exciting new momentum building.