Sophia Wilkinson
Publication Date
January 1, 2017

"By working with governmental and non-governmental partners, BBC Media Action's content was able to go beyond mass media to reach those without access, spark discussion and deepen the impact of work to improve reproductive, maternal and newborn health."

Drawing on BBC Media Action's work on maternal and child health with governmental and non-governmental organisation (NGO) partners in Bangladesh, India, and Ethiopia, this paper discusses: the value of these partnerships for successful health communication; the part played by media and communication in wider health interventions; ways to include those without access to mass media; how to spark discussions that underpin journeys of change; and techniques for working together to produce long-lasting results. It concludes that by working together from the outset, media organisations and others seeking to improve people's health can help support each other to ensure that health communication reaches its full potential to trigger change.

Between 2012 and 2016, BBC Media Action worked to improve aspects of reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and the Indian states of Odisha and Madhya Pradesh, using a combination of different media and communication platforms and tools Partnerships were formed to support the delivery of work. This briefing draws on several formal qualitative evaluations of work in Ethiopia and India, interviews with different partner organisations, and interviews with BBC Media Action project staff. Funding for the work came from the United Kingdom (UK) Department for International Development (DFID) and involved projects aiming to support the emergence of healthier practices and norms around reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health. The work sought to:

  1. Reach and engage large numbers of people, in multiple ways, by combining different media and communication formats and platforms. For example, in Bangladesh, collaboration between 11 partner organisations (2 government departments and 9 national and international NGOs), their frontline, community-based workers, and BBC Media Action led to the creation of a multi-platform/multi-format. The centrepiece of the project was a family-friendly television drama series called Ujan Ganger Naiya (Sailing Against the Tide), which was reinforced by a factual television talk show, Natoker Pore (After the Drama), as well as television public service advertisements (PSAs) and an 8-episode factual radio show. To bring the programming to those with less media access, as well as to foster more active engagement, the project also undertook "outreach" work and training to strengthen the skills of frontline health workers tasked with communicating in the community.
  2. Ensure that health communication is part of a wider public health intervention and/or strategy, which could include policy and legal aspects. BBC Media Action's work was framed by government-led strategies to improve reproductive, maternal, newborn, and child health and supported some of each country's goals.
  3. Engage those who have influence over health, including within a family and community, as well as wider decision-makers. For instance, the media content was created to resonate with husbands and mothers-in-law, through the characters and storylines of Bangladesh's drama and through Ethiopia's programme presenters and contributors. "While this strategy seems to have worked through mass media, reaching out further into communities through outreach work with partners has had the added benefit of translating this appeal into more active engagement and influence..."
  4. Make sure that people who don't have access to mass media are not left out. "Partnerships between mass media organisations and organisations working with communities that are media dark can be an effective way of bridging the gap....[For example, i]n Ethiopia, meanwhile, the listening groups are specifically helping to bridge the gap women face in relation to media access, providing a fixed opportunity for them to listen to a radio show that they otherwise might not hear..."
  5. Spark discussion and debate. "While television and radio formats can be created that make discussion and debate central, and use creative techniques to trigger discussion, BBC Media Action's work with its partners demonstrates another solution: the creation of designated spaces for discussion." (Examples and evidence are provided.)
  6. Support the further development of capacity around health communication to help it continue. For example, in India, the partnership with the State Institute of Health and Family Welfare in Odisha resulted in the training of 7,580 frontline health workers specifically to use the mobile phone-based tool Mobile Kunji, to help them communicate more effectively with families.

From the review of the media and communication work carried out through partnerships in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, and India, Part 2 of the briefing examines strategies for maximising the impact of partnerships. In brief, suggestions include:

  • Sustained collaboration and co-creation of content gets better results.
  • Quality and innovation make a difference. "[I]t's not just good stories, excellent writing, presentation and production values that can shake things up. Innovation also counts. As noted, partners in India and Bangladesh all commented that it was the innovative nature of the training techniques used as part of the partnerships that increased the motivation of those with roles to communicate around health, such as health workers. This innovation appears to have been transferred into systems through the 'cascade training' approaches used."
  • Working through existing structures is more cost-effective and gives lasting change a better chance. On the flip-side, while working within an existing system provides the best chance of making health communication sustainable, it can bring its own set of challenges; for example, it can be difficult to control outcomes once something is handed over to another body.

Based on BBC Media Action's experience, the brief concludes that "[p]artnerships between media organisations and others working to improve people's health can help place the audiences - ordinary people - at the very heart of health communication, supporting it to reach its full potential to change lives." The organisation stresses that the design and development of partnerships between media organisations and other partners should be given sufficient weight from the outset of a project and be seen as integral to its success - rather than an add-on.


Emails from Delia Lloyd and Emebet Wuhib-Mutungi to The Communication Initiative on March 23 2017 and April 3 2017, respectively; and BBC Media Action website, March 23 2017.

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