"[Polio c]ommunication reviews have established themselves as valuable components of strategic communication planning and there is strong consensus that they need to continue. However, ...there are several areas of improvement that need to be considered..."
This paper shares the results of a research initiative seeking to assess perspectives on the value and effectiveness of "polio communication reviews" to date and, based on those findings, offers reflections on how they can be improved in the future. (Editor's note: For an explanation of what a polio communication is and for insights from past reviews, see: The Drum Beat 639 - Polio Communication Review Strategies & Themes.) The research initiative was a joint effort of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and The Communication Initiative (CI) with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The invitation to participate in the survey was sent to: those in The CI network and to UNICEF staff who had participated in polio communication reviews in the past; national and global leaders in the polio eradication programme; and polio partner organisations. The survey was supported by an information sheet prepared jointly by The CI and UNICEF and titled "Communication Review Evaluation and 2013 Planning" (see Related Summaries, below). Linked to the information sheet was a discussion paper titled "Reflections on Experience: Towards More Effective Polio Communication Reviews" (see below), which captures The CI's perspective based on direct experience in 19 communication reviews. The discussion paper was shared with many respondents several months before the survey was conducted. Forty-two people responded, most (71%) of whom reside in India, Nigeria, or Pakistan. They work in a range of organisations and roles, which are detailed in the paper.
The results show that the majority of respondents found communication reviews to be "well planned and implemented, focused on appropriate programme priorities, and resulting in relevant recommendations....Nevertheless, past experience has led to lessons which bear consideration in the planning of future communication reviews:
- allowing panel members more time in the field to improve their understanding of ground level challenges and realities;
- placing greater emphasis on selecting panelists with the appropriate mix of skills including experience in the programme, understanding the country context and knowledge of local realities;
- making more time available for a full discussion of findings between programme partners, staff and panelists;
- developing simpler and more actionable recommendations;
- building greater accountability for monitoring and implementation of recommendations;
- sharing the planning, discussion, recommendations and related reports widely with all partners to build broad support and understanding of communication programmes and strategies;
- and building continuity between reviews to improve analysis and tracking of recommendations".
Looking forward, other suggestions include:
- Carefully match the skills and expertise of panelists with the issues and themes identified for the panel to review.
- Ensure that each panel has strong representation of members with extensive local experience and knowledge.
- Spend more time on field visits and speak to key resource people to ensure understanding of programme realities.
- Create space for detailed discussion between panelists and programme staff after the recommendations have been presented to ensure that the recommendations are clear and actionable.
- Establish greater accountability between the programme and the review panel findings and recommendations through: wider and faster report dissemination, country programme response in terms of how recommendations will impact strategies and operations, monitoring recommendation implementation between rounds, and assessing recommendation impact.
- Conduct reviews in Pakistan, Nigeria, and India during the first half of 2014.
- For other outbreak countries: consider the benefits of a communication review.
"Embedded in these suggestions is an underlying sense that reviews need to be held regularly and also need to be incorporated into a cycle of planning, recommendation development and refinement, implementation and monitoring, assessment and then back to planning." The final page of the report presents a graphic illustrating this review cycle and discussing areas that "represent an important gap in the creation of a cyclical approach to reviews within polio communication planning". It outlines strategies to address these areas of need - e.g., "[t]he implementation and impact of the recommendations needs to be assessed and combined with an analysis of new and continuing issues faced by the programme in preparation for the next review."
Email from Chris Morry to The Communication Initiative on May 9 2014.