Sarah Meyanathan
Antje Becker-Benton
Linda Sanei
Publication Date
September 1, 2012

"Involving members of the intended audience in the development process results in more effective materials and activities with content and media that are understandable, relevant, and accessible to the intended audience."

This bulletin from C-Change highlights the action media methodology, which "is based on participatory action research and learning processes. It engages members of intended audiences through active participation in a series of workshops where communication needs, perspectives on communication products, and concepts that speak to members' experiences and their social, cultural, and economic environments are explored. The methodology encourages members of the intended audience to reflect on issues that affect their lives." It has been used with diverse groups around the world to determine health and development priorities, to develop social and behaviour change communication (SBCC) materials that are relevant and context-appropriate, and to understand: health vulnerabilities and risks, language and aesthetic preferences of audiences, and appropriate and relevant communication mediums.

As detailed in the bulletin, the methodology begins by engaging members of audience sub-groups in a series of workshops, lasting a few hours and held over 2-4 days. (A bulleted list in the bulletin provides instructions for practitioners who are planning an action media workshop). During the sessions, SBCC practitioners guide participants through structured activities and discussions that start off with more general conversations and progress to more sensitive topics. Then, participants lead small discussion groups and engage in role plays; key points and themes are documented on flipchart paper and shared during larger group discussions. As this process unfolds, participants and SBCC practitioners discuss the formats and content of communication materials, as well as the channels through which they usually receive information. These sessions lead to the development of draft communication concepts and prototype materials for further development, such as: print materials (e.g., stickers, posters, or leaflets); concepts and scripts for radio or television broadcasts; concepts and scripts for theatre; and/or cell phones, social media, and other internet-based approaches. The review of draft products is included during a final workshop session.

In particular, Action Media's participatory setting and its multiple sessions are conducive to participants with lower literacy skills, who can express their ideas and needs and how they want them to be addressed. At the same time, the sessions allow SBCC practitioners to learn about literacy-related barriers and develop communication materials that are less likely to be misinterpreted by lower-literacy audiences. Literacy issues may be addressed by seeking assistance from local organisations to identify suitable participants. A case study is provided here of a series of action media workshops conducted with a group of 20 low- and semi-literate participants in Elandsdoorn, a rural community in the Limpopo Province of South Africa to explore issues related to HIV/AIDS and communication. From the workshops, C-Change developed a participatory Community Conversation Toolkit for HIV/AIDS that could be used with lower literacy and other audiences. (See Related Summaries below.) Workshop objectives and a sample workshop schedule for each of the three groups is presented in the bulletin. Example activity: Participants choose an HIV-prevention topic identified in a poster exercise from the previous day and work together to script a role play, which is then acted out by the group in front of the larger group. Emerging issues, comments, and questions are discussed. (This exercise follows on from various other creative activities and allows participants to further illustrate their linguistic and aesthetic approaches and preferences for communication including storytelling sequences. It also integrates humour.)

Lessons learned by engaging audiences through this methodology include:

  • "People make meaning of information in relation to the context in which they live
  • Culture and social networks influence people's behavior
  • People can't always control the issues that determine their health vulnerabilities and risk behaviors
  • People's decisions about health and well-being compete with other priorities
  • Engagement contributes to a clearer understanding of the audience's vulnerabilities and risks in relation to health and development, along with the language they use, and aesthetic and channel preferences they consider to be relevant and appropriate."

The bulletin includes with a reflection on the value this methodology adds, such as: "A core group of informed participants can share the knowledge gained with others who are similarly vulnerable and marginalized."