"An 'ecosystem' speaks to the inherently complex, interconnected and often unpredictable nature of capacity strengthening and to...dynamic human environments....It recognizes that one intervention is almost never enough to make change."

The Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3) SBCC Capacity Ecosystem™ is a model that reflects the systematic assessment, design, and implementation of customised and strategic capacity strengthening for social and behaviour change communication (SBCC). While arising from the work of HC3, it is a model that can be used by any project seeking to strengthen SBCC capacity at the local, regional, or global level.

The Ecosystem's Major Elements: A Brief Overview:

At the heart of the ecosystem is the focus on the capacity strengthening of individuals, organisations, and systems, which is also consistent with the socio-ecological model that guides SBCC programme implementation. For HC3, it is important to understand the interconnectedness of these 3 audiences: individuals function in organisations, and organisations operate in systems. Systems are the "connective tissue" that link and support the organisations and the individuals. Specifically, the ecosystem rests on a foundation that draws from 3 distinct but interrelated theories: (i) Experiential Learning Theory (ELT), a 4-stage model that emphasises the central role of concrete experience but also of reflection, conceptualisation, and adaptation or experimentation; (ii) Institutional Economic Theory (IET), which highlights the need not only for technological innovation but social innovation such as the need for new types of leadership, collaborative processes, and networks; and (iii) Complexity Theory (CT), wherein a complex system is defined as one in which many independent agents interact with each other in multiple (sometimes infinite) ways. Then, moving from the left to the right of the model, the design of a capacity strengthening programme begins with the identification of the level of intervention (where) at which capacity strengthening will focus and subsequently a capacity assessment is conducted at the levels identified.

That assessment will determine the competencies that the capacity strengthening should build. With that information, interventions (how) are planned at the systems, organisational, and/or individual levels. Those interventions are designed to affect the identified competencies (what) to achieve desired results (why). The assumption is that the collective effect of those achievements will lead to capacity building outcomes that ultimately contribute to overall public health impact.

In a more detailed exploration of the model, it is useful to start at the far right (impact), which in HC3 is defined as "delivering positive health and social outcomes". The idea is that, knowing where a capacity strengthening programme should go, it is easier to understand how to get there. Click here and scroll down to "STEP BY STEP" in order to click on the terms "Impact", "Outcomes", and so on down the list to read more about each component of the ecosystem.

The Model in Perspective:

  • As is illustrated by the ecosystem's absence of arrows, HC3 wants to disrupt the notion of linear or hierarchical change often associated with capacity strengthening initiatives. It reflects the notion that capacity strengthening is a dynamic process involving many interacting agents. This can be true in advantageous or disadvantageous ways. For example, significant time may be spent building the technical skills of a non-governmental organisation (NGO) only to then witness high staff turnover. Conversely, a dynamic and influential national or sub-national leader may emerge midway through a capacity programme and expand its reach, causing it to be reevaluated for the better and to set sights higher than initially anticipated. A non-linear ecosystem approach is a reminder to remain flexible so as to respond thoughtfully and strategically to the emergence of these threats/opportunities.
  • SBCC capacity strengthening is envisioned as a thoughtfully planned and iterative process. Just as SBCC implementation follows a strategic design process, capacity strengthening follows a process of inquiry, development, implementation, evaluation, and re-planning. Capacity strengthening is not a "one-off" training but, rather, a planned programme of activities based on in-depth knowledge of the beneficiaries and their needs and goals.
  • Capacity strengthening is not just a technical process but also a social process. Building trusting collaborative relationships is critical in an SBCC capacity strengthening programme. Thus, HC3 advises that it is country-based partners who are the ones to lead capacity strengthening initiatives given their deep understanding of the cultural, political, and social context and of the networks of relationships in which SBCC practitioners and organisations are embedded. Moreover, the ideal scenario is one in which the recipient of the capacity strengthening is not only fully engaged as an equal partner in his or her own capacity strengthening but drives the capacity strengthening agenda.
  • The time needed for capacity strengthening activities to reach their intended goal(s) depends on multiple variables, including: the base level of capacity of the intended recipient(s) of the capacity strengthening (whether an individual, organisation, or system); the level of capacity desired; the amount of resources available and thus the intensity of effort of the capacity strengthening; and the level of buy-in, both on the part of the capacity strengthening recipient and also in the recipient's environment. When obstacles or opportunities arise that may shift the time horizon, all stakeholders should be made aware so as to manage expectations and agree on a revised time line or to reassess goals if necessary.

Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) Considerations:

HC3 urges that defining outcomes and determining the most appropriate ways to measure success should be a negotiated process among stakeholders, including the recipient(s) of the capacity strengthening, the capacity strengthening provider, and the donor. It is critical that a common understanding of success be established at the beginning of the project. Given the varied and complex nature of programmes, success will look different in each case. At the most basic level, measuring success around process can centre on the achievement of specific activities and outputs, at any of the levels. An even greater measure of success is achieved when a capacity strengthening programme can demonstrate the link between its capacity strengthening efforts and certain outcomes, whether intended or unintended. The challenge lies in measuring outcomes tied to the level at which the specific activity is intervening.

One approach for monitoring and evaluation of SBCC capacity strengthening is Outcome Harvesting (OH), a participatory method of assessing programmatic success by identifying both intended and unintended results of programmes. According to HC3, OH is well suited to capture project results in complex situations where the cause and effect of an intervention is unknown or agreement among many stakeholders must be reached in order to finalise and continually adapt an intervention's strategy. OH helps in considering multiple perspectives to decide who and what has changed since the start of an intervention, when and where change has occurred, and how the change came about.

Please see Related Summaries, below, for more on Project-Based Learning, which is connected to this ecosystem.

Click here for a 17-page document [PDF], published by HC3 in June 2016, exploring the ecosystem.


HC3 website, July 11 2016.