Leveraging popular entertainment for a cause
Perhaps it was Meena and Raju promoting the rights of girls through animation in South Asia, or maybe Sara and her pet monkey Zingo inspiring young girls in east and central Africa to stay safe and free of HIV and AIDS. Maybe you’ve grown up loving Big Bird, singing along with Elmo and laughing at Oscar the Grouch. Whatever the memory, chances are good you grew up with and continue to be influenced by entertainment-education.
Entertainment for positive change harnesses the power of communication channels as a catalyst and an effective strategy to convey messages, create social cohesion and promote social change. Research shows that children who watch Sesame Street, for example, improve their school performance. An independent, mid-term evaluation of the Sara project (which included animated videos, comic books and a radio series) provided evidence that girls were positively influenced by Sara to delay sex and avoid situations of sexual abuse and exploitation.
Initially dubbed ‘education with a proven social benefit’ by Mexican TV producer Miguel Sabido in the 1960s, edutainment, or entertainment-education as it is often called, “is the process of purposely designing and implementing a media message to both entertain and educate, in order to increase audience members’ knowledge about an educational issue, create favourable attitudes, and change overt behaviour” (Singhal & Rogers, 1999). Whether through music, heroic mythology, folktales or family history, human beings have always used the power of storytelling to help people learn and pass on life-saving knowledge, and to make these lessons relatable and memorable.
Entertainment-education is underpinned by the Social Learning Theory (Bandura, 1971), which posits that people learn not only from their own behaviour, but through the observation and modelling of the behaviour of others. The observation of and empathy with characters in entertainment-education programmes is a key trigger that stimulates deliberation and behaviour change among audiences. Entertainment-education can also make the behaviours seem achievable, stimulating feelings of self-efficacy by observing others overcome obstacles to perform the desired actions.
Often, the goal of these programmes is to allow people to learn from the mistakes and the success stories of characters with whom they have established an emotional link, rather than having to learn from their own experience. Popular culture can also be harnessed for social change, combining entertainment, journalism and talk shows with social media, social mobilization and policy advocacy. As part of an ecosystem, entertainment-education can be a powerful vehicle not only for individual change but to build social movements for large-scale change.
Regardless of the scale of ambition, effective entertainment-education programmes are designed and developed from a rigorous evidence base. This could include desk and literature reviews, interviews with target audiences, focus groups, and regular engagement with audiences to measure message retention, behavioural impact and overall effectiveness of the effort. In practice, entertainment-education is most concerned with how resonant, relevant and motivating the work is to the audience. In other words, we are measuring not the entertainment value but whether the entertainment and the research-informed creative decisions are appropriate to our overall development goals.
Today, media channels are ubiquitous and more available than ever. People consume and produce their own content far beyond television, radio and other tightly controlled channels. Social media, closed chat groups, podcasts and increasingly democratized and accessible means of entertainment production are the new norm. Entertainment-education is evolving alongside this, ensuring that multi-platform, multi-channel, user-generated content is considered in any strategy.
Benefits and social/behavioural objectives
Entertainment-education has been used to achieve both social and behavioural outcomes, including:
- Encouraging national and local dialogue and community action for human rights (e.g., the Bell Bajao campaign encouraged local residents to ring the doorbell to interrupt domestic violence when they heard it. In one year, 160,000 men pledged to take action to end violence against women.)
- Direct changes in knowledge and cognitive development for children (e.g., improved literacy skills for children who watch Sesame Street)
- Changes in attitudes and norms related to harmful behaviours (e.g., changing perceptions around risky sex)
- Supporting social cohesion and community dialogue (e.g., La Pe’ Ye Ta Kwe Ye Diari uses radio drama to increase tolerance between ethnic and religious communities in Myanmar.)
- Changes in social norms – both descriptive and injunctive – among the group exposed to the programme
- Behavioural changes which lead to long-term development and health outcomes (e.g., improved partner communication leading to reductions in intimate partner violence)
- ESWATINI: A TV programme changed attitudes about intergenerational risky sex
- INDIA: A TV drama tackles sanitation behaviours
- NIGERIA: An MTV programme combats HIV-related risk behaviours
- GLOBAL: Sesame Street improved children’s learning around the world
- INDIA: A long-running e-e TV show Kyunki was produced by UNICEF India between 2008 and 2011, covering different ‘Facts for Life’ areas
- BANGLADESH: The Simsipur comedy series has increased literacy scores among those who watch by 67%
- RWANDA: This interactive game is used to teach conflict resolution skills in youth
- MALAWI: An interactive radio show opens communication about sexual health and prevents HIV/AIDS
- MOZAMBIQUE: A long running e-e radio drama has been sparking change across different programme areas since 2015
- BOTSWANA: A UNICEF Botswana adaptation of MTV Shuga addressed HIV- and SRH-related behaviours
- PERU: The La Sangre Llama (Blood Relations) radio soap opera mobilizes communities to fight anaemia
- SOUTH AFRICA: A multimedia campaign encourages HIV prevention
- SOUTH ASIA: The Meena Communication Initiative addresses common perceptions and behaviours that inhibit the ability of young girlsto survive and thrive
- SENEGAL: A serial story about birth spacing encourages uptake of postpartum family planning counselling
Implementation steps and checklist
How do you implement an entertainment-education initiative?
Research and planning
Production, implementation and promotion
Things to keep in mind
Many edutainment-education initiatives have been rigorously evaluated to demonstrate evidence of impact. Evaluation of education-entertainment initiatives may focus on both the effectiveness of specific delivery channels in delivering intended messages and the impact of communications on downstream social change. Illustrative indicators include:
Reach and recall
How many people in your intended audience are receiving your content through each channel?
Quantitative surveys; DHS data (to measure potential reach); audience ratings (ARs); omnibus surveys with modules to track reach and recall
To what extent is your intended audience meaningfully engaging with your content?
Collection of metadata including listen rates and watch rates, and clicks, likes, comments and shares (for social media)
What social and behavioural changes exist among those who engage with edutainment-entertainment content, compared to those who do not (e.g., changes in ‘know, feel, do’)? Consider measuring changes (from baseline to endline) in:
Randomized controlled trials; service data; structured questionnaires; qualitative interviews; focus group discussions; vignettes
If you are thinking about implementing an entertainment-education approach, it is important to engage with the following partners and local stakeholders.
- Production agencies: As you are unlikely to have the capacity to produce high-quality media content in house, consider who will produce the material. Ensure that your budget supports hiring local actors/voice actors, illustrators, videographers and other artists who might be needed. Establishing the right partnerships with established production and creative agencies is critical to developing high-quality content.
- Edutainment-focused organizations: There are numerous NGOs and agencies with vast experience in producing education-entertainment.
- Media gatekeepers: Depending on the media channel you select, you will need to establish partnerships with local television stations, national or community radio stations, musical groups, etc. Finding the right media partner is essential to reaching your target audience. Working with companies experienced in media buying, audience research, and segmentation and placement can be a valuable support where budget allows.
- Local community-based organizations, faith-based organizations and government partners: These organizations will be able to facilitate formative research, review content to ensure it is culturally relevant, and disseminate media to local audiences.
Moving from theory to application
- Bridging Theory and Practice in Entertainment Education: An Assessment of the Conceptualization and Design of Tsha Tsha in South Africa
- Entertainment-Education Behind the Scenes: Case Studies for Theory and Practice
- Soul City’s Guide to Edutainment: Using Stories and Media for Social Action and Behaviour Change
Do - Edutainment
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