A character’s fate is never left to chance in television and radio programs developed by CCP. Each is carefully drawn to inspire healthy behaviors in viewers, whether it’s practicing safe sex or proper use of a bed net. “When we are designing a health communication program, we need to make decisions about who our audience is, what behavior we’re addressing and how to move to change that behavior positively,” says Doug Storey, Director for Communication Science and Research at CCP and an Assistant Professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
We caught up with Storey, a pioneer in the field of social and behavior change communication (SBCC) measurement, to learn about the role played by research in the design of successful communication programs and some of the cutting-edge theories that shape his work.
CCP: Why does CCP emphasize research?
DS: We make sure that everything we do is grounded in science and supported by research, and that our work generates the evidence we need to demonstrate the important role that communication plays in public health.
CCP: How do you define communication?
DS: Communication is better thought of as a process than a tool. It’s not a radio spot or a poster or a lecture by a community outreach worker. It’s a process that uses these tools – or channels – to function. Communication is not the way information is delivered; it’s the way the information is used. We use it to teach, persuade, encourage, coordinate, reinforce and reward behaviors.
CCP: What are the hot topics in communication research today?
DS: I’m particularly intrigued by how new technology communication channels are changing the communication process and being used for health purposes. Cell phones, especially smart phones, are widely available and used in surprising places. They are putting user-controlled technology in the hands of millions of people.
I am also researching how communication affects long term behavior and how it can make behaviors sustainable. For example, we often think of family planning as something that is “adopted,” but that’s only true for first use. Contraceptive behavior is a long-term process. So what kind of communication do you need to encourage lifetime effective practice of family planning?
CCP: What is ideation and how has CCP integrated this theory into its work?
DS: A seminal 1987 study by John Cleland and Christopher Wilson looked at how new ideas spread through a homogeneous social network. They argued that people’s thinking about family size and fertility changes over time and these new ways of thinking spread through a social network through communication. We extended ideation to include other psycho-social variables: norms, networks, risks, emotions, self efficacy and perceptions of risks. In this way, our understanding of ideation helps define the kinds of things you should measure when you do research on your audience. For example, what do people perceive about norms among their peers; how do they perceive their level of risk? You measure these factors associated with ideation and use statistics to determine which ones are most strongly correlated with the behavior you are seeking to change. The creative part is then taking the research findings and translating them into a creative campaign that engages people emotionally.