The Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs (CCP) has received a five-year award with a $300 million ceiling from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to lead its social and behavior change programs around the world.
Breakthrough ACTION will use state-of-the-art, evidence-based tools to encourage people in developing countries to adopt healthy behaviors, from using modern contraceptive methods to sleeping under bed nets to being tested for HIV. Much of the work will harness the power of communication – from mass media campaigns to TV and radio dramas to simple posters in a health clinic – to inspire long-lasting change. The project will also take advantage of other behavioral science approaches such as behavioral economics and human-centered design to improve programs.
The program – which builds on a prior five-year, $130.5 million, 31-country project called the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3) – is expected to be double the size. It will be led by CCP who will partner with Save the Children, ideas42, ThinkPlace Kenya and Camber Collective. Breakthrough ACTION will also be supported in the field by ActionSprout, the International Center for Research on Women and Human Network International. CCP is based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“American security is advanced by supporting social and behavioral interventions, which improve health and promote social stability for people living in low- and middle-income countries,” says Michael J. Klag, MD, MPH, dean of the Bloomberg School. “Such evidence-based, innovative and creative interventions should be part and parcel of every international health development program. This new award emphasizes the value of investing in social and behavior change programs.”
“Harmful social norms and behavioral challenges stand in the way of better health, education and livelihood for far too many people around the globe,” says Susan Krenn, CCP’s executive director. “With this investment, we have an incredible opportunity to test and scale new approaches, increase efficiency and to serve more people. We can’t wait to get started.”
The Breakthrough ACTION agreement was effective July 21, with work expected to begin immediately. While the exact geographic scope of the project is not yet settled, CCP expects to work in dozens of countries, primarily in Africa and Asia. CCP will build on previous successes in some countries while also building new partnerships in others.
While communication is at the heart of Breakthrough ACTION, the project will also use other behavioral science approaches such as human-centered design and behavioral economics to create social and behavior change at the global, regional and country level. CCP will also use the expertise it gained during the recent West African Ebola outbreak to do similar emergency response work if needed.
CCP’s partners on Breakthrough ACTION are all leaders in their areas of expertise. Save the Children brings unsurpassed skill in community engagement, working in 120 countries in reproductive, maternal, newborn and child health, nutrition and emergency response. Camber Collective is a leader in marketing strategy, including the use of advanced audience segmentation to better understand economic, cultural and emotional drivers that lead people to behave the way they do. ThinkPlace Kenya will infuse human-centered design thinking throughout the project and ideas42 will apply behavioral economics, cognitive science and psychology to help gain even greater understanding of human decision making.
Krenn says the award reflects new understandings about what works in international development.
“People are now appreciating that you need to do more than just build a health clinic and expect people to come,” she says. “You have to motivate them, give them a reason to go. People need the information to make decisions for themselves and their families, especially when you’re asking them to do something that isn’t common practice such as sleeping under bed nets or accessing modern contraception. This kind of work provides the missing link, helping to motivate people to make better health decisions.”
USAID administers the U.S. foreign assistance program providing economic and humanitarian assistance in 100 countries worldwide.
David Holtgrave, PhD, professor and chair of the School’s Department of Health, Behavior and Society, says the work of CCP shows the vital role of behavior change to save lives.
“Too often, when people think of development, they think only of food aid or drugs for health clinics and the like,” he says. “What our work proves is that communication is an essential part of any comprehensive, effective development program.”