AU Watch Media Action’s work began during the early 1990s. Since then, we have delivered innovative and effective media for development across the globe. Our research work is vital in ensuring our projects are always relevant for their target audience and make a successful impact on people.
It starts with an idea.
We decide what we want to do, who it is for, what the challenges are, how we will overcome them and how the project will make a difference. This is the stage when we decide which kinds of organisations we need to work with in order to support our project and ensure it has a lasting impact. This forms our proposal.
Once we have the resources, and the project is firmly in place, then what? How do we approach all the thinking and planning?
Here’s a way for you to explore how we do this. These activities take place at the same time and feed into each other.
You can begin your own journey here, just step onto the roadmap …
What are the issues and who’s the project for?
What do we know about the situation and the audience – their needs and use of media? How will we get their feedback?
We use research to inform, monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of our media and communication projects.
For example, before a project starts, we study how people access and use media; who and what influences them; their beliefs and customs, and the issues that affect them. Sometimes, we also speak to stakeholders and decision makers to understand their views and see if and how these reflect those of the general population.
As well as this formal research, it is important to find out more through visits, meetings, reading, listening/watching the local media. For example, if you’re planning to work with local media organisations, you need to know if they have the skills and resources to be able to work with you. Do they need support to produce independent content, and to be inclusive?
Our research doesn’t stop there. When the programme’s on air, we have to test whether it’s on track to achieve what we want. Regular audience feedback is crucial. We ask our audiences whether they feel the programme is appealing, relevant and effective.
What do they think of the content? Is it reaching the right people? How can it be improved? It is important that this information is fed back into the programme design, so the programme is always evolving, remaining relevant to our target audiences and maximising impact.
It is important to regularly evaluate whether the project is meeting its objectives. Donor requirements will differ, so any evaluation needs to be tailored to these. Evaluations can therefore differ in scale.
As an example, if you’re running a large project, you may want to carry out a survey that is representative of the entire population. This would be to find out what people know, how they think and behave, before and after your project as well as to measure how many people you reached.
But when a project is about training, we find in depth interviews are most appropriate. This is because we need to understand the skills participants feel they have learned and how they are able to use these in their working lives.
Why and how will this make a difference?
How can we use media and communication most effectively in this situation? Who else should we be working with?
To guarantee our project is effective, we have to be sure-footed. To help us do this, we create a tailor-made ‘Theory of Change’ for each setting and project. This basically sets out the steps we will take to reach our aim. Based on the evidence from our research, it identifies issues and obstacles, opportunities and strategies, and keeps our focus on the impact we want the project to have.
This is the core thinking for our project. We develop an initial Theory of Change before we put a proposal to a donor. Once we start our project, we check our Theory of Change and adjust it to take account of what we have learned and understood from our research.
We use this like a living roadmap – to guide the project and, as we find out more from our audience or unexpected things happen, we revisit it to take account of any changes. These processes help us decide what we will do to deliver the aims for each project and how we will know that they have been achieved.
We begin the process of creating a Theory of Change by focusing on the main issue and the current scenario. What are we aiming for? What is the real difference our project can make? Media have an impact on all levels of society, on individuals and communities, on those providing services and those making decisions about them.
We think about the problems and obstacles that stand in the way of useful change. At the same time, we think about the people and opportunities available to help audiences to make the changes they want.
This feeds into our choices about what we can do practically – how can media and communication be used to break down the barriers and/or help those making progress? What can we contribute that is most useful – research, capacity building, media and/or outreach?
We choose activities that will be most effective, either in raising awareness about issues, adding to knowledge and skills, and/or encouraging change in attitudes and beliefs.
This helps us to deliver our goal, where audiences will be in a position to think or do things differently and make the change they want to be part of.
Bringing it all together!
All the thinking and research comes together in the communication framework, the living guide for our roadmap, also containing the planning, information, and decisions for everyone to understand the project’s journey.
We make sure that everyone involved in the project understands what it’s all about, why we are doing it and how it will make a difference. We plan how to fit everything together, including media platforms and channels through a ‘communication framework’.
This provides the basis for relevant people to draw up specific ‘creative briefs’, to think about which formats will be most effective to make the desired impact. It includes all the programme plans, and everyone contributes to thinking through how the whole project can work to deliver the objectives.
It makes the Theory of Change and the research practical, bringing them together with all the creative elements and creating a plan to guide all the elements of the project. The framework helps our teams organise exactly how they will use different communication activities to achieve and measure the project’s aims.
If you want to do this yourself or just see how this all pulls together in practice, here is an example of how we use these processes on our health projects. You can adapt this for any project.
Once this is all worked through, the live, practical work begins. But the thinking doesn’t stop. Implementing a good project requires constant adaptation. Checking your progress against the project’s aims, responding to audience and partner feedback and changing aspects of your content are essential parts of your creative journey. These are the ways that you can be sure that you will make the difference you set out to make at the very beginning.
We have a range of interesting places you can go to learn more about how we conduct research and what we have learned about our audiences.