Friday, April 06, 2007

Communicating to bring about social change

Anil Gulati
01 April 2007, Sunday

Conventional strategies which focus on the individual’s behaviour change may not work, these have to be more broad-based, which address the wide range of determinants in the individual’s environment and settings.

‘Meaning is not something that is delivered to people, it is made by them’. A perspective paper by Panos Institute, 1998 had mention of this statement, which still is true. Lot of debate and discussion is held in recent times on the issue on communication and in the meetings on the subject one often hears a term i.e. behaviour change communication.

The experts say that this is it. It is the need of the day especially in the states like Madhya Pradesh in India, which has challenges like high rates of malnutrition in children under three years of age, infant mortality, and has large incidences of diarrhea especially in children. Many of these could be addressed to great extent by following simple practices. The need is to communicate these practices in form of simple messages, in a manner wherein this acquired information turns into a positive action. It is well known today that, that colostrum feeding and exclusive breast feeding can help reduce infant mortality and malnutrition, hygiene practices can help prevent diarrhea, simple precautions can help prevent respiratory tract infection to the new born, but still somehow we are unable to get these across to all including people in rural and tribal areas.

Fact is that we are lagging behind. May be it is easier said, than done. May be individual wanting to make changes in his life, does not feel the need for that change or even if the urge is there but it is not so strong to turn it into motivation for action, or face resistance from family, peers and community. Many a time’s services are often inadequate for their needs or insensitive to their situation. The system often fails them. ‘I want to take my child for vaccination but health centre is closed’ said one mother in Sidhi district of Madhya Pradesh, similarly ‘I want to go to school but teachers sent us back after taking attendance’ - a young boy of 10 years mentioned it in the gram sabha in Shivpuri district . They may also face religious, cultural, economic, or social pressures or a lack of structural and legislative support-that constrain their freedom to choose healthy and safe options.

Strategies designed to improve individual lives focus only on the “individual” pushing them to change practices by defining them as wrong and right. Such strategies ‘many a times’ ignore that there exists an environment and the forces within the society which push them following practices or doing things that undermine their health or health of their child. For example in case of just creating awareness on prevention of HIV/AIDS may not work, if we do not take into account the social determinants, cultural sensitivities and deep seated inequalities within the system. One may need different strategies, which is possible and there may be threats but may be that is the reason why working for change on both macro and micro level would help. When strategies for behaviour change are formed we therefore need to think in much broader terms, keeping the real picture in mind and think beyond the individual behaviour change.

Conventional strategies which focus on the individual’s behavior change may not work, these have to be more broad-based, which address the wide range of determinants in the individual’s environment and settings. One cannot push for hand washing if there is no water, or they cannot afford the soap.

May be that is the reason rather than focusing on ‘individual behaviour change’ need of the day is to focus on social change. For communication professional the focus needs to be communication for social change, may be the individual issues would get diluted, in actual they may not be the real problems, may get addressed in the process for social change.
In the process of this kind of communication for social change such “enabling” strategies would intend to remove barriers or constraints to positive action or conversely could erect barriers or constraints to behaviour which one should not practice. A combination of approaches is therefore necessary to promote the individual’s capacity for action within a supportive environment and community.

No comments: