I recently came across an incredible article from Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) that summarised their review of what designing an effective information campaign looks like. In social and behaviour change, we are tempted to design complicated, multi-layered interventions. But can information campaigns work too?
Information is a fundamental part of behaviour change. However, the way that this information is conveyed is crucial. The format, dosage, framing, structure, and delivery are amongst many factors that influence the impact of the piece of information being delivered. Often, we think that campaigns have been effective because they increased knowledge, but most of the time, they have changed other important behavioural determinants as well and that is why they were successful. To illustrate this, I will share two examples from the J-PAL review that used information as a medium and that were successful in changing behaviour.
According to the Health Belief Model, risk perception (perceived susceptibility) is one of the key determinants of whether one takes on a protective behaviour or not. Risk information therefore needs to be carefully shared to increase perceived susceptibility. A study by Dupas (2011) showed how an HIV risk information campaign reduced unsafe sex with older men amongst Kenyan teen girls by up to 61%. Given that unsafe sex with older men is one of the key drivers of HIV infection rates amongst adolescent girls in Africa, this result is remarkable. So, what characteristics of this information campaign made it so successful?
- “Relative Risk Information Campaign”. Although the campaign was designed to disseminate information (increase knowledge) it also had a specific focus on ‘relative risk’. The information was presented using examples from a nearby city that teens could relate to.
- Presenting data in a familiar scenario. Because the information was presented using statistics of people that the target audiences could relate to, they managed to build a mental risk model of how this could play out in their own lives and how they could protect themselves.
- Use of videos. A 10-minute video was shared with the target audiences that contributed to grabbing attention through modelling.
- Group discussions. Group discussions after watching the videos likely contributed to reinforcing knowledge as well as impacting attitudes towards older men who have sex with younger women.
Increasing insurance coverage
According to the Extended Parallel Process Model, people will go through a number of stages when processing a preventative health message. First, they will assess how big the threat is and how susceptible they are to it. Second, they will assess whether there is something that they can do about it and whether that thing is available or accessible. If either of these steps fails, the message will be rejected.
In France, low-income youth are unlikely to use primary health care and have a higher prevalence of physical and mental health conditions than wealthier youth. One of the barriers to their access of the health system is the fact that they are not registered in the universal health insurance system. Crépon and Pernaudet (2019) designed and tested an information intervention that not only got low-income youth to enrol in the health insurance scheme, but one of the intervention arms doubled the number of those who saw a psychologist afterwards. What worked?
- Making things easy. The intervention was offered at the same place where young people came for job seeking support. They could see a social worker (one arm of the intervention) or a social a worker and a doctor (second and more successful arm of the intervention) at the same place.
- Tailored information dissemination. The information sessions were offered one-on-one, which meant that clients could get information tailored to their specific situation and needs.
- Personalisation. The social workers and doctors were able to stay in touch with each client over a one-year period, keeping the opportunity for personal communication open.
- Credibility. The fact that the information about seeking health services came from a credible source (a doctor) probably increased the persuasiveness of the message.
What is interesting about these two examples is how impactful a well-designed information campaign can be. At the surface, it may seem like all that was done was, well, information dissemination, but in fact, both interventions had elements that targeted several behavioural determinants and that is most likely why they were effective.
J-PAL (2021) conclude with some key characteristics of successful information campaigns.
- Pairing specific information with actionable steps encourages take-up of healthy behaviours.
- Choosing effective messengers for the local context is critical for building confidence and trust to encourage behaviour change.
- Peers and other members of a social network are often powerful means of spreading information about health products and behaviours.
- Using technology, including entertainment media, SMS messages and social media such as Twitter and WhatsApp, can amplify the reach of messages.
- When the perceived cost of behaviour change is high due either to financial or nonfinancial costs, information alone is often ineffective at changing behaviour.
Have you come across some well-designed information campaigns? Share them with me here!
Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL). (2021). “Designing information campaigns to increase adoption of healthy behaviors.” J-PAL Policy Insights. Last modified August 2021. https://doi.org/10.31485/pi.0805.2021.
Crépon, B. and Pernaudet, J. (2019). “Correcting Beliefs to Increase Health Investments: A Field Experiment Among Disadvantaged Youths.” Working Paper, October 2019
Dupas, P. (2011). “Do Teenagers Respond to HIV Risk Information? Evidence from a Field Experiment in Kenya.” American Economic Journal: Applied Economics 3: 1–34.
Maloney, E.K., Lapinski, M.K., Witte K. (2011). “Fear Appeals and Persuasion: A Review and Update of the Extended Parallel Process Model: Fear Appeals and Persuasion”. Social and Personality Psychology Compass. 5 (4): 206–219.
Skinner, C. S., Tiro, J., & Champion, V. L. (2015). The Health Belief Model. In K. Glanz, B. Rimer & K. Viswanath (Eds.), Health behavior: Theory, research, and practice (5th ed., pp. 131–167). San Francisco, CA, US: Jossey-Bass.