Saturday 15 February 2014

Effectiveness Case Study: Development Media International

In November, I completed eight media effectiveness case studies. The goal of these case studies was to hierarchize media uses according to a utilitarian rubric. My eight posts dealt with James Cameron’s Avatar, Marcel Duchamp’s The Fountain, Homer’s The Odyssey, Ludovico Einaudi’s Primavera, the Idle No More movement, producing media for a good cause such as the Against Malaria Foundation, and Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg, and the bibliotherapy organization Changing Lives Through Literature.

After completing these case studies, I decided that they had been useful in forming my thinking on these issues, but that I should not use them in my thesis paper, as they aren't objective enough to prove anything. Upon my recent discovery of a highly effective media charity, I decided it would be useful to do a ninth effectiveness case study on this organization to see whether my criteria appropriately judge it to be better than the other projects I examined.

Development Media International (DMI) provides media interventions in developing countries around the world. These interventions involve fiction and non-fiction radio and television broadcasts containing insights and information into proper health. As roughly two thirds of deaths in the developing world are by causes deemed "preventable," very simple health messages ("wash your hands," "use condoms") could realistically lead to the very simple behaviour changes required to limit this death rate. Assisted by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, DMI estimates that their media interventions can lower rates of child mortality in poor countries by 16-23%. They believe they can do this at the rate of $2-10 per DALY, making it among the most cost-effective causes one could possibly donate to.

Strength of Impact:
  1. How many people does the project reach?
  2. How significantly does it impact the people it reaches?
  3. How likely are the people it impacts to spread this impact?
  4. How long lasting is its impact?
  5. How grave was the issue pre-impact?
My answers: 
  1. High
  2. High
  3. Medium
  4. High
  5. High

DMI reaches a "High" amount of people. Some of their most successful programs regularly reach hundreds of millions of viewers. For example, a detective series about HIV/AIDS in India received a weekly viewership of 140 million, becoming India's top-rated drama. One might suspect the reach of programming in Africa to be quite low, but communication technologies are on the rise in Africa.

Furthermore, DMI has a strong impact on the people it reaches. Not only can these campaigns keep people healthy and remove stigmas, they also saves lives.

People impacted and informed by these campaigns are then moderately likely to spread this impact to others. DMI deals with the types of issues that people both tell each other about and are willing to change their minds on. One 12-month campaign about leprosy in India is claimed to have changed the minds of 172 million people, while saving 200,000 lives and reducing the stigma toward leprosy patients. A follow-up study three years later demonstrated that the persuasive effects were "broadly sustained over time." My intuition is that much of their other meme-spreading would also be long lasting. When you discover a way to avoid dying young, you tend to remember it.

With reference to SoI-5, DMI also scores a "High." Rather than appealing to middle class Westerners like many of the other examples I examined did, these media interventions are targeted at some of the world's worst off individuals, preventing millions of early deaths.

Quality of Impact:
  1. How much does it increase the accuracy of people's models of reality?
  2. How much does it improve people's quality of life?
  3. How much more likely does it make people to act altruistically toward others?
My answers:
  1. +1
  2. +3
  3. +2

DMI's media interventions are not about education as much as they are about behaviour change. There are facts to be learned from these programs, and acting on these facts can make a life or death difference, but the quantity of information is not of the sort that I would call highly "increasing of the accuracy of models of reality." It's more "advice" than it is epistemic rationality. For this reason, I scored it a +1 for QoI-1.

The impact of these interventions on people's lives can be massive, especially if it prevents death. A +3 to QoI-2 strikes me as obvious.

I also think DMI programs can make people behave more altruistically and pro-socially. Not all of their campaigns are about basic health tips like sleeping under insecticide-treated bed nets. Some of them are about changing attitudes. DMI is responsible for Vietnam's most popular radio program for youth, "Window of Love." Window of Love is a phone-in radio show for young people about sexual issues. It started in 1999 and is still on the air and very successful.

So as expected, DMI surpassed all of the causes I had looked at up until now. It is the first cause I have written about to have both excellent SoI and QoI scores. According to my chart, Changing Lives Through Literature (CLTL) is a close competitor, but that exposes the fact that some of my categories are worth more than others. CLTL reaches a low amount of people, and probably couldn't reach DMI sized audiences even if it wanted to, significantly limiting its ability to impact the world.

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