Thursday, 20 February 2014

Non-Profit Media Organization Profiles

In the past two weeks, I have looked at several philanthropic organizations that use media to make the world better. This post is a way of compiling information on these organizations into one place for those who are interested in learning more about this subject. I include short summaries of each organization but I do not want to influence anyone's views of their effectiveness, as I'm uncertain. I encourage readers to do their own research on these organizations and to read what GiveWell and other charity evaluators say about the ones they have looked at. This post is intended primarily as a resource. It is part of a broader goal of mine to leave behind a trail of breadcrumbs for others who want to teach themselves about using media for effective altruist ends.

Development Media International (DMI): 

See my effectiveness case study of DMI here. They produce fiction and non-fiction television and radio programs intended to inform and influence people living in the world's poorest countries. Some of these programs are mainstream entertainment in the countries in which they air. Issues focused on include gender equality, maternal and child care, family planning, HIV/AIDS, malaria, NTDs, and more. DMI believes it can use the mass media to improve the quality of life in developing nations at a rate of $2-10 per DALY. GiveWell, however, wants to see more experimental evidence confirming the ability of mass media programs to influence behaviour. DMI is currently working on a randomized controlled trial in Burkina Faso to further demonstrate their impact, but they believe strong evidence to already exist. They claim to have found a dose-response relationship, where the more exposure one has to DMI programs, the more likely one is to change behaviours.

Population Services International (PSI): 

PSI is an ex-GiveWell recommended charity. They are also currently in the #10 spot on The Life You Can Save's listed of recommended charities. PSI does social marketing in developing countries. This means that they both advertise for things like better hygiene and distribute products like condoms and insecticide-treated bed nets. Informative messages alone aren't effective unless there is also a distribution system in place providing people with the products needed to make the desired change. They focus on reducing rates of HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, child mortality, and unwanted pregnancy.

PSI puts a lot of information on their website. They use multi-round surveys, focus groups, interviews, and other qualitative methods to gain an understanding of their audiences, as well as to better assess the effectiveness of their programs. Some of their surveys, results, and reports are posted online. They also offer some shallow analysis of the many studies looking at the effectiveness of social marketing. PSI also openly displays a catalogue of hundreds of publications (but some of which only reveal abstracts). I personally haven't found any of these publications useful for my own research but their catalogue could possibly be a goldmine for the right researcher.

GiveWell de-recommended PSI on account of there being a shortage of evidence proving PSI's programs to trigger significant behaviour change. Despite all of PSI's transparency, I am also having trouble finding the evidence making social marketing's effectiveness clear. They sent me a document briefly explaining their research methodology and findings but, like the information on their web site, this didn't clarify much for me.

Center for Communication Programs (CCP): 

CCP primarily does strategic communication. They partner with organizations worldwide to promote compromise, political dialogue, and healthy behaviour. 

In trying to alleviate HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, child mortality, and the rest of the usual suspects, CCP (1) spreads persuasive messages, (2) makes information accessible to the people that need it, (3) train public health professionals in strategic communication, and (4) conduct research so that they can improve their own communication methods.

Of all the charities I've looked at, CCP is the one with the most useful publications page. Quotes from some of these made it into my ongoing list of media advocacy optimization tips. Unfortunately, for many of these publications, all you get access to is an abstract - but breezing through a few dozen abstracts can sometimes be better than reading a good article or two.

Included in their great resource center is a PDF copy of a book on how to do strategic communications effectively, along many other guides for beginners. Based on a quick glance, it appears like reading this book would actually be useful to me.

I have no reason to think CCP is an optimal place to donate to, but their web site is a really great resource for those looking to learn the landscape of media interventions in developing nations.

Center for International Media Assistance (CIMA): 

CIMA does not do health communication; they do media development. Doing media development means they aid the development of mass media infrastructure in poor nations. This could involve funding new media outlets (radio stations, television programs), training the professionals that work for media outlets, improving the legal landscape for media production, raising levels of media literacy among audiences, and more. The ultimate goal is for these countries to have sustainable, quality, and free mass media sectors. A free press can serve a nation in many ways: deterring political corruption, countering propaganda, promoting honest discourse, exposing people to a wider array of viewpoints, etc. CIMA is thus very interested in measuring the levels of press freedom around the world. Click here for their meta-evaluation of the press evaluators Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International Research and Exchanges (IREX), and Freedom House. CIMA believes that media development can make aid more effective. I'm not sure how effective media development is compared to entertainment-education and I suspect that nobody else really knows either. Documenting the effects of broadcasts seems easier to measure, so I'd lean toward that being a better area to focus on.

Farm Radio International (FRI): 

FRI partners with organizations worldwide that inform farmers in developing nations with radio broadcasts. In developing nations, there are hundreds of millions of farm families. FRI provides these families with low-cost farming methods and other info. In strengthening farmers, FRI believes it can improve food security in countries where food  is scarce and get farmers to be conscious of the environmental impact of their work. Radio is a good choice of medium because it is by far the most commonly possessed mass communication device in the third world. The effectiveness of radio broadcasts is less certain. FRI has posted some promising looking reports on this issue but I have yet to do more than glance at them. FRI is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which suggests they may have more evidence to back up their effectiveness than they provide for the public.

Search for Common Ground (SFCG): 

SFCG works in conflict resolution. Violent conflict is correlated with poverty, an unhealthy environment, high rates of disease, and low levels of literacy. Further, 11% of global GDP is spent containing violent conflict. Diminishing the threat of violence could thus have several positive effects. But perhaps violence isn't the fundamental problem and there are other things which need to be addressed (like poverty and literacy), in order to significantly reduce violence. SFCG uses various mediums to spread fiction and non-fiction programs to people in over 20 countries. I enjoy the resources on conflict resolution they have on their website but they aren't quite about what I want to learn. I don't see any attempt on their web site to justify that their programs work.

Equal Access

Equal Access uses the media to disseminate information and foster education in the countries that most need it. They produce their own content but, like CIMA, they also try to bolster the media sectors and communities of these countries via other methods. They train reporters, hold meetings and clubs for the public to discuss serious issues, promote media literacy, and throw workshops for leadership training to complement their media content with community engagement. This seems like a promising way to improve a number of issues that derive from ignorance. 

Equal Access measures their effectiveness with four tools: (1) before-and-after surveys, (2) analysis of audience feedback, (3) analysis of stories that document change, and (4) focus groups, participant panels, and interviews. Arguably none of these are satisfactory ways to prove impact, but that is the unfortunate nature of media influence.

Population Media Center (PMC): 

PMC works with national and local broadcasters and media producers to craft entertainment-education for television and radio. Entertainment-education is fictional programming imbued with positive messages and important information that is intended to change attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours in audiences. In airing these programs, PMC hopes to reduce population growth to a level that can be sustained by the world's natural resources and persuade people to behave less harmfully toward the environment.

PMC employs the Sabido method for entertainment-education. The Sabido method is basically just to use the literary device of character development. In Miguel Sabido's "telenovelas," characters would begin with the wrong values and then develop the right values over the course of the show. Protagonists are typically "transitional" characters maneuvering through a world of purely "good" and "evil" people. Apparently, the effects of the first show to use the Sabido method, "Accompany Me," were as follows:

  • Phone calls to the CONAPO requesting family planning information increased from zero to an average of 500 a month. Many people calling mentioned that they were encouraged to do so by the telenovela.
  • More than 2,000 women registered as voluntary workers in the national program of family planning. This was an idea suggested in the telenovela.
  • Contraceptive sales increased 23% in one year, compared to a seven percent increase the preceding year.
  • More than 560,000 women enrolled in family planning clinics, an increase of 33% (compared to a 1% decrease the previous year).
Furthermore, in the years that Sabido-style soap operas aired on Televisa, Mexico's population growth dropped 34% and the soap operas were credited by one USAID employee as the main cause. This is impressive but it likely is an anomaly. Using character development alone is no guarantee of such effectiveness and there's certainly nothing about soap operas that screams world optimization. All of the significant behaviour change success stories I've heard have been hit shows/films/books. Trying to make a hit is likely a very good heuristic for making a highly persuasive program.

PMC strikes me as one of the most important organizations on this list to look into. The information on their web site is genuinely interesting to read and has even given me some new ideas on using entertainment-education to influence.

PCI-Media Impact

Media Impact produces entertainment-education promoting health, empowerment, and environmental issues for the third world. Similar to PMC, Media Impact focuses on dramas because of the ways in which story engagement facilitates persuasion (transportation and identification). Because these stories are intended to teach values and sway cultural norms, character decisions always result in repercussions (have unprotected sex --> get an STI). To art fans, the entertainment-education approach to storytelling might seem pedestrian but whatever. Artistic value has no value outside of the moral goodness of its consequences. Apart from entertainment-education serial dramas, they also produce radio call-in shows, and do community mobilization campaigns.

Media Impact uses a four step methodology:

Phase 1: Coalition Building & Formative Research
Phase 2: Training and Program Design
Phase 3: Mentoring and Production
Phase 4: Broadcast and Community Mobilization

Although the information they provide on their thought process is pretty satisfying, their "Resources" page is blank, and I see no mention at all of monitoring their own effectiveness. Entertainment-education seems to have a decent track record but I would still like to see Media Impact measuring the effectiveness of their programs and making the results public.

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