Five quality principles of behaviour change messaging

This is the second of a four part blog series focusing on techniques and learnings for effective and impactful content development that achieves its intended outcomes, resulting in behavioural change.

Behaviour change messaging can be a fairly complex endeavour. How do you tell that the message you have crafted is going to have the desired effect or outcomes once it gets to the intended audience? In my previous blog, ‘Five prerequisites for high quality mHealth content, we considered the importance of setting up the prerequisites such as scope of the content, purpose of the content and even precision of evidence base, prior to the actual content development, in order to set a good foundation for high quality content. Here, I will expand more on this topic. In this blog, I share five considerations you should explore when developing content. These have been applied to the health and nutrition content across eight countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, under the mNutrition programme, and have been proven to be key to development of great content.

The five principles

1. Actionability/Call to action

A good quality message should give a direct course of action to the reader or end user in order to maximise on its ability to cause behaviour change. The user should understand, by reading the message, the benefits and implications of acting on the advice given in the message. The action recommended by the message should be available to and affordable for the user in order to lead to behaviour change and better nutrition/health. The options for the action should be clearly set out.

2. Clarity

The language, tone and presentation of the message should be suitable for its intended audience. The terminology used should be easily understood by the beneficiary and the recommended action should be clearly described so that any user can understand the message irrespective of their education level. Content testing will help identify if there is anything else that makes the information or resource difficult to read or understand.

3. Usefulness

Usefulness can be defined as the quality of having utility and especially practical worth or applicability. The content or message you develop should be able to teach the target audience about the things you know that they would find interesting and would derive a direct benefit from knowing. Such insights can be derived from content testing, as will be described in my next blog, ‘Is your content fit for purpose?’.

4. Accuracy

For credibility, the content should be based on the best evidence available2 and this evidence should be acceptable for/rooted in the health circles. During content development, the aim is to convert complex information to a simple explanation but not misleading. Remember, the goal is to produce reliable information to help the end user make good choices about their health and to drive behaviour change.

5. Appropriateness/Relevance

To identify if the message has anything offensive/unacceptable and hence achieve cultural appropriateness and relevance, and also test the economic viability, i.e. look at the socio-economic status and the user’s ability and willingness to incorporate learnings from the message into their day to day living. Content testing is an important tool the developer can use in order to understand if the message created is the right message for the right audience. Content testing also helps identify whether the content is timely (i.e. are we giving advice on something that is obsolete in that region/ has not yet reached that region, are we discussing things like foods that are available in that region?)

To ascertain the suitability and acceptability of each of these quality principles by the target audience or end user, we have to take the content to the end user for content testing. During the testing exercise, we test the qualities e.g. clarity using indirect questions like “What did the message say?”. In the next blog, I will expand more on how to ensure your content is fit for purpose the importance of on-the-ground content testing, with the intended end users in order to verify the usability of the content.

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