Better Communication and Health Outcomes through Research

PS Kenya’s approach allows for a deeper understanding of the underlying issues preventing a target group from adopting healthy behaviors, and includes an examination of the behavior of reference groups and influencers as they relate to the target group as well as social dynamics.

By Andrew Juma

In the era of Big Data and media proliferation, research has become an integral part of the communications development process. This is because the audience has more choice about what media to consume and how to do it, and is constantly bombarded with brand messages. The result is a more discerning consumer, faced with a plethora of choices from across the globe.

For marketers, the 21st Century consumer is increasingly hard to reach and their consideration sets are ever-expanding: in this disposition, a brand faces competition from both traditional and tangential rivals. For example, in previous years, traditional marketers of fizzy drinks thought their competition was only from fellow fizzy drink makers. However, changing consumer tastes coupled with effective marketing from juice makers and mineral water brands meant fizzy drinks manufacturers lost market share and were forced to compete with these tangential brands to protect their revenue.

This situation is even more precarious for social marketers and behavioural change communicators since we must cut -through to our audience with much smaller budgets and often in more stringent regulatory and policy environments.

At PS Kenya, our response to this environment is to use highly targeted marketing and communications that is shaped by research and guided by data. This results in more impactful communication and better health outcomes for Sara.

The HIV/TB department in partnership with the Research and Metrics unit recently conducted an extensive research study focusing on voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC), HIV testing services (HTS) and condom use. This involved a mix of focus group discussion, in-depth interviews with individuals, key informant interviews and journey map sessions with 497 men and women and built on learnings from the literature review. The study’s first aim was to ascertain how supply side (health systems) influence the uptake of the sexual health services within different geographical and cultural settings among selected populations in Kenya. Its second aim was to examine how demand side (population-based) factors, as evidenced from the cultural backgrounds of different populations occupying diverse geographical areas in Kenya, influence the uptake of the sexual health services.

The research findings were illuminating and displayed the intricate web of cultural, social and personal factors that either motivate or inhibit uptake of services.

For example, Moses* represents the conundrum faced by many young Turkana men who move to other parts of Kenya. Away from the cultural setting that shuns circumcision, Moses and his ilk want to adopt aspects of other communities and modern trends, but remain rooted in their culture.

Working in Naivasha, Moses lives with friends from circumcising communities. These peers were instrumental in encouraging — through light-hearted ribbing — and supporting — by renting him a house, giving him provisions and helping him secure time off work — him to undergo the procedure.

Despite this support, Moses still returned home unsure of how his father and community elders will take him. Much to his delight, his father accepted him and even asked Moses to assist his younger brother undergo VMMC, noting its benefits.

As noted by Lucy Maikweki, Director of the HIV/TB department, “research allows you to get to the heart of the matter, dispelling preconceived notions about health services in different cultural contexts. It is a big undertaking, but vital in developing communications that deliver better health outcomes for Sara across the country.”

This sentiment was reiterated by Dr Hildah Essendi, Director of the Research and Metrics unit who noted that over the years, research has helped PS Kenya produce social and behavioural change interventions that have led to measurable health impact.

“The value of research is it allows you to unearth the motivators and barriers that your work needs to address. People may say one thing: but digging deeper, analysing meanings and teasing out insights leads to better communication; measuring campaign effectiveness means you refine your processes and improve your impact year-on-year”, Dr Essendi said.

The qualitative findings were then analysed using the Delta framework, which helped inform PS Kenya’s Diagnose Design Deliver process (3D). This planned process is derived from proven behaviour change theories and frameworks, and is flexible, interactive and research-based. This way, 3D links SBC activities to behavioural outcomes and health impact.

PS Kenya’s approach allows for a deeper understanding of the underlying issues preventing a target group from adopting healthy behaviours, and includes an examination of the behaviour of reference groups and influencers as they relate to the target group as well as social dynamics. This way, the communication strategies developed under the 3D process will ensure we reach Sara effectively, so she is empowered with the knowledge of, and access to, HIV prevention options.

About the author
Andrew Juma
is the Communications Manager HIV/TB at PS Kenya.Follow him on Twitter: @andrewjuma