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The Busara Blog

Meeting the mark

Testing communication campaigns using the Low-cost Message Testing Guide

By Monica Kay and Alina Ojha

Illustration by Lynette Gow

Precision is the tell of extraordinary marksmanship. However, it is preceded by numerous missed shots, form adjustment, choice of weapon, and the strength of character to keep shooting better. Precision, therefore, is a process of trial, error, and eventual victory. Similarly, the quality of behavior change communication (BCC) campaigns depends almost entirely on testing to determine the efficacy of messages, and to increase stakeholder engagement.

Simply put, testing is a series of investigations that evaluate assumptions on why something might or might not work. In communication campaigns by Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), for example, testing is used to measure audiences’ reactions, to determine whether the content is understandable, believable, or even appealing. This way, successful elements are retained, and others are either improved on, or discarded. With how frequently advocacy and campaigning by CSOs occur, message testing may not always happen, especially if resources are stretched thin. Enter the Low-Cost Messaging and Testing (LCMT) Guidebook, a free resource developed specifically for low-resource scenarios, and inexperience with testing.

Before launching or scaling up a BCC campaign, testing is critical for two reasons:

  1. To amend project design and clear assumptions. For instance, the majority of project design assumes that men are the primary decision-makers in a household. However, testing may reveal that men and women are joint decision-makers, or that women are the sole decision-makers in certain aspects of the home.
  2. To prepare for success. Through testing, CSOs can evaluate and contextualize their campaign messages to ensure that the needs, interests, and priorities of the target audiences are met. If messages are understood and accepted during testing, then they are likely to influence behavior change, and the campaign would be deemed a success.

What can CSOs test for?

Using the LCMT guidebook, CSOs can efficiently and effectively test various aspects of campaign messages with their audiences, and easily apply the feedback received. CSOs can test for:

  1. Comprehension.

Did the audience understand the message, and to what extent? Here, words and phrases are analyzed for jargon and technicality, timeliness and relevance, as well as fit to the target demographic.

2. Appeal.

Does the message and medium capture — and retain — the audience’s attention? Message appeal has to do with content; is the language appropriate for the audience? Does it motivate them to seek out additional information? Medium appeal has to do with the preferred source of information for the target audience. A younger audience may prefer digital platforms, while an older one may prefer print and radio.

3. Acceptance.

Much like appeal, this is based on the appropriateness of the message. Additionally, the audience internalizes relevant messages, so much so that they are able to offer feedback, or apply solutions offered in their day-to-day lives. For the message to be accepted, it must be relevant to the audience and the issues that need addressing. For instance, campaigns on uptake of planning methods would primarily target women aged 18–35, rather than the 35–48 group since the former is in the prime reproductive age.

4. Motivation for behavior change.

Ultimately, the communication campaign should motivate a change in behavior among the audience. While there isn’t a direct test to measure this, the sum total of responses to all the above elements points to a likelihood of behavior change. It is therefore critical that the objectives, messages, and media outlined in the campaign are well thought out, and that the call to action is clear enough for the audience to go along with.

As a parting shot, testing can — and ideally should — be conducted at various points of a campaign; at the beginning to get the message right, midway to track reactions and responses, and after to fully evaluate impact. With the LCMT guidebook, CSOs can leverage budget-friendly testing methods for big impact results.

The LCM project aims to support civil society organizations to identify low-cost methods of testing their communication campaigns, to achieve behavior change. The project assumption is that CSOs often work with limited funds, time, and resources, in turn restricting their ability to test the efficacy of their message campaigns. Most CSOs also perceive testing to be expensive, and the project seeks to demystify these misperceptions. By leveraging the LCM guidebook, CSOs can achieve impactful campaigns while maintaining a low-budget.

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Busara is a research and advisory firm dedicated to advancing Behavioral Science in the Global South