Delivery channels are the means by which organisations can reach, engage and inform people within communities. COVID-19 is forcing response actors to think differently about the way information is communicated and how programs can be delivered, especially since in-person programming is not always safe at the moment. Behaviour change projects for COVID-19 prevention need to be designed with appropriate behavioural techniques and delivery channels and this will depend on the characteristics of your population and the particular setting or context where your organisation is working. It is very likely that multiple delivery channels will be needed to reach the entire population. While it is important to think carefully about the selection of delivery channels, it is even more important to dedicate time and energy to thinking through the content that will be delivered via the chosen delivery channels – it is this content that is key for changing behaviour. This resource from the World Health Organization (WHO) provides a framework for delivering effective communications.

One of the key decisions organisations are having to make at the moment is whether to use in-person communication or remote delivery channels. Consider the following when making this decision:

  • What aspects of behaviour are you trying to change? - Before deciding on delivery channels, make sure that you have taken time to understand current behaviour and barriers to adopting preventative actions. Develop a ‘theory of change’ which outlines the specific aspects of behaviour that your programme hopes to change and how. Getting this clear will allow your organisation to determine whether your programme needs to be delivered in-person or remotely. However, it is also important to take into account local rules for gathering, physical distancing, and lock-downs in response to COVID-19.
  • Who are the population that you will be targeting and what are their needs, and preferences for information delivery - Define who your target participants are and where they are located. If you are targeting a large population or area, it may not be feasible to conduct household visits. Also consider the communication preferences of your population. For example, in some settings, populations may not want organisation staff to visit their household during the pandemic, whereas in other settings these may be necessary to build trust.
  • Consider language, literacy, and inclusivity - If you are living in a country where people speak a range of languages, this may make certain modes of programme delivery more challenging, time consuming and costly. Similarly, if a large proportion of your population have limited literacy, then this may preclude some communication approaches. In this case you can consider using mostly images and simple text in your communication. Also consider using sign language interpreters for those who are deaf. It is important to have messaging that is inclusive of older populations and people with disabilities.
  • Access to technology - Many remote delivery channels rely on people having mobile devices or technologies. However, some households may not have access to mobile devices, computers, televisions, or radios, or the technology may not be equally accessible to everyone in the household. Consider whether your target population can be equitably reached through the delivery channel you intend to use, and if not, think about how you will reach those who may be excluded.
  • Cost - The delivery channels that rely on technology are typically cheaper for the number of people they are able to reach. When calculating the cost of conducting household visits, the cost of travel, training, and the amount of time that will be spent by going to each household will need to be considered. However, below we outline a few reasons why remote delivery channels may be less effective than in-person interactions.

There are three main types of delivery channels that can be utilized for communication: mass media, digital communication, and interpersonal communication. Within these main types of delivery channels, there are multiple ways that information can be disseminated. Mass media campaigns utilize mediums such as radio and television to reach large numbers of people in a short period of time. Digital communications rely on the use of electronic means to relay information through platforms such as social media, group chats and phone messaging. Interpersonal communications can take place in the form of household-level visits and are likely to have a much smaller reach than the other types of delivery channels.

When utilising mass media or other technology-based formats consider how the following points may influence the effectiveness of your programme:

  • It’s harder to get people’s attention - Forms of non-personal communication like TV, radio or social media may not grab the full attention of audiences in the same way that in-person interactions do. To overcome this, try to think about how your content can stand out and be surprising. Try to maximise the opportunity for exposure by repeating messages as frequently as possible at different times of the day.
  • It may be harder for people to recall messages at critical moments - If working with mass media, it might be worth noting that there is normally a time gap between when people are exposed to the message and when they have the opportunity to practice the preventative behaviour. This time-gap means that behaviours may be easier to forget. To overcome this, keep messages simple and repeat them often.
  • Generic messages may be less persuasive - The use of mass media often requires you to broadcast messages to a whole region or nation in a standardised way. Standardised messaging can be seen as less interesting and persuasive as it may seem less relevant to a particular individual’s circumstances or context. To overcome this, try to share the stories of individuals and make content aspirational as well as practical. Additionally, use previous learning or formative research from your region to make the messaging context-specific.

To overcome some of these limitations mentioned above, it's useful to always utilise more than one delivery channel. For example, the Phillipine Department of Health created a multimedia behaviour change campaign called BIDA Solusyon (Be The Solution) that includes radio commercials, television commercials and social media outreach on Facebook. By combining these three mediums they are more likely to reach more of the population.

Source: BIDA Solusyon Facebook Page

The table below shows the benefits and limitations of the various types of delivery channels that can be used to reach people at a community level. Each of these are discussed in more detail in the subsequent sections.

Delivery Channel

Benefits

Limitations

Mass Media

  • Considered as legitimate source of information
  • Standardised messaging

Radio

  • Cost-effective
  • Some two-way interaction
  • Reaches remote populations

Television

  • Believable content with video and audio
  • Can be used creatively
  • Unable to tailor content to population or context
  • Variable access
  • May require working with multiple radio/TV stations

Television

  • Limited opportunity for two-way dialogue
  • Expensive
  • Limited reach

Digital Communication

  • Cheap

Social Media

  • Two-way dialogue
  • Easy to track engagement
  • Different types of content

Online Group Chats

  • Two-way sharing
  • Communicate within established network
  • More likely to be trusted

Phone messages

  • Can get repeated engagement

Social Media

  • Difficult to regulate/moderate
  • Only reaches certain part of population

Online Group Chats

  • Difficult to regulate/moderate
  • Not possible to track how information shared
  • Difficult to distinguish between misinformation
  • Closed groups

Phone messages

  • Access to mobile phones varies
  • May not be suited to areas with low literacy
  • Only conveys limited content
  • Mostly one-way engagement
  • Easy for users to get frustrated

Interpersonal communication

  • Easily changed/adapted
  • Personalised and engaging
  • Enables dialogue
  • Can address range of determinants of behaviour

Key Stakeholders

  • Likely to be trusted
  • Likely to be similar to target population
  • Can contribute to long-term capacity and resilience
  • Potentially leads to new social norms for preventative behaviours
  • Time consuming
  • Not feasible on large scale (limited reach)

Household-level visits

  • Depend on capacity of staff (who need training and support)
  • May not be safe

Key Stakeholders

  • Time-consuming
  • Difficult to identify appropriate individuals to deliver message
  • Difficult to establish partnerships
  • Difficult to encourage them to add this work on top of other priorities
  • Difficult to provide support and quality control

Want to know more about maximising different delivery channels for communicating about COVID-19?

Editor's note

Author: Anika Jain

Review: Katie Greenland, Lara Kontos and Kondwani Chidziwisano
Version date: 23.09.20


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