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Yesterday I had the pleasure and honor to sit on a panel with Hollywood heavies – two co-executive producers and writers of Law and Order: SVU and a supervising producer of Grey’s Anatomy, as well as a woman who used to work on telenovas. We were at the Hollywood, Health and Society conference on setting the research agenda for entertainment education.
It was interesting to see how different we all work when it comes to incorporating global health messaging into our programmes. We all had the same challenge, the ability to add in the messages, but keep the show relevant, authentic and interesting to our audiences.
I think in that way we’re a bit luckier because we create original programming for each issue we tackle. But then that also means we don’t have a existing audience base to reach, so run the risk of poor ratings.
Because we don’t have characters we need to stay true to, we also allow our partners a lot more leeway with what goes into the programming, where for obvious reasons Greys and SVU simply can’t give global health agencies.
I understand the frustration of these agencies that want to ‘control’ the message, but I think that’s where blue sky thinking needs to come into play.
The key problem is not knowing in advance when global health messages will be airing on the shows when they’re broadcast in other countries. However, that doesn’t stop the agencies from using these storylines as a catalyst to encourage dialogue among their audience and in their outreach plans. If anything this introduction of global health messages into such globally successful programmes serves to support the in-country and even global campaigns on the issues.
This is just my observation, that these programmes are just one more tool in the arsenal to address global health issues especially to mainstream audiences.

I’m really excited that next week I’ll be participating in the Hollywood Health and Society research conference in LA. And not only because I’ll be in LA and getting away from this lovely British weather!
The conference aims to bring together top researchers to discuss the challenges and limitations and way forward with research on entertainment education and global health policy. Ok written down it does seem quite boring.
It is fascinating though. For some of us who have been doing entertainment education for well over 10 years (scary but true), this really is interesting. Instinctively you know it works (entertainment education that is), and you can do focus groups, and survey people on intentions/actions as a result of the programme or track feedback, calls to helplines, traffic to sites etc, but is that enough?
So what is the research you need to be doing and if its self-reported, how do you know its true? Other limitations are the obvious ones with focus groups – how do you know participants aren’t telling you what you want to hear? I’m not a researcher so those are the thoughts that come to my mind but I’m sure a good, qualified researcher knows how to combat this… I guess.

But when you work in a global environment where people are different, they receive and respond to messages differently, and indeed even the message delivery is different, how do you measure it in order to do effective comparisons? These are the questions I ask myself whenever we air a show globally. Is it ineffective if people in one part of the world didn’t like it, or if it didn’t move them to act or engage? Or is it all good as long as someone somewhere in the world got it?
The more I work in this sector – of entertainment education – the more I want to make sure we’re getting it right, so I’m excited to go to this conference, just at the thought of learning something that might positively impact my work – that and the fact that I’ll be near the beach!

We figured it out – we now know who our clients are! It seems like an easy enough task, but when you think about what we do – produce content, funded by different organisations, and then distributed to broadcasters to air, for young people to watch – well any of those could be our clients. Then you break up what we do, how we do it and who it serves and then you figure out who the clients are. It was a really interesting process and the debates led to even more understanding.

From there we’ve done (or will do by tomorrow) three half days of strategic planning. It’s been really interesting as we’ve done a SWOT analysis – both internal, and external, identified our competitors and even our core competence (you can see i’m putting my MBA training into good use). The good thing was getting the input of the whole team and not just leaving it to ‘management’. And it’s a pretty good team – they get along, they’re passionate about the issue, they’re ambitious and they’re constantly striving to be better!

The candid discussions made us all think that as a campaign we’ve lost our edge a little bit and now we’ve got some distance to go to get back to being the absolute best – which is of course what we always strive to be.

Hmmm what will tomorrow bring?

this is an interesting one.  coming from the relatively small NGO world in Africa to work for this huge global entity, it really was like a different world all together. you know the HIV/AIDS world has it’s own language, but then so does the private sector and that excited me.  then i started working with my boss on our ‘partner’ relations (i call it that, that’s not the official term for it – public-private partnerships i think it’s called in the NGO world) and i began to see the merging of the language.  it wasn’t always pretty.

the truth of the matter is that the ppps work because each partner recognizes the need of the other, but when one starts taking the other for granted, it doesn’t quite sit well.  i think sometimes the private sector do have their own little arrogance because they don’t have to play by the same rules as the NGO or UN agencies and other philanthropic organisations and sometimes that’s a good thing – because they can push the boundaries in the way the agencies can’t.  but then again the non-profits don’t always appreciate this.

the non-profits have their own arrogance too, because they know the issues, they’re in touch with the ‘real people’, they’re saving people’s lives on the ground.  allegedly. (ok some of them can prove this).  and they think their way – the tried and trusted way – is the right way.  So you know there’s going to be conflict.

i must admit that sometimes i listen to middle class white americans (no offence) based in a US city telling me what a young African woman would or wouldn’t do.  and don’t get me wrong, i don’t think for a minute that i represent all young african women or that i’m a typical african woman, because i know that i did have the privilege of growing up in London and Stockhom and that i have- as my father would say- western ideals.  but i still think that i know a little bit better about young African women – especially the type we reach with MTV.

sigh.  oh well, at the end of the day the most important thing is getting the message across right?  hmmm i’ll give you my take on that one another time.

(by the way if this post doesn’t make sense, i totally blame it on the fact that i started writing it and then went to a digital thing for almost 3 hours and then came back to finish this off!)