Entertainment for democracy, social justice and reconciliation
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The Transformative Power of Story-Telling: An Edutainment Guide for Social Change - Step 3: From Research to Message

Mon, 11/28/2022 - 05:13

"We're not reciting these messages through various communication pieces. We are building stories that are messages in their own right." - Juana Marulanda, Content Director, Romper el Silencio, Imaginario Foundation

This chapter discusses how to design messages and to promote them into a powerful storyline in the process of creating evidence-based entertainment education (EE) to address situations of complex social justice and reconciliation.

Steps include:
  • Design the message(s): The messages come from your research findings: focus groups, in-depth interviews, a literature review, and discussions with topic experts. Through the journey of characters that audiences identify with, messages are woven into a dramatic story of change. Characters come to challenge the status quo by learning to act and behave differently. When you develop messages, go back to your social and behaviour change theory (Step 1), and reflect on the different pathways of change. During a message design workshop, whose steps are outlined in a diagram on page 56 of the resource, participants should reach consensus on the main messages and prioritise these in order of importance.
  • Write a message brief that contains: the broad messages in order of priority; detailed information required around each message; the background to each message (possibly including a summary of the literature review and of the findings from audience research); appendices that contain relevant information for different members of the creative team, if applicable; and any additional documents that will help your creative team understand exactly what you want from them (e.g., transcripts from focus groups to help writers develop stories based on real-life examples).
Case studies include:
  • Colombia: One of the most complex processes of the design of Romper el Silencio ("Breaking the Silence") was the construction of the message brief. Given the nature of the topic, Imaginario and its partners sought the support of a political scientist with extensive experience in memory, history, and pedaegogics on the contemporary armed Colombian conflict. She became a key advisor on the historical critical thinking perspective and helped define 5 pillars, each with a key message:
    • Build understanding of the values, norms, and practices that fuel violent conflict resolution.
    • Create awareness of truth in order to move from conflict to democratic coexistence.
    • Explain restorative justice and its contribution to dealing with the past.
    • Exemplify symbolic reparation (non-repetition, restitution and repatriation, compensation, satisfaction, and rehabilitation) and validation of the victims' experiences.
    • Build a historical understanding of the armed conflict and how this critical approach contributes to peace-building.
  • South Africa: Heartlines hosted a message design workshop that included the project team, key stakeholders, and the creative team for the "Beyond the River" film and #WhatsYourStory multimedia campaign. The messages included: honesty in coming to terms with our past; developing a culture of love, respect, acceptance, and empathy for others; and gratitude for the peaceful transition to a non-racial democracy. "It really was a story where we had two people by learning more about each other, had managed to come together and achieve something that was quite difficult to achieve," says Jennifer Charlton, Heartlines Executive Producer.
Lessons learned from Step 3 experiences:
  • Ensure that the entire team involved in constructing the messages knows and understands the objectives of the strategy and the findings of the formative research process.
  • Value the community's input during the process.
  • Do not try to be exhaustive; it is best to have a limited number of messages - four or five key messages are enough - in order to communicate them effectively.
  • Don't try to include every message in every piece.
  • Think carefully about which message suits which medium.
  • During the creation and production process of the pieces, check to ensure the key messages are being communicated.
  • Do not transcribe verbatim the messages in the message brief into the pieces; instead, communicate the ideas through the stories and characters.
  • Value positively the participatory work of the research team, subject matter experts, and the communications team, even if tensions arise.
A Collaboration between Imaginario Foundation, Heartlines and The Communication Initiative, with the support of DW Akademie
Publication Date
English, Spanish
Number of Pages

Information sent to The Communication Initiative by Juana Marulanda, Fundación Imaginario, November 22 2022.

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