Between the cup and the sip

By Balaji Gopalan, Centre of Gravity

In this post, Balaji Gopalan from Centre of Gravity (CoG) offers his reflections on partnering with government and executing a joint intervention. Centre of Gravity’s recommendations in the presentation will be discussed with the Davangere district administration and Arghyam, and a set of changes will be implemented in the second round of the intervention in another 25 Gram Panchayats. We expect that in the second round, the Government will take the lead role and Arghyam and CoG will play advisory roles.

Right at the beginning, we knew that a lot gets lost between the design and delivery of rural communication campaigns. We were also aware that it would be all the more difficult to minimise this transmission loss, since we were working within the Government system for this project. Naturally, we took many precautionary steps.

Understanding
When people understand why a certain activity is done, participation tends to be more. We held several presentations with government officials at different levels to give them an idea of not just the campaign flow, but also the logic behind it.

Inclusivity
Feedback was taken from the government team at each stage and some of it incorporated.

Quality Checks
Quality checks were done through auditions of promoters and Swachchata Doots, checking of technical equipment and production quality of communication materials.

Training
Training programmes were conducted for all the people involved in the campaign – Promoters, Assistant Campaign Managers, Taluk Coordinators and Swachchata Doots.

Inspiration
The CEO also addressed the Executive Officers (EOs) and Panchayat Development Officers (PDOs) to inspire them to give their best to the campaign.

Guidance
Hand holding them from the thinking to the execution process.

Despite all these precautions, there were still many slips between design and delivery. Here are some reflections on what could have been done better.

The flow of command
The campaign was largely planned at the Zilla Panchayat (ZP) level and executed at the Gram Panchayat (GP) level. The Taluk Panchayat (TP), while kept informed, did not have an active role to play in the campaign, and thus felt no ownership over it. It is probably a good idea to include the TP officials at the planning and execution stage.

The Art of Compromise
There was always a tension between accepting the government system for what it is, and inspiring them to change for the better. For instance, punctuality. In most meetings, including training programmes, it was normal for participants turn in late. Should one accept this or push them to change? Accepting it would mean sending a signal that it is alright to not be punctual. And that would have a direct implication on the campaign – promoters would feel that it was alright to start the campaign late. Or conducting a campaign in a village where backlogs of payments were not yet cleared, sends a signal that it was alright to not clear backlogs. On the other hand, pushing them can cause resentment, which would have its own effect on the entire campaign. We need to reflect back to see if we made the right compromises in the first round of the pilot.

Inclusivity without losing coherence
During the course of the campaign’s development, we had to overlook some suggestions from the district staff, as they would have affected the design of the campaign or added to the costs without adding to the impact. For instance, the district had requested for more promoters, which would have significantly added to the cost of the overall campaign without really improving impact.This probably left the District campaign management team with the feeling that they were not heard enough.

Simplifying Campaign Logic
The professional, corporate way of thinking through a campaign is alien to people in the government system – even those who are in charge of Information, Education and Communication (IEC) for government programmes like the Nirmal Bharat Ahiyan (NBA). While the message of the campaign was understood, the finer points of communication such as sticking to the core messaging and how social norms can create behavioural change was a bit lost on the people who were implementing the campaign on the ground. This will only become more important as they begin to implement the campaign on their own. We need to find a way to communicate these finer points in a way that they are easily understood.

Inspiration that cuts through indifference
Participation of government officials in the campaign was inconsistent. We had used traditional means like the distrct CEO addressing everyone, in an effort to inspire. What is perhaps needed is an unconventional approach that would cut through the overall indifference that seems to exist.

The good news is that despite some of these delivery issues, the campaign has still delivered immediate impact on the ground. Some of these improvements can help us take it to the next level and can be experimented with as we do the next 25 GPs.

Please refer to this presentation: Reflections and Recommendations for a more detailed overview of reflections and recommendations for the campaign going forward. These reflections are for the demand generation portion of the communication campaign.

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