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PMC’s Theory Of Change Model and Why It’s Successful

Missie Thurston Apr 08, 2021

Humans have always told stories as a way to understand, share, and shift beliefs and actions. Since 1998, PMC’s award-winning, locally produced radio and video series—featuring relatable characters, familiar communities, and very real choices—have inspired planet-positive behavior change across 30+ languages, 50+ countries, and millions of lives.

Our Theory of Change model is effective because our programs meet people where they are, leverage scientifically-backed social change theories, and reach millions with entertaining and inspiring stories that trigger measurable behavior change.  

Paradoxically, the rigor of our Theory of Change allows for infinite flexibility and unique stories—because each story is uniquely constructed for the people, place, and issues as they are at the particular moment in time of our broadcast.

Meeting People Where They Are

Portrait of woman in India.

Changing attitudes and behaviors is nearly impossible if you don’t first understand where people are coming from and the realities of their daily lives. Before beginning production on a new show, PMC conducts extensive ethnographic and formative research on the communities we’re hoping to reach, so we can “meet people where they are” and focus on the issues that are of the highest importance. During the research stage, we also analyze media usage and preferences in the region and gather context that can guide storylines and character development.  

Once we have decided to launch a new project, we hire local production teams—including writers and actors—to make sure the characters and storylines in the show resonate with the audience. Without talented local teams, our shows would be unrelatable and ineffective. Our shows are broadcast in the local language using the most popular and common medium in the region for the target audience of the show. Historically, this has most often been radio.  
 

Using Role Models to Address Norms

Another key aspect of our Theory of Change model is the use of fictional role models to help listeners adopt positive behaviors in their own lives. PMC shows feature positive, negative, and transitional characters that serve as role models for audiences, allowing them to see the consequences of negative behaviors and the benefits of positive behaviors. 

As audiences watch the transitional character navigate difficult situations, they can learn strategies for pushing back against social norms, having difficult conversations with loved ones, and advocating for themselves and the planet. For example, if a listener is struggling with how to discuss family planning with her husband, and a character is navigating that same issue in the show, the listener might be able to pick up tips for broaching the topic and outlining the benefits of having fewer children at properly spaced intervals.

The efficacy of role modeling in driving behavior change is backed by numerous social change theories, including: 

These theories argue that people learn many of their behaviors through observation, that they will only change if they believe change is possible, and that audience members are capable of developing quasi-interpersonal relationships with fictional characters.

PMC shows are effective at inspiring positive behavior change because listeners identify with the transitional characters—who model negative and positive behaviors, and model real challenges, failures, resilience, and perseverance, before aligning with healthy and sustainable ones. Listeners are then empowered to try out positive behaviors in their own lives, equipped with the tools to modify their behaviors, navigate personal and interpersonal challenges associated with that change, and knowing that change is possible. 

REACHING LARGE AUDIENCES AND INSPIRING TRANSFORMATION

Umurage launch event. Woman holding radio on stage with MC right beside her.

In order to trigger large scale change, it is necessary to appeal to as many interested people as possible. PMC shows reach millions of people around the world with life-changing content, and we make sure our shows are not only educational, but also highly entertaining, so that listeners continue to tune in week after week. 

Through the use of cliffhangers and gradual character development, our shows give listeners the opportunity to try out behaviors in their own lives at a reasonable pace. And by showing transitional characters occasionally falling back into old patterns before returning to positive behaviors, listeners can understand that new behaviors require maintenance and that it is always possible to get back on the right track.

Having large audiences allows audiences to discuss the show—and its characters and their behaviors—with other audience members. The cliff hangers, for example, allow audience members to ask each other what they hope a character will do. This allows for internalization and much deeper engagement with the characters’ situations, the real issues, and navigating an exploration of their feelings. It provides a “safe space” to see how others feel. It also allows a group of audience members to evolve together, changing the audience’s perception of social norms and creating a group that can apply positive social pressure.

Once listeners begin adopting these positive behaviors, they can help create virtuous cycles in their communities and the world as a whole. Individual behavior change contributes to social norm change and creates increased demand for social, health, and environmental services. 

Creating Measurable Behavior Change 

PMC-Haiti Staff wearing Zoukoutap tshirts gather together for a photo

In very broad terms, this process allows PMC shows to consistently result in measurable behavior change in audiences around the world. Our teams conduct continuous monitoring, evaluation, and learning for each show throughout its broadcast, including activities like listener groups and health clinic attendance monitoring. After a show has wrapped, we conduct endline assessments to evaluate the extent to which the show impacted attitudes and behaviors among listeners. 

Through these assessments, we know that our shows have created measurable attitude and behavior change on issues including ideal family size, gender equality, environmental preservation, family planning, and more. Here are just a couple of examples of the impact our shows have had on audiences: