Population Media Center has completed broadcast of more than 35 dramas in more than 20 unique languages, helping more than 500 million people live healthier lives in more than 50 countries.
Serial dramas can engage audiences, introduce ideas, and empower people to make better-informed decisions – creating tremendous social change. The goal of every PMC serial drama and supporting media is to offer the audience information and encourage self-assessment and discussion within their social circles to encourage the audience to make their own decisions. PMC employs a specific methodology to create these serial dramas and PMC’s serial drama methodology has been successfully applied around the world. Each drama follows the same production process and requirements. But the results are anything but formulaic – they’re all unique and powerful stories.
Imagine paying four US cents to reach a person with important health and social messages. Imagine 67 percent of new health clinic clients saying that they came to seek services because of an entertaining radio drama. These are the real implications of PMC serial dramas. There are many ways to assess the impact of PMC’s serial dramas: community impact, individual impact, and cost per behavior change are just a few measures PMC monitors closely.
PMC knows that each region is different. Values, languages, media markets…they’re all unique and they are constantly changing. PMC dramas begin with extensive formative research to identify the issues to be addressed, local laws, policies, and services available that will guide the writers and producers throughout production. PMC then conducts continuous monitoring and evaluation relating to perception of the drama and impact of the drama throughout broadcast. At the end of broadcast, PMC determines response to the program with an endline assessment, which includes quantitative and qualitative analysis.
PMC dramas must be powerful stories filled with realistic characters and plot twists that generate a range of emotions as the audience gets pulled into the story. It must be a thrill for the audience to listen to or watch the drama – otherwise, it won’t work.
PMC dramas are culturally-specific stories with “positive,” “negative,” and “transitional” characters to model behaviors. Social learning theory demonstrates that people learn from role models. PMC creates dramas that include a full spectrum of choices with fictional characters exhibiting different behaviors. The goal is to broaden the behavioral choices available to the audience by showing a large range of choices and the realistic consequences of different decisions. PMC dramas don’t tell people what is “good” or “bad” because that opposes our goal of introducing more information and encouraging discussion and self-reflection.
Good stories have to be local. Whether it’s appropriate slang or reference to a popular cultural icon, stories need to be relatable. PMC hires all local writers, actors, and production staff to create programs that are culturally sensitive and appropriate to bring about explicitly discussed behavior changes. The issues addressed in each program are based on the concerns of the host country, and the values of the program are based on the policies of that country.
PMC’s long-running serial dramas contain plots and sub-plots that unfold over time, allowing the audience to get involved with the story and watch the actions and consequences. This lengthy unveiling of actions and behaviors encourages people to guess what’s going to happen next, ask questions, and talk with family and friends to help them digest information and assess their own perspective. For many, this provides additional safety discussing emotionally-laiden, or even dangerous, topics because they can discuss these topics in relation to fictional characters. Audience members gradually learn the consequences of decisions the characters make around a variety of issues.
PMC holds production value in high esteem because it directly impacts how well the audience can connect to the story. PMC’s goal is to have each drama seem like a window into the real world, making people feel like they’re peeking through the window of a neighbor. Poor production makes it feel fake. PMC builds recording studios in most countries where we work and trains local writers and producers to ensure that personnel have the skills and technology to create a powerful media experience.
PMC’s Methodology is an adaptation and expansion of the Sabido methdology. Many of the elements and theoretical underpinnings are the same, although PMC has added elements as we’ve gained experience in numerous markets and media formats. Miguel Sabido pioneered the foundations for the Sabido methodology in the 1970s when he was Vice President for Research at Televisa in Mexico. He had an idea for a new pro-social communication model using telenovelas to promote literacy, family planning, and other social development goals. His first Sabido telenovela, Acompáñame (“Accompany Me”), and the five additional Sabido telenovelas broadcast on Televisa were attributed as huge successes.
Sabido’s insertion of a “transitional” character drastically increased behavior change adoption. Sabido wondered why until he found Albert Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, which is an influential theory of learning and development and explains the importance of observational learning. He also found other theories that explain the methodology’s success.