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.
The success of the PMC Methodology for entertainment is not a fluke. PMC’s successful deployment of entertainment can be explained with social and behavioral theories, which drive the process and guidelines for building every PMC drama. Here are general concepts from a few of the foundational theories.
Social Learning Theory of Albert Bandura:
Human behavior is heavily vicarious observation, with other people serving as role-models. Trial-and-error is relatively tedious but also inefficient when the cost of errors is injury. So, many people short-cut this process by learning from the successes and mistakes of others.
Social Cognitive Theory of Albert Bandura:
Behavior change will only occur when an individual perceives change is possible – not only that they possess sufficient agency to enact novel behaviors, but that their former day to day presuppositions about the world are not immutable. We call this self-efficacy.
MacLean’s Concept of the Triune Brain, supplemented by Sabido’s own Theory of the Tone.
The basal ganglia (the reptilian brain) is geared to create instinctual response to the environment, such as basic self-preservation and survival needs — forming deeply entrenched stereotypes for quick sorting and instantaneous decision making. The limbic system, or neo-mammalian brain, is the seat of human emotion, and enjoys a primal, direct connection to the basal ganglia; this is why emotional triggers directly affect behavioral decisions – even more reliably and strongly than the neo-cortex, which is the area of the brain where logic, rationality and abstractions are formed – but two steps removed from the basal ganglia.
Conventional health education programs may often fail because they focus exclusively on the cognitive brain with appeals to rationality and “good sense.” Our soap operas engage with the emotional part of the brain, putting us a step closer to the trigger of everyday behavior.
Horton and Wohl’s concept of Parasocial Interaction:
A quasi-interpersonal relationship between an audience member and a media personality or character. Audience member identifies with, and forms a relationship with, a character – emotionally analogous to real-world interpersonal relationships.
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.