Development Called and Social Marketing Answered

By Patrick Cook & Craig Lefebvre, July 6, 2017

New York, NY -- From June 27 to June 29, two representatives from the International Social Marketing Association (iSMA) and its member associations met with more than 40 development and behavior change communication and marketing professionals from around the world at the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in New York to develop a “global mechanism” for ensuring that communication professionals are at the table when planning, implementing, and evaluating development programs and initiatives.

Hosted by UNICEF and facilitated by The Communications Initiative, the two-day meeting was part of a more comprehensive process to advance the “scale and effectiveness of communication, media, social and behavior change strategies and actions related to local, national, regional, and international development priorities,” according to the foundational white paper, “Development Calling.”

Craig Lefebvre, architect and designer of public health and social change programs and former board member of iSMA, and Patrick Cook, current president of iSMA, represented the social marketing community during the meeting. The meeting was hosted by Rafael Obregon, Chief of the Communication for Development Section at UNICEF New York, and facilitated by Warren Meek, Executive Director of The Communication Initiative. Representatives from the BBC Media Action Network, Johns Hopkins University, Save the Children, UN Population Fund, the UN Environment Program, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), and the World Health Organization, among others, participated.

Prior to the meeting, representatives from iSMA’s member associations – the Australian Association of Social Marketing (AASM), the European Social Marketing Association (ESMA), the Pacific Northwest Social Marketing Association (PNSMA), the Social Marketing Association of North America (SMANA) – provided feedback and recommendations on the “Development Calling” white paper, developed by the initiative based on interviews, surveys, and discussions with more than 900 communication, marketing, and behavior change communication professionals. The other groups represented at the meeting also provided feedback and recommendations.

The goal of the meeting was to develop options and a plan for developing the “global mechanism.” Some options that were discussed as the focal points of this mechanism included (a) developing programming standards; (b) developing training standards; (c) finding a common and prominent voice to influence national, regional and global policies; (d) creating a consensus around a credible and compelling evidence base for the effectiveness of the field; (e) raising funding levels; and (f) providing ways to increase civil society engagement in consultation and decision-making processes.

Throughout the two days, participants worked to find common ground and shared purpose among the communication fields to better represent ourselves as one community to policymakers and decision makers who are designing, approving, and funding development programs and initiatives. Variously known as behavior change communication, development communication, media, social marketing, and social and behavior change, the representatives of all the fields at the table in New York agreed that the one thing that bound us together was the belief – and evidence base – for ensuring that communication professionals are always a part of development programs and initiatives to ensure the highest probability of success.

At the end of the meeting no final decisions were made about any of the options noted earlier – though civil engagement, increased funding and policy voice were favored goals. The participants agreed to task a smaller group to develop an action plan and, ideally, a brand for the global mechanism, to advance the effort and seek support from the UN and bilateral funders (e.g., USAID). Mr. Obregon, the initiative’s advocate at UNICEF, will help to advance the plan through the approval process at the UN. Both Craig and Patrick have volunteered to be a part of the smaller workgroup developing the action plan and will report back to the iSMA and its member associations.

For more information about the initiative and next steps, please feel free to contract Patrick Cook, [email protected], or Craig Lefebvre, [email protected].