Technology

  • Video Workshops and Toolkit Offer Crash Course to Agriculture Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa

    Inexpensive video production has become a viable way for agricultural organizations to communicate with beneficiaries, donors, and the public. And it’s not just posting on YouTube. Devices such as handheld projectors and tablet computers have come down in price, enabling practitioners to disseminate to farmers in rural areas with minimal technology. Social networks – just a few years ago only the purview of wealthy countries – are now truly global. In regions with electricity, a well-executed video can now go viral – and become more impactful than the slickest behavior change campaigns of decades past.

    It is exciting, but that doesn’t make it simple. Organizations continue to make low quality videos that fail to engage their audience or reflect the core objectives of their project.

    To help users learn the ropes, the Fostering Agriculture Competitiveness Employing Information Communication Technologies (FACET) project has developed an online toolkit that can help one through every stage of planning, producing, and disseminating agricultural videos. It is called “Integrating Low-Cost Video into Agricultural Development Projects: A Toolkit for Practitioners,” and is available for free download.

    The toolkit is also the basis for a series of four workshops offered this month to USAID implementing partners by toolkit author Josh Woodard and myself, in Kenya, Mozambique, and Ghana. The first of the trainings was completed last week in Nairobi.

    The workshop focuses on implementing your low-cost video vision, which requires skills beyond playing Spielberg: strategically thinking about message, storyboarding narrative concepts, planning dissemination, troubleshooting inevitably buggy software, and personal perseverance, all play a role in a video’s success or failure.

    One participant, Victor Nzai, program assistant for USAID-funded Agricultural Market Development Trust of Kenya (AGMARK) project focused on agro-pastoral development, felt the training would improve his project’s ability to encourage farmers to efficiently integrate grazing range land and food production in Kenya.

    “We have been doing dissemination via field days quite successfully, but with video, we can reach many more farmers than before,” said Nzai. “We shall shoot the videos ourselves, and edit them into comprehensive tools that can be presented by a facilitator.”

    Agricultural development practitioners are looking for new ways to leverage video to circulate information and engage local farmers. Video can help them do it – but it is the holistic consideration of concept, design, and execution that will maximize chances for success.

    “Not everyone will adopt our ideas,” said Nzai. “But when we multiply the number of farmers we reach, we are able to tune our message with video to encourage farmers and pastoralists to consider better ways.”

    Learn more about using information and communication technology in agriculture.

  • “A product that pretty much sells itself”: Packaging our field experience so it’s irresistible

    While working on a U.S.-based project on obesity, I’d had a gratifying experience with concept testing. It confirmed what I’d thought for a long time – that concept testing, or trying a variety of concepts or message approaches with real audience members, can help you hone in on messages that really resonate.

    I wanted to share my excitement and convince my international development colleagues that concept testing could work for them, too. So, I put together a PowerPoint for practitioners like myself, in the business of behavior change.

    Despite a warm reception from my colleagues at a lunchtime presentation, a couple of eager 20-somethings were having trouble keeping their eyes open for the full 40 minutes. I tried again in one of our field offices overseas, but it didn’t really make sense to them because the whole project, focusing on obesity, was so very American. And even with a select, receptive audience (okay, I guess people closer to my demographic could sit through it…), my beautifully animated PowerPoint didn’t work without me there to deliver the story. I had a product, but I had to work pretty hard to sell it.

    What I needed was a product that pretty much sells itself.

    I needed a new case study on concept testing: one that featured an experience outside the U.S., and one that people could use and navigate on their own time and at their own pace. I turned to a younger colleague on our project, one who had been teaching herself the basics of video editing, is not intimidated by online mechanics, has a great sense of design, and “gets it” when it comes to behavior change.

    Fortunately, our staff in Bangladesh liked the idea of concept testing, and with a little coaching by e-mail, had tried a version of it themselves. They were sold on concept testing as a way to focus their messaging before they dove into script writing for TV spots. Now we had a non-U.S.-based story to share.

    My colleague and I shut the office door and surfed YouTube. We had a sweeping story that we wanted to tell succinctly. We typed in “movie trailers.” Voila: Gone with the Wind, the whole epic story summed up in 2½ minutes. We knocked ourselves out with a funny “how to” video on making a poster, and a complex lecture about the changing world of work, amusingly illustrated with text and cartoons, drawn as we watched.

    Inspired, we started writing scripts for our own short “how to” videos and cobbled together some mock-ups, using the visuals and software we had at hand.

    With no budget beyond our labor, we built a prototype web site with three short videos and took it out for a road test. We sat with a few colleagues and asked them to open the Beta version. One reviewer reminded us that a popular book on Web design is titled “Don’t make me think.” We reworked the page to make its purpose clear. We learned a lot about how to make our content shorter . We watched as people puzzled over what the site offered them – then taught ourselves to write explicit, brief text to tell them how they could put the tools to use. We learned that busy practitioners would delight in a sample script or research instrument. They told us they would download it and tuck it away for a training or technical assistance opportunity.

    We launched in late March 2012. Already we’ve seen an uptick in visits to Alive & Thrive’s (A&T) Web site. During the three weeks after launch, the rate of people visiting the A&T site was almost double the rate of visitors in several recent months. We’ve gotten practitioners’ attention. One official cited the case study kit as the reason she thought to invite our Bangladesh country director to present at a regional conference.

    Right now we’re deep into scripting our second kit: this one on engaging fathers in infant and young child feeding. And building on what we’ve learned, this time the videos will be two to three minutes, not four to five.

    Technology makes glitz easy. But it takes more than glitz. Thinking like marketers has taken us a bit closer to building a product that “pretty much sells itself.”

    Access full case study at  www.aliveandthrive.org/research-to-action.

  • Kids in the United States spend a shocking amount of time in front of a screen each day. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids ages 8–18 spend an average of 7.5 hours of time in front of a screen for entertainment — be it a television, computer, videogame, tablet or smart phone. And to be clear, this isn’t time spent on the computer for school work, but rather time spent relaxing and having fun. And it really adds up — over a year, 7.5 hours per day comes to 114 days of total entertainment screen time!

    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that kids get at least 60 minutes of physical activity each day, and time in front of a screen is time not spent being physically active. In an era when about one in six kids is obese, more than triple the number from 30 years ago, families and communities are getting engaged to make a change.

    Working with the CDC, FHI 360 has developed an interactive and animated infographic called Screen Time vs. Lean Time, which addresses just some of the ways kids can be physically active instead of staring at a screen. It also provides tips for parents on ways to limit their own child’s screen time.

    Click the image below to view the interactive infographic!

    Scree time vs. Lean time

    For more information about the work that we do in social marketing and communication, visit smcc.fhi360.org.

  • Yesterday morning the White House hosted an open forum on innovation in global development. The discussion panel included Raj Shah (Administrator of USAID), Gayle Smith (Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director of the National Security Council), and Tom Kalil (Deputy Director for Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy & Senior Advisor for Science, Technology, and Innovation, National Economic Council). Questions were taken from the public via Twitter with the hashtag #WHChat and through Facebook.

    FHI 360 submitted four questions through Twitter, and three of them were answered by the panel (though we were not directly mentioned):

    In which areas of development is innovation most urgently needed?

    The panel answered that innovation is urgently need in all sectors, but stressed food security, global health, and climate change as key focus areas.

    How can we best involve youth in the innovation conversation?

    The panel answered that it is important to engage college students in the US through university partnerships. They discussed USAID’s University Engagement program specifically, and talked about harnessing the power of the Internet to engage students in the developing world.

    How can development partners support home-grown innovation in developing countries?

    Similar to the above question, the panel talked about supporting students in developing countries and giving them platforms to voice their opinions. They also said that giving direct support to innovative projects and building networks of partnerships were important to foster home-grown innovation.

    What do you think? Let us know in the comments, or connect with us on Twitter, Facebook, or Google+.

    For more information about the White House’s innovation initiatives, check out their fact sheet, “Harnessing Innovation for Global Development.”

  • Mobilizing Critical Family Planning Content

    She stood there, in beautiful red robes, with a small, serene baby bound firmly to her back. “This document is our bible,” the woman said as she cradled the green volume, in a way that was both matter-of-fact and full of awe. The book she was referring to is the vastly popular collaboration between WHO, USAID, and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public of Health: Family Planning: a Global Handbook for Providers. “The Handbook,” as it is known around the world, was first published in 2007 and has been updated with new content this year. More than 500,000 paper copies have been distributed, with tens of thousands of electronic copies downloaded and distributed on CDs and flash drives. The Handbook has also been translated into nine languages.

    Here in Dakar, at the 2011 International Conference on Family Planning, the Knowledge for Health (K4Health) Project, led by Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Communication Programs (JHU•CCP), has distributed thousands of updated Handbooks in French and English, and taken orders for tens of thousands more. But this Conference has also provided us the opportunity to broaden the reach of this critical content, by launching a portfolio of technology-based versions of the manual.

    During the Conference, the K4Health Project launched the English and French versions of the Handbook in EPUB and Kindle formats, allowing the handbook to be read on a variety of platforms including iPads, iPhones, Kindles, and other eReaders. Perhaps the most exciting product release was the first version of K4Health’s Android App for Contraceptive Eligibility (ACE), based on the Contraceptive Eligibility Criteria from the Handbook. ACE allows a healthcare provider to quickly and simply identify the most appropriate contraceptive methods depending on a woman’s health conditions. Alternately, it can also be used by a provider to learn more about any of the contraceptive methods in the manual, their effectiveness, and their side effects. “This is incredible,” said a young man from Ghana who supervises a cadre of community health workers. “This means that we can carry the handbook in our pockets, even when there is no Internet or mobile connection.”

    At K4Health, we strive to combine appropriate information technology with knowledge management best practices to ensure that the right information is made available to the right people at the right time in the right format. We believe that by making this seminal text available through a variety of formats, we can contribute to expanding access for service providers and health workers at all levels of the health system. This will improve knowledge and best practices about Family Planning and Reproductive Health, thereby expanding awareness about choices that women have to make informed decisions about their lives, their families, and their futures.


    The Knowledge for Health (K4Health) project is a leader in health information dissemination using traditional and new media mechanisms and in facilitating information use through dynamic learning and exchange programs. K4Health is implemented by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health/Center for Communication Programs in partnership with FHI 360 and Management Sciences for Health. Find more information about K4Health here.