For a campaign to be effective, every strategic and creative decision must be grounded in strong evidence. With your problem statement and objectives from Phase 1 in hand, it’s time to collect evidence so you can develop and tailor your campaign specifically to the local context.
During this foundational phase, you will use a variety of tactics, including reviewing existing research and speaking with local stakeholders and experts. You can use the research available on this website in the Audience Profiles section to get started. However, remember that these profiles represent a broad overview of insights gathered in recent years across multiple countries. If key gaps are identified during your review of existing research, you should plan to conduct your own investigations, so you can gain a clear understanding of your specific audience and context. It is important that your work build on the existing evidence base, and not duplicate work conducted by others (saving time and financial resources).
During the formative research stage, it is likely you will engage with your target audience directly, to understand what drives their behaviors and beliefs and to identify the best way to encourage their use of PrEP. You will also likely examine cultural or other factors that either inhibit or encourage the behavior you are promoting.
- Determine questions of interest
- Review available research
- Investigate with stakeholders
- Determine best research methodology and conduct audience research
1. Determine questions of interest
To guide your research, establish a list of the broad questions you seek to answer about your audience. These “questions of interest” will help you choose the appropriate research methods and partners, and can also be useful for organizing your notes and synthesizing findings.
Starting with your problem statement, write down a broad question that you think will help you find the right communication solution to the problem. For example, using the example problem statement about HIV rates in Zimbabwe, you might write down the guiding question:
- Why are AGYW in rural Zimbabwe engaging in unprotected sex?
Through research, you will begin to break down your top-level broad question into more specific areas to investigate. You can use the following broad areas of investigation to start compiling a list of questions:
Who is your audience? Beyond demographics, build an understanding of their lifestyle, attitudes, and beliefs: Who is this person? What is their day-to-day life like? What are their cares and concerns? In addition to a broad understanding of what makes your target audience unique, probe their beliefs and perceptions about PrEP, HIV, and sexual and reproductive health.
What are your audience’s social networks and preferred information sources? Who are the most influential people in their lives, who are their role models, and who do they trust? What media do they consume? Where do they go for information and advice on healthcare decisions?
What are their large-scale social pressures? What are their geographic and environmental constraints? There are important macro-level forces that shape your audience’s lives, attitudes, and behaviors; look at the physical, social, cultural, legislative, and other factors that may play a role in the problem. What are the relevant consumer trends happening right now? Are there policy or political issues at play? What structural forces (distance, cost) influence their access to healthcare?
What does your audience know (and need to know) about PrEP? Your research should get specific about the real facts about PrEP (or any public health intervention). This is not just what your audience believes about PrEP, but what is actually true. What are the benefits of and barriers to access? How much does it cost? Where can your audience access it, and what do they need to know and do in order to both access it and use it?
Using these four categories, write down specific lines of inquiry for your audience and the context where you’re working. You may add additional topics if relevant as well.
2. Review available research
To save time, money, and effort, and to avoid duplication, it’s important that you start your research with a review of the evidence that already exists. Previous campaigns, as well as academic and market research and programmatic reports, will provide the groundwork you need to ask smarter questions sooner. The Audience Profiles on this website can help you get started.
Let your questions of interest guide your investigation, and dive deeper into specific topics as you learn more. It’s likely that your desk research won’t generate enough information to allow you to fully plan your strategy and campaign. While budget constraints can sometimes force campaigners to work with only existing research, it’s far better if you can use it instead as a starting point. At its best, desk research enables you to focus on the most fruitful issues during the time- and resource-intensive phase of audience engagement.
As you review evidence, summarize findings into key insights and takeaways—so you can take these into consideration as you develop your strategy. Also define any questions that you are unable to answer—these will help guide your audience engagement.
3. Investigate with stakeholders
In addition to understanding the available literature, deepen your research by speaking to subject area experts and your target audience. These could include ministry officials, academics, health practitioners, education or NGO/CBO professionals, activists, civil society representatives, or myriad other individuals who are involved with HIV, health, or other aspects related to your campaign.
Identifying and engaging these key stakeholders will help you answer questions and validate findings from your research; it can also illuminate possible opportunities for collaboration. These stakeholders are also good resources for guiding further research and development. Be sure to ask each person to recommend other experts you may speak with.
4. Determine best research methodology and conduct audience research
It is likely that you will not get all the answers you need from desk research and stakeholder investigations alone. Engaging directly with your audience is one of the most effective ways to plan a campaign. Speaking to the people you wish to reach will help you fill gaps in your knowledge and validate the findings from other research activities, and may also reveal insights that will be useful for your campaign.
Audience research is crucial; it can also be time-consuming, and benefits from expertise. It is therefore recommended that you work with a qualified research partner, such as a vetted market research agency or a team of academic researchers, or potentially an internal research team (many organizations have internal teams, who are often focused on monitoring & evaluation yet have valuable skills for formative research as well). Be sure that your selected partner has prior experience in researching behavior -change interventions; for more guidance, see the Researcher RFP Template.
Work with your research partner to choose the appropriate methods to satisfy your lines of inquiry and guide your campaign development. Broadly, methods are either quantitative (relying on numbers and data that can be counted and evaluated mathematically) or qualitative (relying on subjective or anecdotal insights which can be analyzed and evaluated within the context). A mix of both qualitative and quantitative insights is often best. The following offers an introduction to some potential methods:
Surveys: By asking large samples of participants to answer the same set of questions, researchers can quantify similarities and trends among the preferences and feelings of a group of people.
Surveys can be:
- Mediated or self-administered: Mediated surveys are verbally administered by a trained researcher, who records the participant’s answer to every question. In self-administered surveys, participants work their way through the survey alone, and record their own answers.
- In-person or remote: In-person surveys are useful for reaching target populations, especially for some hard-to-reach audiences. Remote surveys are less time- and resource-intensive, but poorer response rates can be limiting; participants complete these surveys over the phone, by mail, or online.
Note, both in-person and remote surveys can be either mediated or self-administered. Data may be collected directly onto a paper survey or collected electronically.
Focus Group Discussions: These structured conversations normally last between one to two hours and include six to ten participants. A trained moderator leads the discussion, using a pre-developed discussion guide that focuses on the questions of interest; however, the format is flexible enough to pursue new insights that arise during the discussion. It is helpful for a note-taker to be present to record the discussion; often these discussions are audio recorded for future reference if participants agree. See these Discussion Guide Samples for help in developing your own tailored, local discussion guide.
In-depth Interviews: In these one-on-one conversations between a participant and a moderator, the moderator leads the conversation using a pre-developed discussion guide, which serves to focus the conversation on relevant topics and questions. These interviews may be audio recorded for future reference if the participant agrees. See the Discussion Guide Samples for more details.
Ethnography and Participant Observations: Researchers immerse themselves in a particular environment, context, or event in order to better understand the actual day-to-day experiences of the target audience. Conducted by trained researchers, these immersive methods are useful for capturing and interpreting observations about parts of life audiences may not report in a survey or interview.
A “mixed methods” approach is often best. Consider using quantitative and qualitative methods iteratively (meaning you alternate between different methods, using the results of each method to test and refine results of previously used methods; methods can also be repeated in iterations). For example, you may use qualitative results to develop a hypothesis (potential solution to your problem statement), and then validate that hypothesis through quantitative methods. Alternatively, you may start with a quantitative method to understand broad trends, and then use qualitative methods to deepen and enrich your understanding of those broad statistics.
Checking in on your progress
Research is an iterative process; you are likely to move back and forth between different methods as you go. It’s also likely that new insights will influence your understanding of the problem and the audience in such a way that you will need to revise your problem statement and objectives. If this happens, it’s likely that you’re on the right track—you’re effectively identifying biases and false assumptions and gathering insights from the real world that will help your demand creation campaign succeed. Continue in this spirit of iteration and refinement as you move to the next phase: Strategy Development.