DMI recently launched a four-year randomised control trial in Burkina Faso to evaluate the impact and cost-effectiveness of a mass media campaign on family planning. To target our campaign effectively, we sent our scriptwriters to live in a rural village for a week. Here is why.

DMI has been working in Burkina Faso for over five years.  We recruited a diverse team from across the country, which is fluent in over 6 of Burkina Faso’s many local languages. So we are fairly confident that we know the country and its people well – and yet when we started doing research to inform our family planning campaign, we realized that every campaign is different and that we still have a lot to learn.

For example, in a country where only 11% of women in rural areas use modern contraceptives, we assumed that awareness about contraception methods would be fairly low. Our research showed that almost everyone knew of at least one modern method – yet there were a lot of myths about the side effects. Rather than just encouraging people to use contraception methods and educating them about the different options available, we will need to address those myths in our campaign so that couples can make better, informed decisions.

We also found some major differences in behaviours and knowledge across our intervention areas. These are partially reflected in the local languages – in three of the local languages we studied, there were different words to describe family planning, birth spacing and contraception. By contrast, in one of the language groups the same word ‘Maapedi/ Mapè’ was used for all of these concepts.

Regarding attitudinal barriers to behaviour change, we found that men often strongly oppose the use of contraceptives – not only because they want a large family (5-6 children being the ‘ideal’ family size in rural Burkina Faso), but also because they fear that their wives could become unfaithful. As one group of women we interviewed put it: “Our husbands threatened us not to take part in any meetings about family planning, because according to them using contraception is how women become unfaithful.”

This highlights just how sensitive the topic of family planning can be – if we were to broadcast a campaign focused only on engaging women, we could put them in a difficult situation and exacerbate existing tensions in the home. If we were to run a campaign overly focused on men, it could reinforce the message that men have the ultimate control over women’s reproductive rights.

So we decided to go one step further. In addition to our formative research, we are sending our creative teams for ‘immersion trips’ so they can spend a week or two living in rural villages. Almost all of our scriptwriters now live in Ouagadougou, yet the campaign targets rural areas – which many of our team grew up in, but left over a decade ago to go to university or work in the city. Going back to villages allows them to reconnect with rural lifestyles and learn about the norms influencing family planning behaviours in these communities.

During the first of these visits one of our scriptwriters already made a surprising discovery:  ‘There seems to be a change in village life compared to the past. We have seen an evolution in the relationship of couples, where the mother in law is still influential but decisions are now also taken by the couple without her consent.’

Our team is now back and has started writing and pre-testing their first scripts on family planning. Their findings from the immersion trips will help them to target the right audiences and address the most relevant barriers when drafting their stories.