The intersection of your organizational goals, literature review and applied research helps illuminate a specific audience for your public education campaign.

One Big Mistake That Will Derail Your Public Education Campaign

As the executive director of a not-for-profit, how many times have you seen this happen: Your team designs a public education campaign with utmost care, beautifully produces it, sends it out into the world, and then … nothing. You may get some likes or clicks, but can you say it actually changed anything? Did it succeed in inspiring people to champion your cause, share your news, solve a problem, sign a petition, donate, attend an event, bring others, volunteer or step up to lead?

If the answer is ‘no’, read on.

The fact is that most public education campaigns fail to deliver on the ultimate objective: effecting behaviour change. That’s because most campaigns are designed to reach as many people as possible – an admirable goal, but not an effective strategy. The hard truth is: when you try to appeal to everyone, you generally appeal to no one.

We’ll say it again: When you design a campaign for everyone, you design for no one.

It may seem counterintuitive, but when you identify a single key audience and narrow your focus to specifically serve their needs, your efforts gain momentum and your results grow.

Start with science and let your findings lead you.

The intersection of your organizational goals, literature review and applied research helps illuminate a specific audience for your public education campaign.The key to creating public education campaigns that deliver behaviour-changing results starts before you develop the campaign with a scientific discovery process that involves forming a hypothesis that supports your organizational goals. Then you conduct research to pinpoint and define a specific user group or target audience as a focus for your campaign. You want to fully understand who the people in this group are, how they prefer to engage with you and how they learn.

By using a variety of applied social scientific methods like interviews, focus groups and workshops, as well as literature reviews of relevant areas of knowledge, you can gain deep insight into your stakeholders’ motivations, emotional experiences, and learning preferences. This process will illuminate your target audience’s information-seeking behaviour, their aesthetic preferences, preferred access technologies and social media habits. Competitive analyses can be conducted to learn from related programs about what works well.

All these insights are used to precisely tune your outreach efforts to address your target audience’s challenges, goals and educational needs. In this way, the voices of your constituents become the heartbeat of your programs. You are also able to identify unifying principles and ideas for designing an ecosystem of program assets to reach this group and beyond. And when you add in data collection and measurement techniques, you’ll have all the elements of a powerful public education campaign that delivers real, sustained results.

In this way you’ll dramatically increase the probability that your highest priority audience members will get something valuable from your research, and other people will still see value in too.

Also see: Beyond Reports: Moving From Awareness to Behaviour Change.

About Dialectic

Dialectic believes that design is a collaboration that fuses analytical and creative strengths with deep domain knowledge, to produce communications that connect. Contact us for more information on how to create public education campaigns that drive sustained behaviour-change results.

Marcus's Story graphic – a text message based experience to move college administrators towards behaviour change in the fight against AIDS & HIV

Beyond Reports: Moving From Awareness to Behaviour Change

How Not-for-Profits Can Turn Awareness Into Real Change

Most leaders of not-for-profit organizations are well acquainted with the constant conflict between a deep desire to do your utmost to advance your mission and the harsh reality of limited resources.

You’re trying to make every dollar stretch as far as it will go and you’re trying to satisfy the expectations of funders and all those involved in your cause. So you do the research, analyze the information, and create and distribute reports or guides to educate the public.

You hope those reports have the desired impact. But at the same time you know it’s incredibly difficult to make your organization’s voice heard amongst all the competing interests out there. And you know it’s difficult to demonstrate the impact your efforts are having when it comes time to report back to funders or write that next grant application.

It’s even harder – and seems riskier – to go beyond reports and try something different when there is so much at stake.

The benefits of reports

The reality is that research IS essential and reports have their place. There are a number of reasons why reports have long been considered the gold standard in public education:

  • They tell the whole story, serving as a container for a deep level of information.
  • They are a form of communication that people recognize, which signals credibility.
  • They can be validated through primary and secondary resources.
  • They visualize the data.
  • They reach a large audience.
  • They are preferred by policymakers who want the validation of the report in their hands to gain buy-in for issues.

The limitations of reports

So far, so good. But the fact is that traditional reports also have many significant limitations:

  • People don’t read, they scan – at most they might read 20% of the text on a page (Nielsen Norman Group, 2008).
  • There are no useful metrics – with PDF reports we can only measure if people have clicked on the link, shared it or liked it. We don’t know if they’ve actually read it.
  • Information overload: You run the risk of burying the most important research, data and stories in long-form publications.
  • Reports can transfer knowledge but they rarely change behaviour.
  • Reports are untargeted and impersonal: When you design for everyone, you actually design for no one. Trying to reach a broad audience often means missing the very group of people who most need to hear your message.

The keys to behaviour change

We know that change happens when people DO something different, not when they simply KNOW more. In a nutshell, this is the main failing of reports – they don’t enable people to do something new.

Here are ways that people can do something different – steps that are small, incremental and vitally important for building momentum for a campaign or a cause:

So, how can not-for-profits encourage people to take steps that create real behaviour change?

  1. Use your research to pinpoint and define a specific user group or target audience to fully understand who they are and how they learn. When you do this, you significantly raise the probability that your highest priority audience members will get something valuable from your research. Don’t worry, other people will still see value in it, too.
  2. Supplement reports by creating other learning assets that specifically target those people and appeal to their mindset and motivations. Fit the delivery method to the task at hand. For example, if you are trying to make a data-driven argument to compel your target audience to action, use an infographic. Or if you are trying to help them develop a new skill requiring practice and feedback, use a simulation-based e-learning module.
  3. Finally, consider how to measure some of the ways people can change to validate, calibrate, and adjust the tactics of your campaign and the design of your outreach assets based on user feedback. Once data is collected you can design new campaigns and optimize old campaigns based on real information versus simply guessing.

Marcus’s story (currently in beta) is an interactive learning experience to create awareness and reduce the spread of HIV among college students.

Marcus’s Story

For example, we’ve designed a number of reports for the Human Rights Campaign, including Making HIV History: a Pragmatic Guide to Confronting HIV at HBCUs.

One idea we’ve proposed to increase the impact of this important report is Marcus’s story, which is a text chat between several characters.

Marcus’s story targets a specific audience – college administrators, who are in a position to make a significant impact towards the goal of an HIV- and AIDS-free generation. It is designed to create empathy for students living with HIV on college campuses and would be part of a larger public education campaign to create awareness and reduce the spread of HIV among college students.

Immersive learning experiences like Marcus’s story can be used to model best practices for preventative health care, HIV campus policies and more. In this way, administrators could gain the practical tools and resources they need to reduce the risk of HIV on college campuses, increase HIV awareness and prevention, and provide better support for students living with HIV.

Play the beta version of Marcus’s Story.

Vitalogue Thanksgiving scene talking about advanced care planning

E-learning Game Helps Families Discuss Advance Care Planning

The Thanksgiving holiday season is the perfect time for families to have important discussions about advance care planning.

Advance care planning involves making decisions about the type of care you would like to receive if you become unable to speak for yourself due to illness or an accident.

“It’s vitally important to talk to loved ones about your wishes and values regarding the health and personal care you would want to receive in the future — because none of us can predict when or if we might become ill and unable to speak for ourselves,” says Audrey Devitt, Waterloo-Wellington Geriatric System Coordinator for the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington (CMHAWW).

Advance care planning is an issue that affects everyone, not just those who find themselves in hospital due to a serious illness or injury or who may be nearing the end of their life.

vitalogue image of elderly man talking to daughter

“Unfortunately, advance care planning is also a topic that too many people avoid. We need to change that — and Thanksgiving, when families across Canada gather to celebrate their blessings, is a good time to start.”

Devitt is one of the health-care professionals involved in launching Vitalogue, an e-learning game designed to encourage and support important conversations between patients and families about advance care planning.

Vitalogue is a scenario-based game, created through a collaboration involving St. Joseph’s Health Centre Guelph, Conversations Worth Having Waterloo Wellington, Hospice of Waterloo Region, Hospice Wellington, and CMHAWW.  Vitalogue was created by Dialectic, a Guelph-based e-learning solutions provider, and leverages insights from the Game Design and Development Program at Wilfrid Laurier University.

The game puts players in the shoes of the patient to help create empathy and understanding of the decision process from their point of view. Although it was designed for health care professionals, the real-world scenarios are an effective tool to help everyone practice the skills involved in having these difficult conversations.

“We designed the game around real problems, and the decision-making process that people go through when they’re facing these incredibly difficult and highly personal questions,” said Aaron Barth, Founder and President of Dialectic. “Each choice the player makes incrementally impacts the patient’s outcome, ultimately leading to better or worse results for them and their family. The simulation lets players practice the skills they need to help families and their loved ones arrive at decisions that are best for them.”

Play Vitalogue: A game about Advance Care Planning

See The Making of Vitalogue (video)

HRC LGBTQ Youth Report collage

#HRCYouthReport Addresses LGBTQ Teen Experience

We couldn’t be more proud to see our partners at the Human Rights Campaign Foundation release their groundbreaking report on the status of LGBTQ youth in America.

The 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report – which is based on the largest survey of LGBTQ youth to-date – reveals the overwhelming challenges LGBTQ youth face at home, in school, and in their communities, and points the way to effective measures to address these systemic issues.

Our team of researchers and designers supported the production of the report, integrating data-driven insights and evidence-based design to reveal and elevate the stories and experiences of LGBTQ youth. For example, we chose a sketchbook as the report’s fundamental design concept, which gave us a platform to simultaneously display the survey’s boldest statistics, while allowing readers a glimpse into the lives of LGBTQ youth, their private thoughts, feelings and experiences.

More than 12,000 respondents aged 13-17 representing all 50 states and the District of Columbia, participated in the survey, sharing their personal experiences of family rejection, bullying and harassment.

We’re excited to have worked with HRC on this important report and to have supported their efforts to advance equality for all LGBTQ Americans.

Learn more about the HRC Foundation and University of Connecticut 2018 LGBTQ Youth Report.