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R-Net Blog

R Net Blog

R-Net viewpoints: BBC Media Action

Ursa Mali, TNS

In research, the ability to translate insight into action is critical. BBC Media Action, an international development charity, are a unique example of just that: by generating evidence that informs BBC’s TV and radio programmes, they use research to help more than 20 million people world-wide make sense of events, engage in dialogue and take action to improve their lives. Built on the belief in the power of media as a tool for development, their researchers work in partnership with broadcasters, governments and NGOs to share useful and reliable information across multiple platforms.

BBC Media Action’s work encompasses governance and human rights, health, resilience and humanitarian response. Among other projects, their portfolio includes providing critical information about Ebola during the outreach in Sierra Leone. In Ukraine, researchers have worked on promoting understanding between different groups of young people through a TV drama 5baksiv (5 bucks), which uses comedy, debate and discussion. The work is by no means dull: in India, the research team developed an initiative to help break taboos surrounding the use of condoms through a multimedia campaign that included a know-it-all parrot, a kabaddi king and a puppy named Condom. 

With a widely-cast international research network, the charity has conducted studies of mammoth proportions, amongst them a two-year seven-country study Climate Asia (2012). Funded by the UK’s Department for International Development, the project aimed to examine how people understood and experienced climate change on a daily basis, with the aim of ultimately helping increase their resilience to such changes. Within the scope of this project, researchers conducted 33,500 interviews, 96 focus group discussions, 120 in-depth interviews and 48 community assessments in China, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, Vietnam and Indonesia. Insights into the differences in people’s response to the changing climate in turn gave rise to a reality programme called Amrai Pari (Together we can do it), which showcased successful adaptations to climate change of certain communities with a view to empowering others to work together to prepare against environmental hazards.

Importantly, BBC Media Action’s work highlights how research can be used to give back to underprivileged communities. In Bangladesh, for instance, research has played a central role in creating a popular TV drama Ganger Naiya (Sailing Against the Tide), which follows the lives of two sisters in rural Bangladesh. Whilst entertaining, the series also intends to educate the viewership about child and maternal health, currently a critical knowledge gap amongst a great proportion of the Bangladeshi population. During the preparation phase, researchers helped develop the storyline by identifying plot points that audiences found appealing, such as conflict between a mother and daughter-in-law, for instance. At the same time, researchers explored ways in which health messaging, which included medical antenatal check-ups and sterilisation of medical instruments, could be optimised and inserted into the series. After the success of the first season, the research team further worked on developing a factual talk show, broadcast straight after the TV drama, where problems faced by the characters in the series are discussed with a variety of guests, among them medical professionals.

BBC Media Action won the MRS President's Medal in 2014. You can read more about their work or browse their datasets and other publications here.

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