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The power of mobile communities for nutrition-based behaviour change

The 2018 International Social and Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC) Summit  was organised to better understand what works in shifting social norms, changing behaviors and in amplifying the voice of those who have most at stake in the success of development efforts.

E1M’s Abi Gleek was invited by the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) to present at a session discussing the possibilities and the potential impact of using mobile for the promotion of nutrition-related behaviour change.

Abi took the example of our joint programme with Unilever in Nairobi, called U Afya (afya means health in Kiswahili).

She discussed the process of how we worked with mothers and mothers-to-be in informal settlements around Nairobi, to design a digital community that would support them in keeping themselves and their families healthy. One of the goals of the community is to drive healthy breakfast behaviour.

Our approach for developing U Afya

Abi outlined our human-centred design approach to co-create the U Afya digital solution in close collaboration with our users.

Our formative research phase, gathering insights and inspiration around the landscape of mobile use amongst our target community; current knowledge, attitudes, motivations, perceptions and behaviour surrounding healthy breakfast behaviour; perspectives on food and the social issues which surround food and eating behaviours, understanding the key influencers within the community; and what would trigger and maintain engagement in a digital community around family health.

Our ideation phase, structuring our behaviour change strategy around the Unilever 5 levers of behaviour change: easy, understood, desirable, rewarding and habit. She gave tangible examples of our specific approaches for each lever, drawing from the formative research. For instance, key aspects of our desirable lever are to engage the women through established channels and trusted influencers, and to focus on influencing the perception of affordability.

Our testing phase, conducting a rapid pilot through WhatsApp to test the content we had developed based on our behaviour change strategy, with 50 mothers and mothers-to-be. A local moderator facilitated structured discussions around a range of themes which the women had identified as their priorities topics, to a set of pre and post survey questions, designed to measure knowledge, attitudes and behaviour.

Our improvement phase, taking learnings from the pilot to develop the content into full personalised user journeys to support women through their motherhood journey.

We are working now to develop a full U Afya digital community, that will allow women across low-income neighbourhoods of Nairobi to connect in a space designed for and with them, to engage with tailored learning, peer and expert support, confidence-building activities, and to access discounts on relevant products.

We will leverage the evidence and learnings from the research and rapid testing phases to facilitate cross-cutting behaviour change approaches to drive measurable impact.

Wider lessons

Based on the U Afya experience and our broader expertise in designing and running digital communities, Abi drew out some key lessons for the sector on the potential of mobile to be further leveraged for nutrition-related behaviour change.

One of the key lessons was the power of digital communities to engage our target users in a 3-way dialogue: not only communication directly between us and our target groups in both directions, but crucially also facilitating intra-community engagement and discussion in safe spaces. This takes our community beyond simply an “audience” for our messaging, to being co-partners in the conversation, and active “users”.

She also outlined E1M’s perspective on some of the challenges of using mobile channels to drive and measure behaviour change, such as high data costs, and our approaches to address these barriers.