In development work, “IEC” (Information, Education, Communication) is critical. It is that stairway that connects the heavens to the earth. It pulls you to the ground and helps you optimize the limitations of your audience.
The World Health Organization defines IEC as “an approach that seeks to change or reinforce a set of behaviors in a ‘target audience’ regarding a specific problem in a predefined period of time.” In short, IEC influences actions and decisions. You want successful results? You have to be able to be able to facilitate understanding and collective ownership of both process and product within a specific timetable.
What is it that you want to achieve? If your desire is to increase community-based initiatives at patrolling the seas against illegal fishing, your IEC needs to be customized according to expected levels of impact or penetration. Your approaches vary, sensitive to differences in circumstances and perspective. Radio drama in Bisaya focusing on ill effects of illegal fishing may convince wives to actively engage in livelihood to augment household income, thereby lessening burden on their fisher-husbands to turn in a high catch, but may not hit hard on policy. A social media campaign crystalizing the need for local legislation may hardly shake up fisher folks who don’t even have internet access.
To a large extent, IEC appeals to reason and emotion. It capitalizes on the local context but connects it to a larger picture. Conversely, it simplifies the larger picture of the need to protect our oceans to issues that your audience can visualize on the dining table, feel in their pockets, and locate in their genuine care for their families.
But IEC is not to be taken loosely. Its dynamics lies in it being one: I-E-C. It plots a trajectory where inanimate data in “information” come alive in “education” and mobilize community participation and support through “communication”. The IEC process is cyclical and rests on requisite abilities that, while may be distinct, are complementary: ability to acquire and select (information), ability to appreciate and direct understanding (education), and ability to package/customize, share and influence (communication).
For an IEC program to be effective though, it needs to incorporate and operationalize the “5Rs” – relate, realize, reform, retain, and replicate. These are five interrelated goals that are measurable quantitatively and qualitatively. They elevate focus from self to community and shift mindsets from present to future.
RELATE: “What does the issue mean to me?” The goal is to assist your audience in locating their initial role in the issue or problem – contributor, solution or observer. IEC assesses their level of concern and involvement, and guides in the identification of relevant communication channels and approaches.
REALIZE: “What does the issue mean to my community?” The goal is to facilitate the process of internalization for your audience, helping them assess their practices and behaviors against what is the common good for the community. IEC aligns their perspective of the issue with that of the community.
REFORM: “So, what now?” The goal is to initiate an interest to address areas of improvement on both levels: self and community. IEC spurs action, nurtures an inclusive process of community engagement, and builds up collective ownership in carrying out changes bottom-up and top-down.
Retain: “What can we do to prevent this from happening again?” The goal is to sustain change in practices and behavior. IEC nurtures a going concern that is fixed not only on gains in the present but also those that the next generations can benefit from.
Replicate: “How can others enjoy the same benefits?” The goal is to cultivate best practices that can be monitored and documented. Your IEC tells a compelling story of commitment and teamwork in overcoming problems. These are materials that other communities can learn from and adopt.
An IEC program, however, breaks down when early on in the process, you are unable to focus the lens on the root cause of the problem. The absence of resources and political will oftentimes top the list of reasons why problems exist or persist. But deeper, at the core is really people’s behaviors. People refuse to change because of practices entrenched in tradition and culture or shaped by practicality brought about by social realities that have turned them numb. Daunting as they may seem, those are exactly the challenges that define the heart of IEC.
(Mark was IEC specialist in the consultancy team of Silliman University engaged by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for the country’s Integrated Coastal Resources Management Project [ICRMP]. ICRMP ran on a loan from the Asian Development Bank and a grant from the Global Environment Facility.)