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Facts for Life

Guide for Using
Facts for Life


Foreword  •  Purpose  •  Structure  •  Essential Messages  •  Guide for Using Facts for Life   •  Glossary  •  For further information contact

Using Facts for Life can increase people's knowledge and change their practices and behaviour to improve and save children's lives. This can lead to positive changes in social beliefs and norms (what is considered normal by society) concerning the survival, growth, learning, development, protection, care and support of children.

Facts for Life is both a practical source of information for individuals and an essential tool for empowering individuals, young people, families and communities. Its messages and information can promote dialogue, learning and communication among children, youth, families, communities and social networks.

People from all walks of life can drive social change in favour of children's rights. Working together can make it possible to find diverse, relevant, interesting and constructive ways of using and communicating Facts for Life messages far and wide.

This guide for using Facts for Life provides:

  • some conceptual thinking on the process of behavioural and social change.
  • information on using formative research and assessment to measure behaviour change
    • research determines 'baseline' behaviours for use in helping to design and plan an intervention or campaign aimed at changing behaviours
    • assessment measures behaviour changes against the 'baseline' behaviours during or following implementation of an intervention or campaign
  • practical guidance on how to use Facts for Life to promote behaviour and social change that favours children's right to survive, grow, learn, develop and achieve their full potential in life.

Changing behaviours

Knowledge alone is insufficient for behaviour change

It is often assumed that if people are provided with information, products (such as vaccines or handpumps) and services (such as health or education), they will adopt healthier behaviours.

However, information, products and services are often not enough to ensure adoption of new behaviours.

It is important to go beyond giving people information. Facts for Life should be used in consultation with children, families, communities and social networks. Their participation is vital to influencing behavioural and social change in favour of children's rights. Using Facts for Life as a tool in communication and development interventions involves:

  • listening to the concerns of children, families and communities about the topics in Facts for Life
  • communicating the messages and supporting information in Facts for Life in interesting and constructive ways that are relevant to a particular context
  • stimulating dialogue among all concerned
  • supporting actions with children, families and communities that improve behaviours related to the topics in Facts for Life
  • assessing the actions to determine behaviour change and outcomes.

Stages of behaviour change

As individuals, we go through different stages in changing our behaviour. These stages include:

  • not being aware
  • becoming aware
  • becoming motivated to try something new
  • adopting a new behaviour
  • sustaining and 'internalizing' a new behaviour so that it becomes part of our normal everyday practice.

First, we have to become aware that a particular behaviour may not be healthy for us or our children. We then learn that there are other choices or alternative behaviours. We decide to try a new behaviour. If we are satisfied that the new behaviour is beneficial we may repeat it. Ultimately, we may adopt it. Then we may advocate or promote it with others, encouraging them to adopt it too.

Learning a new behaviour takes place in this continual cycle of awareness, experimentation and repetition. For example, a father may be persuaded through talking with the local religious leader to have his children sleep under insecticide-treated mosquito nets. He then sees that the nets prevent mosquito bites and that his children do not get malaria. He becomes an advocate for sleeping under insecticide-treated mosquito nets, sharing his experience with friends and urging them to use the nets.

Sometimes people who appear to have adopted a new behaviour eventually reject it and return to their former behaviour. For example, the father who was promoting use of mosquito nets may start to feel that they are too much trouble, so he and his family members stop using them. Returning to this old behaviour can harm the health of his family.

Ensuring the adoption of a new behaviour that benefits children and families requires an integrated and sustained communication and development strategy. This involves using different messages and methods to support the 'change continuum' of adopting the new behaviour by individuals and families. The new behaviour may gradually be adopted by the whole community so that, for example, everyone is using insecticide-treated mosquito nets.

The Malawi Interfaith AIDS Association has integrated verses and teachings from the Holy Bible and the Holy Quran into Facts for Life booklets used during sermons in churches and mosques.

Facts for Life is also used by community radio stations and television stations, and in Boma Lathu, a newsletter in the local language. The village heads use Facts for Life for community reading sessions.

Behaviour change creates a dynamic that may result in social change

Individuals rarely change all by themselves. Their behaviour often depends on and is influenced by the views and practices of their families, friends and communities. Sometimes these are positive, as when everybody washes their hands with soap and water after using the toilet or latrine. Other times they may be harmful, as when parents have their daughters undergo genital cutting or refuse to have their children vaccinated.

To change social behaviour means changing the everyday views and practices of families and communities. What parents, other caregivers, children and adolescents decide to do is often influenced by what others are doing around them.

Resistance can be expected when social norms are challenged. This is because change involves shifting the dynamics of a group on fundamental issues related to gender roles, power relations and many other factors within the family or community.

But acceptance can become contagious when society begins to see the economic and social benefits of adopting a new behaviour. An example is when families using mosquito nets no longer have to cope with sickness or death caused by malaria. Their energies can be directed to sustain their children's learning and the family's productivity. People begin to see and hear about the change, and interest spreads, prompting others to adopt the new behaviour that can benefit their lives. Eventually, the behaviour is considered normal practice by everyone.

Knowing the 'baseline' behaviours

Conduct formative research to establish the 'baseline' behaviour(s)

Formative research is important in the design and planning stages of programming. It helps to clarify the current situation and develop the objectives and baseline behaviour information needed for subsequent measurement of behaviour change following intervention(s). In so doing, it helps those involved and participating in the programming identify and understand interests and concerns, reasons for specific behaviours, and what particular needs and areas of child rights are inadequately addressed.

In Cameroon, Facts for Life messages, translated into Foufoulde, Gwaya, Haoussa and Pidgin and accompanied by related images, are used in the schools by the local communication groups (Cellules locales de communication) and Mothers' Associations (Associations des mères d'élèves).

Conducting formative research involves the gathering, review, analysis and synthesis of available demographic, health, education, sociocultural, political, economic, and media and communication-related data and information using a range of qualitative and quantitative research methods. Research outcomes are best when the data and information are gender disaggregated and related to child rights/human rights. Using a gender lens and a human rights approach can increase awareness and improve and deepen understanding of practices and behaviours affecting girls and boys and their families and communities.

It is important that the research involve the participation of children, families, communities and researchers in order to collectively determine the actions necessary to change behaviours to realize children's rights. Research can be organized and conducted by local academic institutions or research firms.

Use formative assessment to measure behavioural change

Formative assessment during and following implementation of interventions provides updates on changes in the behaviours of individuals and families and even entire communities. The behavioural changes can be measured against the baseline behaviours.

Simple research methods, such as surveys and focus group discussions, are an important part of formative research and assessment. They can help ensure that local behaviour is well understood and that chosen actions are supported collectively. Extra attention should be given to ensure inclusion of the opinions of girls and boys, young people and women.

Establishing the baseline behaviours can make it easier to systematically and effectively monitor and evaluate interventions and desired behaviour changes and outcomes. The findings can help to produce constructive conclusions and recommendations for making timely and strategic changes in programming.

Communicating Facts for Life messages

Examine the messages and supporting information in Facts for Life, and, if necessary, adapt them to the local situation. Translate them where necessary. Effectively communicate the messages and facilitate dialogue.

The text in Facts for Life should be examined and, if necessary, adapted in collaboration with authorities (health, education, social services and so forth) to take into account locally relevant issues. This should be done in consultation with family and community members.

In facilitating communication and dialogue with participant groups on the messages, give attention to the following:

In Honduras, a radio broadcast about a new ORS (oral rehydration salts) product neglected to mention that it was for children suffering from diarrhoea (locally called empacho). Mothers and fathers did not understand it was a treatment for empacho because the word was not used. This underlines the necessity of pretesting messages.

  • Ensure consideration of gender issues. In some settings, women may not be empowered to make decisions about their children's care or their own, or men may not be encouraged to participate in child care and household chores.
  • Raise attention on children's rights to help the participant group identify and become aware of behaviours related to children's health, nutrition, development, education and protection that may have been overlooked.
  • Involve children and young people in the dialogue on the messages and information as well as the planning and use of Facts for Life. Support peer-to-peer approaches and different methods to increase child participation.
  • When adapting or translating the messages and information, use simple language and illustrations that people understand. Do not overload the messages with too many actions or technical details.
  • Make sure the participant group understands the messages and information and knows how to put them into practice. If materials have been developed in a participatory manner, this will be more easily done.
  • Always pretest the messages and illustrations with groups of people for whom they are intended. This can be done by asking the test groups open-ended questions and encouraging discussion to determine whether each message is clearly understood.
  • Repetition is vital! Most people do not learn or change behaviour after only one discussion or exposure to a new behaviour.
  • Select communication channels that are most effective in reaching the participant groups. Use existing channels and do not rely on a single means of communication. Use a mix of interpersonal; community, traditional and 'mid' media; and mass media so that people receive and discuss the messages repeatedly and in many variations and circumstances. (Refer to the following section entitled 'Use a mix of communication channels'.)

Give people the opportunity to discuss, shape and absorb new information for themselves and their communities

People are more likely to trust information and to act on it to change behaviours if:

In Senegal, Facts for Life messages have been used to promote exclusive breastfeeding, curb the spread of cholera, advocate for the abandonment of female genital cutting and encourage skin-to-skin contact between mothers and newborns (especially for premature babies), in addition to other baby-care practices.

  • they are encouraged to discuss it among themselves and to ask questions to clarify their understanding
  • they understand how they and their families and communities will benefit
  • the language is familiar and compatible with the local culture and social norms, avoiding judgemental or prescriptive-sounding 'orders'
  • the person presenting it or the source of information (such as radio or television) is well known and trusted
  • they hear repeated, simple and consistent messages from different sources
  • they are given time to change, especially if the change carries a cost, such as installation of latrines.


Use a mix of communication channels: interpersonal; community, traditional and 'mid' media; and mass media

Interpersonal: person-to-person

Most people are not comfortable using new information seen or heard in the mass media without having an opportunity to discuss it with someone they trust. Person-to-person communication, supplemented by mass and traditional and/or 'mid' media campaigns and ongoing programming activities, are most effective in encouraging people to adopt, sustain and internalize new behaviours.

Using Facts for Life effectively requires facilitating participant groups, especially the most marginalized, to become engaged in meaningful dialogue. It is important to reach remote communities, children with disabilities and minority or indigenous children and families. It is also vital that women and girls participate as fully as men and boys. To facilitate an interpersonal discussion:

  • Use simple examples of problems that are important to the people involved. Start with what is already known and focus on major concerns. Avoid technical or scientific language. Use illustrations to stimulate discussion.
  • Encourage people to ask questions and express concerns. Guide the discussion to explore the causes of the problem and possible solutions. Remember to listen, which is as important to communication as speaking. The participation of children, families and other community members is key to identifying barriers or unforeseen problems that prevent people from acting on the message. They can articulate local solutions.
  • Show respect for people's opinions, knowledge and ability to change. People learn best in situations that build their confidence, and they take action when they feel understood and respected. Be a role model for the behaviour you would like to see adopted.
  • Support people in taking action. Recognize that they may want to change but may not be able to act alone. Help them mobilize existing networks or create new ones that will encourage more individuals and families to adopt and sustain new behaviours.

Community, traditional and 'mid' media

This type of communication refers to materials or communication methods that are in between the person-to-person approach and the mass audience approach. Some examples include:

  • Street theatre: Used to deliver key messages by a small group of actors for groups ranging from a few dozen to hundreds of people.
  • Cell phone messages: Used to urge parents or other caregivers to take their children for their vaccinations, etc.
  • Internet: Used for communication and as a source of information. The internet is expanding rapidly and is particularly familiar to adolescents and young people, from urban areas to remote villages; websites such as YouTube are especially popular.
  • Posters, leaflets and badges or buttons: Often used to reinforce information communicated through interpersonal contact or social mobilization efforts.
  • Videos and audio cassettes: Used to effectively broadcast messages through mobile vans and community TV viewing groups.
  • Poetry, song and puppetry: Especially used to engage children and youth.
  • Slide sets and flip charts: Often used in community centres and schools.

Mass media

Mass media (radio, newspapers and television) are excellent tools for reaching large numbers of people to introduce and reinforce new information and promote a particular social change. Some steps include:

India's number one television drama series, Kyunki Jeena Issi Ka Naam Hai, is based on Facts for Life. Launched in 2008, the series reaches 56 million viewers who are mostly women between 15 and 34 years old.

The show communicates Facts for Life messages through engaging stories. Viewers relate the experiences of the characters to their own lives.

Assessments in some states have revealed that midwives have been so inspired by the show's popular nurse character that they feel more motivated in their work. Facts for Life messages have also reinforced the midwives' knowledge, for example, regarding prenatal check-ups.

  • Assist participant groups in identifying their primary mass media channels. What is the source of their information and news? If community radio is as important to them as national radio, find ways to work with local radio networks.
  • Publicize the same message in various media. Repetition reinforces behaviour change, strengthens memory and enhances learning. This helps people retain the message and encourages them to act on it. Examples of media channels include interviews, news articles, round-table discussions, radio or television dramas, soap operas, puppet shows, comics, jingles or songs, quizzes, contests and call-in shows.
  • Understand who in the household makes decisions about what to listen to or watch, and make sure the message targets them.
  • If the messages are aired on radio or television, make sure they are broadcast at a time when families are listening or watching. Do not rely only on free public service announcements aired during off-peak hours.
  • Broadcast messages during popular programmes so they reach a wide audience. Ask popular disc jockeys and television show hosts to discuss the messages on radio call-in programmes or TV shows with live audiences.

Use of mixed communication methods produces the best results

To achieve behaviour change that favours the rights of all children, it is key to use a mix of communication channels, combining short-term, campaign-style actions with long-term and interactive communication.

Refer to the Facts for Life website, www.factsforlifeglobal.org, for further information on communication for development and a collection of supplementary resources related to each of the chapters.






Foreword  •  Purpose  •  Structure  •  Essential Messages  •  Guide for Using Facts for Life   •  Glossary  •  Contact

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