Develop a content strategy to meet users’ needs
A content development strategy should encompass a broad and iterative process. Based on a deep understanding of users’ information needs and their local context, the process may involve storyboarding, pre-testing of pilot content, refining of content, delivery, ongoing monitoring and updating. Content should not be created once and published without tracking its distribution and consumption, or without mechanisms in place to continually revise and improve it. Important elements of the content development cycle for low-skilled and low-literate users, which should be built into the strategy, include to:
Segment different audiences, where needed, as each group may have different information needs, preferences and skill levels. For example, health content can be targeted simultaneously at mothers and fathers, with each message presented in an appropriately tailored fashion.
Clearly define the content purpose, such as whether the aim is simply to inform or to change behaviour. The purpose will inform the content itself and its delivery. For example, to change the behaviour of rural mothers so that they vaccinate their children, a call to action is important in messages sent to them.
Establish the stakeholders involved in content development, which include the actual content creators; those who may need to validate the content, such as health officials or agriculture extension workers; and a representative group of end-users to test it. In order for the content to be pedagogically sound, ideally an educationalist should be involved in the content creation process.
Co-develop content with the end-users to ensure that it is understandable and context- appropriate, and pre-test early content versions.
Test for the optimal way in which the content is delivered, in what format, through which channels and media (audio and/or text, for example), and in which style. Even the volume of content available should be gauged, as low-skilled and low-literate users can easily be overwhelmed by too much information. Frequency of delivery is also important to establish, as certain times of the day or week may yield better reception by the users.
Consider how to monitor content distribution and its consumption. Ways of tracking content, or soliciting user feedback, should be built in from the start. Most importantly, necessary revisions to content should be implemented following the same rigorous process.
Message volume, placement and format influence uptake
The Talking Book, a ruggedized audio player and recorder by Amplio (formerly Literacy Bridge), offers agricultural and livelihood information to rural communities in four African countries.
Through focus groups with the target audience, it was established that they preferred less content at a time, but that content should be regularly updated.
By collecting data on which content is played the most, Amplio found that earlier messages in a content category are played more frequently than later messages. Creative content such as songs and dramas also receives more attention than lectures.
As a result of these findings, only five or six messages per content category are loaded onto the device at one time, with the content being updated every three months. In this way information overload is avoided. Further, the most important messages for a given category are given the top three message spots.
Constant testing reveals the most appropriate content style
The 3-2-1 Service by Human Network International (HNI) and Viamo is a local- language service that provides on-demand access to livelihood information in fourteen countries, via audio and text.
As a part of the message style testing, research sessions are carried out to assess preferred elements for a particular country. For example, two messages may be tested to determine whether a monologue or dialogue format resonates more with the target audience:
Monologue: Reading books aloud to children builds vocabulary and comprehension skills, as well as promotes positive associations with reading.
Dialogue (two different people speaking):
A: Reading books aloud to children is important.
B: Why is it important to read to children?
A: Because it builds vocabulary and comprehension skills.
A: Yes, and it also promotes positive associations with reading.
Create content that is simple, clear and trustworthy
Creating content that is simple enough to understand, but rich enough to inform, change behaviour and educate, is challenging. Further, the content needs to be trustworthy and relatable to the audience. While each audience group is different, a number of general guidelines are helpful:
Because low-skilled and low-literate users are easily confused when using technology, it is critical to use plain words and grammar ideally in the local language. This seems obvious and yet is often not done, simply because the experts who create the content forget that their technical terminology, which they use every day, is not widely understood. For example, words like ‘immunization’ or ‘pesticides’ are likely to be unknown to low- skilled and low-literate users.
Equally, since images are often used instead of, or as complements to, text, they should be simple, clear and culturally relevant. MIRA Channel, the subject of a UNESCO-Pearson case study, includes a mobile health app that has different images and contexts for use with its Indian, Afghani and Ugandan users, each reflecting local people and styles. Audio content containing voice should be in slow, clear and loud-enough speech.
Always ensure that content is gender- sensitive. Given that women and girls are usually less literate and less exposed to technology, content should be inclusive of female users in language, imagery and actors. Content should always encourage female usage. At the same time, ensuring content is targeted to men is equally important as many livelihood activities affect everyone in a community or family.
Low-skilled and low-literate people are often afraid of technology. Build in help or instructions about how to use the content and the solution, to reduce confusion and fear (see Guideline 5 for more on this).
Because low-skilled and low-literate users are distrustful of technology, establishing a sense of credibility is important. Using local language content, and even local actors and voices, can be very helpful. Another way to build trust, and increase relevance, is by making content relatable to the audience and their lives. For example, to provide locally relevant agriculture and livelihood information to rural farming communities, the non-profit organization Digital Green trains community members to produce short videos that feature local farmers as the experts. Using local actors reduces the perceived distance between the farmers and outside experts, and makes the content relatable.
One way to ensure contextualized content is to support content creation by end-users. Low-skilled and low-literate users do not only consume content, but can produce it. The Talking Book project, and Mobile Vaani in India, support content creation by their target audience. Mobile Vaani seeks to improve health, environmental, agricultural and governmental services through a phone call-based community media platform, used by more than 2 million people from offline, rural areas. The platform relies heavily on users contributing their news, grievances, feedback and questions, as forms of civic engagement, self-expression and even cultural affirmation.
Because many people struggle to transfer learnings from digital to real life, content should mirror the actual application environment as closely as possible. For example, if most users in the target audience have feature phones, then those should be used in instructional videos.
Content can be delivered in many styles, each potentially increasing the clarity, credibility and influence. Stylistic elements to consider include the gender of the narrator, point of view (first, second or third-person perspective), whether the message is positive or negative (‘do this’ rather than ‘don’t do that’), and, if appropriate, what the call to action is. A call to action could be accompanied by asking the user to set goals, helping them track progress towards meeting the goals, and sending reminders. The format and tone of the message – whether it is a monologue or dialogue, a serious drama or light edutainment – also need to be considered. A key principle is never to make assumptions about content and its delivery style. Different audiences have different preferences, and so continuous testing – in controlled environments such as focus groups or in real-world user settings – is necessary.
Design content for group or mediated digital usage
In general, digital solutions are designed for individual usage scenarios. However, technology is often shared among low-skilled and low-literate users, and used in group or mediated scenarios. Shared usage can lead to peer-to-peer learning, with users encouraging and supporting each other as they collectively navigate the content and digital solution. There are a number of ways to leverage shared usage for impact:
Content should encourage group discussions by including questions. As an example, agricultural content can spark discussion among men and women as different answers and practices are shared. Asking assessment- style questions can also be a good way to foster group discussion, as people share responses and talk about which one is correct. Ending content by proposing activities for the group can also stimulate learning interactions.
In mediated-usage scenarios, typically one user has stronger technical skills, or perhaps subject knowledge, than the other. Drawing on parent–child co-use of technology, but proposing a principle that can be applied more broadly, it is suggested that content should not be aimed only at the ‘lowest common denominator’ of skill level. Considering ‘multiple planes of engagement’ means that stronger users also remain engaged. This can include more complex features or content. Questions for discussion are equally useful in such cases (Takeuchi and Stevens, 2011).
When consumed in a group, content that is aimed at multiple actors can be effective in increasing engagement. For example, the Talking Book project found that gender relations content became interesting for husbands as well as wives in Ugandan villages.