Thoughts on Changing the Status Quo in Public Health


Recently, good friend and social marketing thought leader Craig LeFebvre wrote a post on the 10 “What Ifs” for Social Marketing. In the post he discusses his review of the revised version of Nedra Weinreich’s Hands-On Social Marketing book and what he got out of it. After marinating on the book’s content and lamenting the lack of innovation in social marketing, he came up with a list of 10 questions to provoke a different point of view on how we can make progress in behavior change in the new year:

What if we…

  1. didn’t have target audiences – but co-creators
  2. didn’t have distribution systems – but places where people could play
  3. didn’t use focus groups – but designed research to fit the puzzle and people
  4. didn’t assess knowledge and attitudes – but sought insight into people’s motivation and values
  5. didn’t start with analyzing people – but first assumed that it was something in their environment
  6. didn’t create messages and stories – but focused on crafting exchanges
  7. didn’t track program output – but what, how often and from where people saw and heard from us
  8. didn’t aim at target audiences – but served people
  9. didn’t focus on changing behaviors – but offered people new ways to solve problems, meet their needs and reach for their dreams
  10. didn’t focus on evaluation as the end of the process – but sustainability as the start of the next one

When I first read this I did everything to not start fist pumping in the air (because that might seem awkward in the local coffee shop). Social marketing has a lot of cross over in the public health – mainly the part about improving/changing behavior to develop better and healthier lifestyles. Which is why this resonated with me.

Over the past year or so I had to come to grips with some things that were bothering me with what I was seeing come from public health – with communications as well as overall strategies. One phrase kept coming back to me: “We’re doing it wrong”. What may have worked decades ago is unfortunately showing its age in the new millennium.

When I look back over the past several years with regards to reports, studies and even mainstream media when it comes to to the health and well being of the masses – it is always the very same thing. If it’s not the Latino population suffering from increased obesity statistics, then it’s African American’s dying in unprecedented numbers from HIV/AIDS or some other STD. Or maybe even low income communities with children not being able to engage in physical activity because there are no safe parks or playgrounds. Fast food restaurants popping up everywhere while there are no convenient places to get fruits/vegetables (or are there?).

It starts to look pretty bleak for the field doesn’t it? And beyond the field, what about the communities themselves that constantly hear that they are doomed? What will it take to turn things around? This is where the list of questions above comes into play. The last three questions are of particular interest to me. We need to do something different because what we’ve been doing hasn’t been working on the scale that we both want or need it to happen.

I’m with Craig on this one. I hope (and I’m working on doing my part) we can start to see something different this year.

Interested in following Craig or Nedra on Twitter? Check them out at @chiefmaven and @Nedra, respectively.

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