The metaphor of challenging the forcefield guided the design and implementation of the AdhaFULL
intervention. However, that metaphor is equally apt in thinking of the constraints on EE production and evaluation. In adopting a transmedia approach, the team attempted to challenge the norms that constrain traditional EE models.
(Re)Designing the Grant
The transmedia journey begins with the design of the grant and the response to a call from the funders. In the case of AdhaFULL
, we reimagined a call for a communication intervention with multiple components as a transmedia intervention building a narrative world through varied platforms. The original request for proposals (RFP) was focused on adolescent and menstrual health, but in responding to it, the team reimagined its scope in form and content, addressing key adolescent challenges of growing up in a deeply gendered society and the related systemic issues including gender stereotyping and socialization, gender-based violence, and silence around menstruation, and other health issues. An RFP itself thus comes with its own opportunities and limitations, and proposing a transmedia project needs rethinking from the ground-up, stretching the opportunities while simultaneously working within the limitations.
Transmedia initiatives give an unparalleled opportunity to create a rich story world. Yet the ambitions across outputs and platforms have to be tempered with critical evaluation of where and how to use available resources. If we have five components in our transmedia basket, are we adequately resourced to optimally implement all five things? Relatedly, does our design allow for us to be able to measure whether each of these components has worked individually as well as additively? The crux of a transmedia show is to be able to create a complex, yet unified universe. As we evolve in our use of transmedia, the next challenges for the field are to evolve our resource allocation, implementation plan, and research design to account for this complexity.
Further, we have to align our creative freedoms to lived realities. As development practitioners, we have to anticipate how far we can push the envelope with respect to the wish-list and expectations of funders and the people implementing the project. Similarly, in the narrative outputs, when dealing with entrenched social norms resistant to change, how far can we push the creative envelope and lead our audience to re-examine everyday life, yet keep them engaged?
(Re)Imagining the Audience
Where previous generations of EE were typically broadcast in contexts with one or two dominant media outlets, very often state-owned media (Chatterjee, Sangalang, & Cody, 2017), the reality today, whether broadcasting in the Global North or the Global South, is a fragmented audience and multiplicity of media outlets. AdhaFULL
faced a similar challenge. There were multiple audiences for the AdhaFULL
intervention: the adolescent age group was divided into younger and older adolescents, and differing social axes of gender, location (rural/urban), class, and caste. These stratifications have a significant impact on who has access to which media (including issues of digital inequities) and what genre of programming and platforms would appeal to which audience. The variety and disparities embedded in the audiences required thinking through each component. For AdhaFULL
, the solution was a grid that mapped the rural/urban divide with age and access disparities (see Fig. 16.1). The target groups were not equally accessing all platforms. Here the early intersectional framework and understanding of the audience allowed for strategic leveraging of each component of the intervention. In other words, different components need to talk to different people.
Contextual understanding and audience feedback were incorporated through the human-centered design process that the team followed in developing the different components. For example, for the mobile phone game, boys in India have easier access to smartphones and data plans than girls, and there are age differences as well. Adolescent phone use is typically on a shared family device, and they have limited choice about time spent on the phone, use of data, and storage. All of these were important design considerations in developing the game to be simple yet engaging, freely downloadable, with little space, data, or time required to play. Understanding the context of media use in this population was crucial to the success of the game with its intended audience.
Together with mapping the media use of the audiences, we also identified the central themes that would remain consistent across the varying outputs and the different platforms building the cohesive story—world. These themes needed to be consistent, but also to be refreshed for each platform. Here, we broke down the challenges the adolescents faced with relation to gender norms into the central narrative themes of agency, autonomy, identity, and relationship curtailed within the forcefield of social expectations.
Planning, Planning, Planning
The design and implementation of a transmedia intervention have to go together, like an orchestra led by a master conductor with each instrument coming in at the correct time and following the overall tone and tempo to allow for a rich, complex symphony to emerge. This is quite challenging. An innovative tool was created by the team in response to the complex planning needs of the transmedia intervention. The team devised a matrix—dubbed the Dashboard—to guide content development and monitor coverage of topics across the media components. This one-stop document synchronized research, content development, program management, monitoring, and evaluation. Structurally, it was organized and color-coded to map the central themes, intended audiences, goals of the intervention/platform, objectives (indicators to guide evaluation), as well as other research and creative inputs needed for decision making against each other. The narrative could vary but the core issue being addressed, why it is problematic, and what could be done about would be consistent by using the Dashboard as a touchstone. This living document helped keep track of the evolution of the intervention and the various components in real time. Its flexibility allowed for both a big picture overview and the minutia planning of an episodic story arc, contributing to the cohesiveness of the intervention.
Adapting on the Go
One of the biggest challenges was implementing the intervention. However, potential problems became an opportunity for innovation and creative problem-solving. For instance, the original plan, as developed with the funder, was to partner with the government-owned radio broadcaster. However, when the original partnership plans did not come to fruition, the team had to look for alternate platforms. As a solution, we moved to community-based radio platforms and state-owned school networks. Changing the radio partners necessitated shifting the timing of the pieces, with the radio platform rolling out in a staggered manner rather than timed with the television program. Notwithstanding the immense effort, it took to identify and implement this alternative, in hindsight it ultimately enabled the radio program to be played across 30 community radio stations, 11 private FM channels, and more than 15,000 schools, enhancing community engagement (Pasricha et al., 2018).
The social media campaign that evolved and proved highly successful with urban youth was another adaptation, as the original proposal did not have a separate social media campaign. A limitation of this component not being part of the original design meant that the hashtag could not be embedded in the TV drama, and the cross-reference worked only one way with the online campaign using characters and references to the television show. However, it also illustrates the strength of engagement and cross-over audiences across platforms. The social media content that got the most views (2.5 million on YouTube) and engagement was the one that featured the central protagonists from the show, evidencing the popularity and resonance of these characters with the audiences (for comparison, some of the other social media pieces featured famous celebrities like movie star and UNICEF ambassador Priyanka Chopra). For transmedia interventions, the cross-over of format and ideas is thus very important to realize the potential of a rich story universe.
One of our fundamental lessons is that platform choices come with unexpected or unanticipated curve balls beyond the control of the team. Multiple platforms inherently mean multiple challenges. Each media platform will have its own regulations, market logic, structural advantages and disadvantages, and much of it changes as technologies and regulations evolve in real time. Thus, EE creators will find themselves working with multiple regulatory bodies and media markets, adding further nuance and complexity to the need to understand audience media ecology. Rigorous planning and execution are fundamental to success, but so is flexibility.