22 November 2011

Using Transmedia Change Aid Communications

Dutch organization BrandOutLoud is sick of the status quo when it comes to how Africa is portrayed.
While the images of Africa have remained the same, the image of development has changed. The industry itself has created a negative, stigmatising image of Africa. We must no longer hide behind arguments like 'it brings in the most money’ or ‘the ends justify the means'. How can we change the existing image? By looking into opportunities and learning from young organisations where engagement between the purpose of a project and the donor or volunteer comes first. And above all by showing the power and strength of the people themselves. Remain realistic - situations are often terrible, but those concerned are an essential part of that change. The people on the street are open to this view - listen and talk to them, and take them seriously.
The solution that BrandOutLoud offers is organizational branding.  Relying on single donors is problematic.  The argument of BOL is that branding will allow for a diversification of funding streams that will then allow organizations to be better equipped to do their work.  I have my reservations as to whether this is effective, but pushing aid communications in a different direction is sorely needed.

Last week, I went to the NYC Transmedia meet up group and had the opportunity to learn about the work of  brilliant people, like G Kofi Annan, who are trying to find ways to expand media and communications.  What I find most compelling about transmedia is that it involves multiple forms of media that incorporate traditional with new and social medias to create an interactive experience.

NGOs could greatly benefit from this approach as a way to break the bonds of stigmatization.  Trying to parse out the definition of transmedia can be a bit more confusing that needed.  So, I will use an example of how MSF is employing transmedia with its Urban Survivors campaign.

When entering the site, viewers are taken on a journey to Nairobi, Karachi, Johannesburg, Port-Au-Prince, and Dhaka.  Each city has its own section where the reader is immersed in the sights, sounds and stories of the city.

The white dots that you see will trigger different sounds when the mouse icon is hovered above them.  The 'check in' option links to a Facebook.  From the start, the users are able to participate in a range of media options that are not limited to the site itself.

Scrolling down, stories of Kibera are told and MSF shares the work it is doing.  Down further are a group of audio interviews with two experts talking about work being done in the slum.

The whole experience is interactive and encourages the user to explore and learn with it offered in English, French and Dutch. They even provide an embedable version of the website:

By engaging the users through multiple mediums, MSF has been able to cultivate an experience that can drive learning.  It could certainly do more, but it serves as a strong example of what can be and how organizations can do better.  

I suggest going to the site and clicking around.  Feel free to come back here and share your thoughts about it.  Personally, I wish there were more interviews and stories about people living in the areas profiled, but I highlight this because it shows how transmedia can be used in aid communications.  Stories can live on a platform such as this and garner the interest of people who may not have accessed them further.  Also, social media can play a further role by making the offerings even easier to share.

There are organizations that are forward leaning.  Branding and transmedia are two examples of how communications are changing.  The USAID FWD campaign is an example of how some organizations are staring to dabble.  We will see more begin to explore, but these innovations can and should become a part of traditional communications and not simply projects.