Pop Culture with a Purpose: Using Edutainment Media for Social Change

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Virginia Lacayo, Arvind Singhal

Edutainment - the mixture of education and entertainment ranging from video games to soap operas, harnesses the power of entertainment to promote social change. This publication focuses on unique communications-centered approaches to social change and introduces basic concepts, strategies, and theories supporting these strategies, describing challenges and lessons learned, especially related to strategic planning and evaluation.  It raises questions about how to measure the complexity of social change processes, as well as outcomes such as movement building, enabling environments, or empowerment as still needing to be addressed. The authors examine the limitations of traditional cause-effect based evaluation that frames results as quantifiable and measurable for the purpose of evaluating long-range social change work. The authors suggest complexity science as an alternate assessment tool.  Complexity science approaches social change as a complex, unpredictable, uncontrollable and often contradictory long-term process. If evaluation must be used, the authors suggest that evaluation design, methods and analysis be made transparent, flexible, responsive, and incorporate diverse perspectives. Edutainment uses the media to tell stories that encourage behavioral and societal changes. Roskilde University (Denmark) Professor Thomas Tufte has developed three “generations” of edutainment: 1) Use information to change behaviors and raise awareness 2) Emphasize society as the unit of change and incorporate public participation strategies 3) Understand that a lack of information is not the cause of social problems. Edutainment cannot overcome structural inequalities and histories of discrimination.  “Pop Culture with a Purpose” explores the potential of edutainment using examples from three organizations. Soul Buddyz, a project of the Soul City Institute for Health and Development Communications (South Africa), uses a television show, radio program, and accompanying materials to promote children’s activism, gender equality, and respect for oneself and others in South Africa. Puntos de Encuentro (“Common Ground” or “Meeting Places”) in Nicaragua promotes feminism and women’s rights through a soap opera, talk show, and magazine.  Breakthrough promotes women’s issues in India and immigration issues in the United States living with publicity campaigns, music videos, and video games.

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