Innovation in Social and Behavior Change Communication Research: Empowering Indigenous Guatemalan Women

“While we will be in our own communities, working close our own homes, it motivates me as I learn about examples in a different country, working in a complete different culture for months. This is an opportunity for us too, and we’re very grateful.” – María Leticia Ortiz

Over a span of three weeks, 10 indigenous women from Guatemala’s Western Highlands joined the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3) research team for an intensive social and behavior change communication (SBCC) training workshop in preparation for household observations, which were part of a formative research study called “Abriendo la Mentalidad.”

The goal of the training was to discuss and refine the study instruments and test the tools in the field. The study included observing 18 households with children under two years old who are the appropriate height for their age, as well as children under two years old who are stunted. Households were classified as positive deviant (PD) and non-PD based on the child’s nutrition status, allowing researchers to understand the differences and similarities in feeding and hygiene behaviors and family dynamics among these two groups.

“I’ve conducted many observations, but never like this. This is something new.” – Margarita García

In support of the USAID’s Western Highlands Integrated Program (WHIP), HC3 designed an SBCC strategy to change existing norms and key behaviors related to chronic malnutrition. A comprehensive literature review conducted by HC3 showed poor WASH and nutrition practices as well as gaps about the role played by emotional factors, motivations and cultural beliefs that could positively influence and sustain adequate hygiene and nutrition practices. As a key step for the design of evidence-based program implementation to support USAID’s WHIP SBCC effort, this study is being conducted to fill some of these gaps and feed into the strategy.

“In past projects, I never had any idea of how the analysis is done, or what happens with the results, and how my work could impact it, but after learning about it yesterday, I recognize how important my role is.” – María Menchú

Due to the innovative design of the study, the training team gathered expert Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs researchers—Maria Elena Figueroa, Ph.D., Joel Gittlesohn, Ph.D, Saifra Khan, MPH, and local senior researcher Sandra Saenz de Tejada.

Through this hands-on training, participants developed qualitative research skills with a focus on behavioral household observations. The indigenous women had the opportunity to use innovative data collection instruments to sharpen their skills of observing and assessing family interactions and behaviors surrounding care of the focal child. They learned how to effectively use the observation code book and correctly classify key behaviors through a series of discussions and workshops in the classroom and field practice. The final session of the training emphasized the value of the observation methodology in the context of household dynamics through discussion on data analysis and data quality.

The training concluded with a review of the finalized instruments along with a final evaluation, placing an emphasis on the importance of the observers’ role and how their work in the field in will contribute to the overall scope of the project through meaningful results.


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