The Third Eye program of ACEE, on a grant provided by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), worked on a project to study the impact of storytelling on issues related to family planning and reproductive health upon audiences of Indian television/entertainment, from across the entire spectrum of demographics in the states of Uttar Pradesh and Bihar.

The aim of the study was to understand how television viewers, primarily underserved lower socio-economic categories of SEC C/D and R2-4, respond to compelling storytelling and whether (and how) this form of communication influences change in their attitudes and behaviours towards deeply rooted social norms surrounding reproductive health and family planning and the choices that women make. Specifically, this intervention sought to influence five primary issues 1) delaying child marriage; 2) delaying early childbirth; 3) spacing births; 4) valuing girl child/discouraging son preference and 5) male participation in family planning decision-making and practice.

A pre-post design with two stage cluster sampling design was adopted to evaluate the impact of this intervention. The baseline was conducted in 7 blocks in 7 districts of UP and Bihar namely Barabanki, Barielly, Jaunpur and Jhansi in Uttar Pradesh and Bhojpur, Darbhanga and Gaya in Bihar from October to November 2017. The interventions were on storylines related to family planning in two Hindi television shows – Big Memsaab and Hum Paanch Phir Se, done in January 2018 and the post-test was conducted in April 2018. All eligible respondents were interviewed using a structured interview schedule about their knowledge, practice, social norms, attitudes and self-efficacy for family planning behaviours and their media consumption habits. Five SLIP’s (Story Lines on Issues of Priority) were planned to be seamlessly integrated into the narrative over a period of one month in January 2018. The topics selected to weave to the ongoing story were: birth spacing, involvement of men in FP, delay of child marriage, early childbearing and son preference.

Storylines were designed to address the negative beliefs and behaviours of women of reproductive age and their key influencers i.e. husbands and mothers-in-law. This is based on the well-accepted and researched dictum of public health interventions that individual behaviours (of women in this instance) cannot be targeted in a vacuum without also addressing those of their influencers, community and the larger ecosystem. Since this intervention was limited in scope and duration, the messaging was tightly targeted toward the focus individuals (women and men) and their key influencers (spouse and mother-in-law).