Making it stick: training that works
Senior Production Manager, BBC Media Action
Listen to a PSA about antenatal care from Ethiopia, the result of a workshop earlier this year.
Building the capacity of production staff within the organisation - and in other organisations - is a key activity for BBC Media Action. But when the workshop is over, will the training stick? What can happen all too often is what I call ‘teflon training’. It provides a pleasant break from work but slides away as soon as the trainees are back at the grindstone, leaving no mark.
But a well-timed, well-planned workshop, aimed at producing media output, can be a powerful and inspiring jolt to busy producers. It gets people off the treadmill and provides time and head space to reflect on how to make our media output more logical, creative and powerful.
Here are my tips to make training stick.
Two trainers are better than one
Quite apart from the logistics of getting the projector to work, two trainers can spark off each other.
On a production workshop in Addis Ababa earlier this year, I was extremely lucky to work with the charismatic and sharp-witted Radharani Mitra, National Creative Director and Executive Producer of BBC Media Action India.
Radharani works in film, while my roots are in radio. Radharani cut her teeth in advertising, and went on to flourish as a senior creative person in two of the world's top agencies; while I more modestly worked in and out of BBC World Service and media for development projects.
But what we share is a passion for ideas, stories and communication, and we are never happier than arguing and debating strategies for producing top quality communications.
Our mission in the workshop was to train producers to make creative, well-researched and powerful Public Service Announcements (sometimes called spots) in the area of maternal and child health.
The trainees included BBC Media Action staff from Ethiopia, Nigeria, South Sudan, along with staff from BBC Media Action’s partners in Ethiopia: the Ministry of Health, ORTO (Oromia Radio and Television) and ERTA (Ethiopia Radio and Television) – all coming with different production experience, cultural backgrounds and different project needs.
We had just three days to cover the principles of PSA production and come up with the basic concepts for four different PSAs, in two languages, which were to be pre-tested and broadcast a month later.
Break it down
As Radharani explained, the challenge is to combine science (know your audience inside out, barriers, triggers, culture and media landscape to mine for insights), art (think laterally to come up with brilliant yet relevant ideas), and finally, craft (the devil being in the technical detail: in radio, this means making that fade half a second longer, kicking off with a crisp sound or musical phrase, moving, adding and losing words).
Teach techniques that can be used again and again
For the first day and a half, we talked about being a ‘sponge’, soaking up experiences, stories, and theories - deconstructing and re-arranging them. Then we played with idea-generation techniques, including exercises to tease the left and right parts of our brain. And then finally got down to creating - no, not ideas, but the creative briefs!
Once the briefs were ready after much discussion and some arguing, the groups got down to cracking the ideas. The proof of the pudding is indeed in the eating because we came away with at least four ideas that we acted out to make sure they would work for radio.
As my colleague here in Addis, Seble Tewelderbirhan, told me after the workshop, "I used to think that ideas just pop up – something you have or don’t have. I now realise with this workshop that ideas develop, and there are techniques for making them develop."
Learn from each other
But I think we gained more than just knowing how to make PSAs. In the best workshop tradition, we all got to know each other - both during and outside training.
Amina Kato from Nigeria taught me that “assumption is the mother of frustration”, and dazzled me with her acting abilities.
Daniel Realkuy Awad Barnaba and Gerry Allan from South Sudan taught me what it’s like to live in a recently established nation state and astounded me with their linguistic abilities. (Daniel was speaking bits of Amharic fluently by the time he left).
And of course there was for me the joy of working with some of my Ethiopian team outside the daily routine, and seeing them conjure up new and witty ideas.
Put it into practice quickly
But of course, it’s the application of such new and witty ideas that’s the real test of a good workshop.
A month on from the training, we had scripted, recorded and produced a number of PSAs ready to pre-test with our audiences – and the reaction was a warm and thoughtful one.
A focus group give their feedback to the PSAs.
Our focus group's favourite PSA featured a curious child whose mother has just returned from the health centre for her first antenatal check-up.
What was fascinating was that the focus group perceived a secondary idea about family planning in the PSA which we had not picked up on. They calculated the age difference between the foetus and the child and saw this as a cue to think about how best to space your children’s births!