The UK government prioritises social marketing and engaging with the public
Let me edutain you
Edutainment has been around from at least the time of Aristophanes and the Ancient Greeks. The Oxford English Dictionary defines edutainment as 'entertainment with an educational aspect.' In modern times Sesame Street is probably its most famous example. Here it is used to teach young children about literacy, health and social values. Sesame Street has been a success all over the world. This is probably in part because of the amount of research done by its makers to understand how young children learn from television.
Engage with local populations
The UK government has stressed the need for each health service Primary Care Trust to 'engag(e) with its local population to improve health and well-being'. The same duty is also put on other state institutions such as local councils. One way of doing this is by finding out what pastimes interest people.These interests can then be used as a way to engage with them. This can be on issues as a diverse as crime, education and racism. It doesn't just need to be about health
Links with government policy on social marketing
The UK government is the first in the world to commission a strategy on social marketing. Social marketing is about dividing up the population into different subgroups and researching their views on a particular behaviour. The aim is to ensure that the 'right' behaviour can be encouraged. In terms of health you find out what prevents people from behaving healthily or will encourage them to behave healthily. Then develop creative approaches that make use of this data. Although this could be criticised as being manipulative, it can just as easily be used more 'democratically' with a target group.
Using popular culture as an edutainment tool fits in well with social marketing approaches. Social market data from local surveys or companies such as Experian can be used to find out what interests different target groups. If appropriate this can then be linked to health or other messages. This ties in with social marketing theory around both 'creativity' and learning from the opposition. Commercial companies such as brewers or giant food corporations routinely promote their products by linking them to sport, music, films etc. The edutainment approach also emphasises the importance of theory which is another tenet of social marketing.
Public health theory and edutainment
Edutainment can be used to support a range of models. These include lifestyle approaches, personal empowerment, the medical model and community development as well as the wider determinants of health.
A number of theories from the health education part of public health also lend themselves to edutainment. For example the Stages of Change model divides target groups up into catagories such as pre-contemplators, contemplators, relapsers etc. Edutainment may be particularly appropriate with pre-contemplators. They are not even thinking of changing their behaviour, e.g. stopping smoking. First then, their interest may need to be grabbed by a topic that interests them. A link can then be made with health. It is likely that social market research will show that pre-contemplators are more prevalent in some social groups than others. In any case, research can be carried out to see if they have any common characteristics that public health workers can make use of.
The three legged stool model of health education can also be usefully applied. This states that to change behaviour, information alone is not enough. The target group's attitudes/feelings also have to be addressed. They may also need to develop new skills. Popular culture can be used with all three legs.
Public health has also borrowed theories and approaches from community development. Community development already uses popular culture e.g. when workers get small groups to write their own songs about health topics etc. This approach is described in more detail in the full report below. However, I make a distinction between this approach and one aimed at a larger audience e.g. at a concert or health fair or on a CD.
Pre-testing and evaluation
Social marketing stresses the need to pre-test any approach before it goes live. (This may be more than once and indeed may be an ongoing part of developing the project.) Public health stresses the importance of both evidence-based practice and evaluation. These concepts are therefore important when using edutainment too. All these topics are covered in more depth on the webpages on evaluation.
To read a much more full account of the topics covered on this page in the relevant chapter from my report on edutainment for health purposes click here
To download the whole 180 page report on using popular culture to tackle health inequalities click here
To download the PDF software to be able to view these files click here