Nicholas Goodwin


Finding Effective Change Agents : How a sense of community moderates the success of social marketing programs



Social marketing often requires “change agents” to effectively disseminate the messages that lead to behaviour change. This study will shed light on the moderating effect a community has on the effectiveness of change agents – peer educators, community health workers and counsellors – in disseminating information and influencing how it is received and used by members of any given group.
How government-led and other social marketing campaigns identify, construct and interpret these communities, populations and publics, helps determine how the problem is represented and addressed. To borrow from Marshall McLuhan (1994), it is a community – the masses – which moderates individual and social change, by affecting both the medium and the message.

Governments, non-profits, businesses and other social change leaders face significant and persistent challenges to their efforts to address public policy issues. Attempts to improve outcomes through use of social and behaviour change models and strategies have had mixed results. Social marketing and other communications programs developed to address social issues, such as alcohol-related harm among young people, often focus on narrow frames for individual behaviours. Such programs often fail to reach target populations, to meet their understanding of an issue and their means to address it. The role of social dynamics, hierarchies of influence, information dissemination and consumption are often poorly understood or applied as vectors that influence behaviour change. Theories of diffusion of innovations and community psychology are useful to frame how information is moderated, shared and influenced within communities. This study will draw on these theories to develop a new approach to make social marketing campaigns more effective.

This study will adapt a field experiment design to test this approach in two case studies from Australia and Indonesia, using qualitative techniques to verify the findings. This will combine the relative strengths of internal validity for experimental work and external replicability for qualitative analysis. The Australian case study will focus on alcohol-related harm reduction programs implemented by the non-profit, Hello Sunday Morning (HSM). The Indonesian case study will focus on ‘High-5’, an integrated hygiene improvement program managed by the Cipta Cara Padu (CCP) Foundation.

In these two case studies, the researcher will test whether the Sense of Community Index (SCI), developed by Chavis et al (2008), acts as a moderator on the effectiveness of the change agents. The SCI measures how people feel about a nominated community using four subscales: 1 – Needs; 2 – Membership; 3 – Influence; and 4 – Connection. The indicator of effectiveness will be the number of people reached by the change agents within the nominated community, as part of partner organisation social marketing campaigns (Valente and Saba, 1998). Additionally the author will undertake interviews with community members to provide a verification and reference to the achievements of the change agents. The author will aggregate the results to position the change agents on a spectrum from high to low SCI scores, controlling for age, income and education as part of multiple regression analysis. If we can better understand how a sense of community influences change agents, we can design better interventions. This research will help governments, non profits and businesses to better understand how a community influences the dissemination of information within it and improve interventions aimed at achieving individual behaviour and social change.