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The adaptation of digital tools to new populations and geographies requires a deep understanding of the cultures and traditions of the main target audiences.
A tool that has success in one context does not guarantee success in another. Research, testing with parents, and communications strategies help maximize relevance and impact in new settings. To adapt Thrive by Five to 10 different countries, the University of Sydney’s Brain and Mind Centre has led an intensive co-design process with local partners to localize, translate, and disseminate the program. The International Rescue Committee has adapted the Vroom parenting program from the US to reach Syrian refugee families in Jordan and Lebanon by translating messages, adapting illustrations, and testing different delivery platforms
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Thrive by Five (Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa)
Thrive by Five combines parenting research with more than 100 caregiver-child activities that reflect local contexts. The activities are organized around five key domains: Connect, Talk, Play, Healthy Home, and Community.
Through a structured adaptation process, Thrive by Five aims to uplift local parenting practices and to disseminate evidence-based resources that reflect diverse cultures, traditions, and practices. The program and app are currently available in 10 countries across Africa and Asia.
The Brain and Mind Centre, with support from the Minderoo Foundation, leads the co-design process in adapting Thrive by Five. Prior to launching in a new country, the team identifies in-country partners (NGOs and government representatives), who use their local knowledge and connections to help with localization, translation, and dissemination of Thrive by Five. The co-design process is guided by anthropological research and extensive feedback from local parents, caregivers, and child development experts to ensure that the language, illustrations, and local examples referenced in the activities are tailored and relevant to the country context. The team also helps in-country partners to explore ways to embed the content into existing programs and delivery platforms.
In Afghanistan, for example, the Brain and Mind Centre, Minderoo, and partners developed preliminary content for the app based on anthropological literature, a search for local examples, and contributions from local subject matter experts. Local users then tested out the app features, functions, and content. The adaptation process included a series of 8 co-design workshops conducted in 2021 and 2022 to explore:
To respond to diverse needs and contexts, including low-literacy caregivers and more remote communities, Thrive by Five can also be delivered using different platforms.
- cultural appropriateness and relevance
- desired attributes, skills and values for children
- gaps in knowledge of ECD and nurturing care
- essential caregivers for a young child
- app ‘look and feel’; usability and acceptability
- barriers to uptake and adoption of the app
- alternate modes of content delivery (e.g., radio, television, text message)
The workshops revealed several observations which led to changes to the app. For example, participants raised safety concerns about children playing outside in Afghanistan. In response, activities which included only outdoor activities were modified to include an indoor alternative (e.g., climbing stairs or objects in the home instead of trees). Participants also discussed the need for other caregivers to engage more with children as many mothers carry the time-intensive responsibilities of managing household tasks and caring for children and extended family members. The app was revised to explicitly encourage fathers, older siblings, and extended family to take part in activities (e.g., reading, playing games).
Thrive by Five also has been adapted to reach communities with low awareness of the importance of ECD or limited access to this information. To respond to diverse needs and contexts, including low-literacy caregivers and more remote communities, the program can also be delivered using different platforms, including: health services, print media, radio, television, and WhatsApp. Content is available through a WhatsApp chatbot in Cameroon, Namibia, Kyrgyzstan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Community Health Workers in Namibia and “educarers” in Indonesia have also used the program.
Vroom (Jordan and Lebanon)
Vroom is an app that encourages busy caregivers of young children to turn existing routines, such as meal time and bath time, into “brain-building moments.” Originally designed for low-income parents in the United States, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) adapted Vroom tips and delivery channels for Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. Guided by human-centered design and behavioral science, the team sought to better understand the most compelling and culturally-relevant content, mediums, delivery channels, and framing of messages for displaced parents. The goal was to expand the reach and impact of IRC’s programs, building on the strengths, knowledge, and skills of the parents they serve.
As part of a five-month adaptation process, the IRC team sought to answer:
- What type of messaging is most appealing and motivating for Syrian parents?
- Which delivery channels feel most comfortable and accessible for Syrian families?
- Do different delivery channels lead to different types of engagement with content?
The IRC translated Vroom tips into Arabic and field-tested different versions of the messages with Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon to help capture how parents naturally speak. The team refined and simplified the language so that the messages are accessible to parents with diverse levels of literacy. In addition, child development experts from the Middle East reviewed and provided technical feedback on the content. The videos developed from these adapted messages were tested through in-home interviews, as well as a text message campaign and survey. The team also used A/B testing of strategies to reach families over Facebook, WhatsApp, and an offline-compatible app with embedded videos to gauge which of the three delivery channels was the most accessible and engaging.
The IRC is currently piloting ideas that emerged from the prototyping on a larger scale in Jordan and Lebanon.
The results of this adaptation process led to localized Vroom tips, in an accessible version of Arabic, that were based on what parents already do with their children. The testing found that familiar platforms (Facebook, WhatsApp) can be used to recruit users and disseminate simple, engaging videos that encourage parent behavioral change. In particular, Syrian parents responded better to messages framed as activities impacting brain development compared to those framed as enjoyable or fun. The researchers found that users prefer video (animated or live-action) over text and that caregivers use apps (other than WhatsApp) less than expected. Television was identified as another potential channel because it has extensive reach with caregivers. The study also found that Vroom messages could be integrated into group parenting programs and home visits for more vulnerable and isolated families. The team is currently piloting ideas that emerged from the prototyping on a larger scale in the two countries.