By: Janna Oberdorf, Communications Manager for Women Deliver; originally posted at the MHTF Blog
At today’s session on “Policy and advocacy tools,” panelists presented on web-based and new media options for disseminating maternal health research and messages. Though online technology is an often-untapped resource for the maternal health field, the panelists laid out specific ideas and strategies that have the potential to catalyze policy change.
• Leveraging new and online technology for maternal health advocacy and communication; Mari Tikkanen, M4ID
• An Atlas of Birth: mapping the global challenges and solutions to maternal mortality; Sarah Neal, University of Southampton
• Lives Saved Tool: influencing maternal and child health policy; Koki Agarwal, MCHIP
“Maternal health doesn’t have a global movement,” said Tikkanen. “We need these tools to reach out to a broader audience.”
It was interesting to hear the panel talk about the need to present evidence in ways that capture attention and provoke action among a diverse array of stakeholders. It’s true. Research is incredibly important. But we also need to take scientific research, like the data used in the Lives Saved Tool (LiST), and make it accessible. Data visualization and creative maps, like those created in the Atlas of Birth, are fantastic ways to capture policymakers and express complex issues quickly.
But maps are a natural next step for researchers and academics. What else can we be doing? We can be blogging, updating our Facebook pages, tweeting, downloading iPhone apps, sending text alerts, and more. I am a strong supporter of all new media initiatives, but I think it’s important to remember the difference between awareness-raising and advocacy. Though raising awareness is a step towards advocacy, we should be mindful that our social networking and online tools have an intended impact on policy change. It is not enough to just exist on social networks; we must strategize and use tools that benefit our organizational mission and the broader maternal health cause. And we must tailor our messages to specific audiences.
We also need to work hard to combat those who think online tools are trivial. Betsy McCallon of the White Ribbon Alliance and moderator of the session gave a great example: “In the US, where global development aid support is sliding, policymakers need to hear from their constituents that these issues are important,” she said.
I encourage maternal health organizations who look down on new media, or who fear the rapid pace and inherent transparency, I encourage you to join the movement. Social media and online tools put the power in the hands of the people. It’s our job, as maternal health advocates, to make sure that power is maximized and targeted.
Stay up to date with the conference happenings! Follow the Maternal Health Task Force and EngenderHealth on Twitter: @MHTF and @EngenderHealth. The conference hashtag is #GMHC2010.
For more posts about the Global Maternal Health Conference, click here.
For the live stream schedule, click here.