Building impactful C4D campaigns: An interview with IOM X’s former C4D officer

Emily Cholette led IOM X’s communication for development (C4D) work in Bangkok, Thailand as the C4D officer from 2014-2017. IOM X is the International Organization for Migration’s innovative campaign to encourage safe migration and public action to stop exploitation and human trafficking.

I caught up with Emily, who has since moved to New York to continue the fight against human trafficking with the UN in a new role, to learn about her work in C4D and the integral role of ICTs.

What is IOM X and what was your role there?

IOM X is an awareness-raising and behavior change campaign within IOM that runs in the Asia Pacific region to promote safe migration practices and raise awareness of human trafficking to help stop it. What makes IOM X different than other human trafficking awareness campaigns is that it uses a participatory C4D approach to inform its activities and content.

IOM X animation video safe migration
An IOM X animation on safe migration

As the C4D officer, I made sure we were conducting the necessary qualitative and quantitative measures so our initiatives, which tended to be media-centric, were participatory and evidence-based. This means the campaign was developed with direct input from people who were vulnerable to human trafficking or were at risk of exploiting others in Asia-Pacific. Overseeing monitoring and evaluation to track progress and impact from the campaign was also an important part of my job. This helped us adapt our campaign as we rolled it out to make sure our approaches were working, and it enabled us to adjust what was working.

I also trained my colleagues in country offices and at partner organizations to teach them how to apply a C4D approach.

How did you know the campaign would resonate with people impacted by trafficking?

Reaching our target audiences, and making sure our messages worked, was critical to achieving our awareness raising and behavior change goals to help in the prevention of human trafficking. When IOM X first started, we did a landscaping exercise with other organizations working on human trafficking in the region. We asked them about the priority issues and challenges in the region with regards to trafficking, where there were gaps in addressing those issues, who needed to be targeted, and other lessons learned. These inputs helped shape IOM X’s strategy.

IOM X's "Unexpected Victim" shows a touching, poignant glimpse into the lives of people who are trafficked for sexual exploitation
IOM X’s “Unexpected Victim” shows a touching, poignant glimpse into the lives of people who are trafficked for sexual exploitation

We partnered with organizations to connect IOM X with our different target audiences such as young people, domestic workers, employers of domestic workers, migrant workers, and more so we could learn from them and involve them in our planning. We asked them about their knowledge, attitudes and behaviors towards things like migration, consumer habits, working conditions, human trafficking as well as their media consumption habits such as what social media platforms were popular, what celebrities they followed, what music and radio stations they listened to, and what TV channels they watched. We gathered this input through face-to-face and phone interviews, focus groups and large-scale ‘knowledge, attitude and intended-practice’ surveys. This is a market research technique that sends online (and offline) surveys to people who fit the profile of the target audience. The surveys usually had five questions about knowledge, five about attitude and five about behavior. The survey was disseminated before and after the intervention to measure impact, and it measures a shift in respondents’ knowledge, attitudes and intended behaviors.

Do any key takeaways stand out for newcomers to the C4D field?

  • Monitoring and evaluation is so important. C4D is an ever-evolving two-way communications process so you constantly have to monitor how people are engaging with your content and revise it if the audience isn’t understanding or reacting in the way you expected. Knowing the basics of monitoring and evaluation will make your work more impactful.
  • In C4D campaigns, the narrower the target audience, the more tailored a campaign can be, and thus the more likely behavior change is because the content is designed for and relevant to the specific target audience.
  • Mobile campaigns could be more successful if you partner with a telecom company to disseminate SMS blasts to their customers. It’s hard to do a widespread mobile campaign without these types of relationships.

As I discovered in my conversation with Emily, the IOM X campaign used many different digital communications tools. This approach of course makes sense given the “massive digitization” of data: the majority of the world’s data is now digital as more ICTs surface and data can be transferred to people quicker than ever before (Heeks, 2018).

The ubiquity of mobile technology underscores Emily’s note about the importance of partnering with telecom companies to successfully reach mobile users—in this case ‘passive consumers’ who receive broadcast information on their devices (Heeks, 2018). With user adoption rapidly increasing, largely due to convenience and low costs, “mobile technology has arguably had a bigger impact on humankind in a shorter period of time than any other invention in human history” (Minges, 2012a, pg 11, as cited by Heeks, 2018, pg. 48). In 2016, there were 94 mobile subscriptions per 100 people in developing countries (Heeks, 2018), illustrating the immense power that mobile communications have in reaching people at a mass scale.

IOM's MigApp locates resources for victims of human trafficking & exploitation in any part of the world.
IOM’s MigApp locates resources for victims of human trafficking & exploitation in any part of the world

The success of media-centric campaigns can also depend on how digitally literate audiences are. Part of the inception phase of IOM X’s campaign involved understanding how target audiences consume media. Knowing audiences’ technology use habits also helps inform the design of an intervention to match digital literacy levels. For example, questions like where and how do audiences access information? Can they read? Do they know how to use computers? Do they have internet access?

Even if audiences have high digital literacy, they need to know how to apply the information they receive from digital campaigns to inform decisions and actions (Heeks, 2018), so content needs to be accessible and clearly transferrable into action. IOM X is a great example of a campaign that was thoughtfully developed with such considerations in mind to give it the best chance at truly transforming knowledge, attitudes and behaviors for safe migration.

Connect with IOM X to learn more about their innovative work! Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

IOM X's blog
IOM X’s blog


  1. Alexandra

    Super interesting Maia! Question for Emily: do you think the final campaign was very different from the one you’d have created without it? Are there stereotypes and obvious elements/messages that participation avoided?

    • Hi Alexandra, Sorry for my delay. With every new campaign we worked on at IOM X we always learned something new (whether it was in terms of information that participants shared with us, key findings, or how we conducted participatory activities) and applied it to our future campaigns and activities. This was we had an ongoing feedback loop in the development of our activities, a key component of any C4D campaign. Something we learned early on was the importance of having qualitative activities like interviews and focus groups to be conducted in local language. So instead of having a translator at these activities, we worked closely with our colleagues who spoke different languages to facilitate these sessions themselves.

  2. Iuna

    Great Work Maia! Thanks for transferring these super useful insights to us! I always find people’s unique journeys into the field of C4D extremely interesting, especially if they tool place in the time before there were C4D networks and Masters. Could you tell us a bit more about how Emily found her way into this field?

    • Sorry for my delayed reply! I started my career in reality television production (I worked on lifestyle shows like cooking, travel, kids, and home renovation shows). After a few years of that I decided to go back to school and do my masters in Media, Communication and Development at LSE. And from there I worked for MTV EXIT, which was a CSR initiative of MTV. This job was a perfect marriage of my past work experience, my studies and my interest in working for an organization that uses media for development purposes. MTV EXIT was an awareness raising campaign and behaviour change campaign for the prevention of human trafficking. After a few years of that, I started working at IOM X. 🙂

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