Over 10 years, we’ve worked on many Community-Based Social Marketing and behaviour change strategies covering a wide range of issues. From reducing smoking rates in Indigenous communities, to preventing illegal dumping, improving sustainable transport and tackling public health risks in communities.

With the heavy rains along the east coast of Australia this Summer, we thought it’s a good time to share one of our favourite examples – applying Community-Based Social Marketing to reduce the public health risks of mosquitoes in homes and communities in the Northern Rivers of NSW.  

Why we need a rigorous process, even for local interventions

It’s not easy to change people’s behaviour. It can be even harder when applying a targeted community-based approach because you most often don’t have the power of legislation or a big budget for mass communication.

But it also means, with a rigorous process, you can properly tailor the message to the context of a person’s location and sense of place.

It can be tempting to jump in and design ‘behaviour change’ and social marketing based on gut instincts, but we know this doesn’t usually work. When programs are designed and implemented this way, one or more of the following things usually happens:

  • People might hear the messages, and even find the behaviour change intervention appealing or funny, but it doesn’t mean that it’ll change behaviour.
  • People’s knowledge and attitudes may be somewhat altered about the issue or behaviour in general, but it may not have an impact on the key behaviour of interest.
  • The behaviour is changed, but it’s not sustained over time.

Applying community-based approaches in the process

Our process for developing effective behaviour change interventions for a range of challenges is partly based on the Community-based Social Marketing (CBSM) model by Doug McKenzie Mohr. But we often combine this with other models such as the E-A-S-T (Easy, Attractive, Social and Timely) framework, COM-B, Index of Influences and socio-ecological models.

Regardless of what model or framework we use, we most often also apply a design-thinking approach to co-design the interventions and solutions with community and/or stakeholders and experts who have important knowledge on the issues.

Using these methods allows us to:

  • explore the problem and identify the specific behaviour/s associated with a problem or issue (stage 1)
  • understand influences (barriers and enablers) on target behaviours (stage 2)
  • engage with stakeholders in the community to influence the behaviour change (stage 2)
  • use a ‘test, measure, learn’ approach when applying and evaluating the program (stage 3&4).

Here’s a diagram to show what we mean:

The image is a process diagram for a strategy to tackle community challenges. It outlines a step-by-step approach starting with "Challenge," then moving to "Audience," followed by "Active Research," and "Barriers and benefits." After these steps, it advises to "Decide on actions," which then leads to a "PILOT" phase indicated in green. Arrows suggest that after the pilot, the strategy should be adjusted based on feedback, which is implied by the circular arrow pattern around the pilot phase. Finally, the process concludes with "Roll out in community in phases," indicating a phased implementation approach. The diagram is designed to guide a structured, iterative process for community-based initiatives.

Tackling Mosquitoes Together using community-based social marketing

So now we’ve set the scene, let’s get back to Mozzies and how important it is for community to play a role in mosquito prevention.  

From 2020-2022 we worked in collaboration with the seven Northern Rivers council’s – led by Tweed Shire Council – to develop a behaviour change program that would:

  • increase community action to reduce backyard mosquito breeding habitats (e.g. water holding containers)
  • improve personal protection behaviours (e.g. applying repellent correctly.)

There were 4 broad stages to bring Tackling Mosquitoes Together to life.

Stage 1: Identify the specific behaviours associated with the problem/issue

The purpose of this stage was to:

  • build on work that’s already been done in relation to a specific problem
  • start understanding current behaviours and attitudes
  • to understand audiences and segments
  • provide insights to apply a community-based behavioural framework.

We identified the specific behaviours to target in relation to reducing the public health risks of mosquitoes by:

  • meeting with the Northern River’s councils’ staff working group
  • undertaking a desktop review of previous Tackling Mosquitoes Together work and other research findings.
  • interviewing public health experts to understand the problem and specific behaviours to target
  • summarising the insights into a report to inform the co-design process.

During this stage we identified a number of potential behaviours to target. Two key behaviours were selected on the basis that they would be most likely to reduce barriers and increase the enablers. The behaviours were:

  1. Source reduction through emptying backyard water-holding containers
  2. Personal protection by choosing and using repellents correctly

Stage 2: Understand the influences (barriers and enablers) on target behaviours

The purpose of this stage was to:

  • present and test the research insights with the council teams to make sure we were on the right track
  • establish the scope of the program based on the most important behaviours we wanted to change, informed by stage 1
  • establish who we most needed to target (primary audiences) in order to have most impact on these behaviours
  • do initial program ideation using community based social marketing tools and tactics, including personas and a tailored EAST framework.

Here’s a diagram showing the EAST framework:

The image is an infographic detailing strategies for community-based social marketing (CBSM). It presents six key concepts to influence behavior change: Convenience, Communication, Commitment, Social Norms, Incentives, and Prompts. Each concept is explained with a brief question or statement. The infographic also discusses the importance of "Easy," "Social," "Attractive," "Timely," and "Social Diffusion" in the center, emphasizing the aspects of social influence and ease of adoption that are critical for spreading the desired behaviors through a community.

Through our research we identified many barriers and enablers to the 2 target behaviours. A few examples are listed below.

Examples of source reduction barriers and enablers

Barriers Enablers
Time it takes to empty water-holding containers Protecting family and pets
Remembering to act Reducing nuisance
Gaps in knowledge about breeding habitats and the risks of mosquito-borne diseases Community participation/protection

Examples of personal protection barriers and enablers

Barriers Enablers
Perceived safety risks of repellent Protecting family
Gaps in knowledge about correct application Reducing nuisance/increasing the liveability of outdoor areas in the home
Costs associated with some personal protection behaviours E.g installing flyscreens Community participation/protection

Stage 3: Develop, test and refine intervention strategies

We used the insights from stages 1 and 2 to develop, test and refine intervention strategies. The purpose or this stage was to:

  • explore and test the ‘how’ of these ideas
  • expand the input to community members and other interested stakeholders through a co-design process
  • bring together the strongest ideas from the previous stages and develop them into a program concept that can be implemented.

We did this by:

  • facilitating a co-design workshop with community members to organise the program into ideas and intervention themes that could potentially be used in the community
  • undertaking a prioritisation exercise to select the most important intervention ideas to implement in the behaviour change program
  • developing program branding, resources and messages
  • conducting focus groups with community members to test the program design and messages
  • refining the program and its resources based on testing feedback
  • developing a monitoring and evaluation plan and a communication strategy.

Key insights that informed the Tackling Mosquitoes Together pilot program

During the co-design phase, we explored a number of promising intervention ideas with the community to help inform the program. Key insights included:

  • People need tips, prompts and reminders to take action to reduce mosquitoes at key times and places. This includes through print resources and social media reminders.
  • Information and communication needs to be convenient. For example by receiving information directly to mobile phones during peak mosquito breeding seasons.
  • Broad community awareness about the program and mosquito risks needs to be achieved through media/social media campaigns, stalls and community events and community champions.
  • The community is more likely to get involved in the program if incentives such as free mosquito repellent are offered.

We then translated these research and co-design insights into a practical strategy that included:

  • an SMS service with tips, prompts and reminders to help people reduce mosquitoes around their home and improve their personal protection behaviours
  • a Tackling Mosquitoes Together website for people to sign up to the program and access resources
  • a branded education pack of free resources with a backyard checklist, an educational flyer, a bottle of repellent with instructions.

Stage 4: Implement and evaluate the behaviour change interventions

The purpose of this stage was to evaluate what extent the program achieved its objectives (the desired behaviour change). The evaluation included:

  • trialling and assessing data of the SMS program for a 4-week period
  • further refining the program based on the pilot results
  • monitoring and tracking progress of the pilot program over a 12-week period during mosquito season
  • conducting program evaluation through a community survey, analysing website and social media analytics
  • submitting a final evaluation report to councils.

Program results

Our program evaluation showed that text messages combined with print resources increased knowledge and prompted people to reduce their exposure to mosquitoes. Some of the key evaluation insights included:

  • 71% of program participants checked their backyard for mosquito breeding habitats on a weekly basis (the required timeframe)
  • 93% of program participants reduced breeding habitats around their home or property because of the text messages
  • 90% talked about the program with people outside their household
  • 72% found SMS messages extremely or very useful
  • 87% would participate in the program again.

How can we help?
If you’ve got a challenge or issue you’d like help solving with Community-Based Social Marketing and behaviour change, reach out to us and we can help.
Lucy Wilson
Projects and Change Consultant 
Steven Speldewinde
Director of Digital and Innovation (and CFO / COO)
steve@thesocialdeck.com0421 243 418