38448 Connecting the Dots from Formative Research to Campaign Messages: The Application of User-Centered Design Principles to Health Communication

Stacy Robison, MPH, MCHES, CommunicateHealth, Northampton, MA

Background:  Formative research helps health communicators understand users’ needs and inform or improve health messages. By involving audiences early and often in a project, we can learn about their values, beliefs, and needs — and create more tailored and effective health messaging. This presentation will discuss the science and art of translating formative research findings into clear, actionable health messaging. We’ll share examples from 3 recent projects — with different audiences and goals — to demonstrate the application of user-centered design principles.

Program background:  CommunicateHealth (CH) worked with 3 community-based organizations to develop health communication messages and materials.

  • CH worked to educate Haitian, Cape Verdean, and African American community members about managing chronic health conditions on behalf of the Massachusetts Old Colony YMCA / Healthy Communities Coalition (HCC)
  • In collaboration with the Western Massachusetts Opioid Prevention Collaboration (WMOPC), CH sought to encourage opioid users and bystanders to call 911 when they see or experience an overdose
  • Partnering with Health Literacy Maryland / Muslim Community Center Clinic (MCC), CH designed plain language documents for safety net clinic staff to use with patients
Across these programs and communities, CH applied a user-centered design approach and used formative research to develop tailored content strategies. In this presentation, we’ll trace our progression from research findings, to theme identification, and finally to message development — and share specific examples from the field. 

Evaluation Methods and Results:  In all 3 projects, CH followed a user-centered design process to gather feedback from end-users. Chronic Disease: We conducted 3 focus groups with 16 Haitian, Cape Verdean, and African American community members followed by 4 in-depth interviews with community leaders to get their perspective on ways to improve patient education and access to services. This research informed a content strategy for new materials. Opioids: Formative research findings indicated that people were confused about the laws related to calling 911 for opioid overdose. This finding shaped CH’s messaging strategy and ultimately made materials more salient to end-users. Muslim Community Clinic: We conducted 2 focus groups with clinic staff and patients to understand their greatest needs and challenges. We found that streamlining clinic workflow was the highest priority for both audiences. The cross-cutting theme from all 3 of these projects is the need for health communicators to use formative research to understand audiences’ cultural beliefs and mental models related to health. 

Conclusions:  In each of these projects, CH was drew from formative research findings to develop products that resonate with diverse audience groups. Sometimes, formative research findings are surprising and remind us that we shouldn’t make assumptions about our audiences’ mental models and cultural beliefs. User-centered design is key to understanding audiences’ needs, preferences, and mental models.  

Implications for research and/or practice:  Following a user-centered design process is essential to developing effective, culturally relevant health communication products. Engaging end-users early in a project through formative research methods is crucial — it helps gain an understanding of audiences’ desires and values, and helps build trust among communities we’re trying to reach.