Stories of organisational change: mainstreaming inclusion at BBC Media Action

November 2023

To improve how partners approach disability-inclusive programming, Inclusive Futures has interviewed three partners about how they’re putting what they’ve learned into practice.

As part of Inclusive Futures, BBC Media Action has adapted and produced disability-inclusive radio content in Tanzania and Nigeria, to address stigma and discrimination towards people with disabilities. In Nigeria, its adaptation of the popular Story Story radio drama, reached more than 3.9 million adults,  including over 750,000 people with disabilities. It is currently producing a second radio drama called Madubi, to address negative stereotyping around people with disabilities and their sexual health in northern Nigeria.

Alasdair Stuart is senior adviser and senior researcher for BBC Media Action, based in the UK. He supported the design of BBC Media Action’s disability inclusion projects and research in Nigeria and Tanzania. He has also contributed to the overall design of the monitoring and evaluation of the Inclusive Futures programme.

Nick Rao is senior project manager for BBC Media Action, based in Nigeria. He manages the delivery of BBC Media Action’s work under our inclusive family planning project in northern Nigeria. The project is using media to address stigma and discrimination towards people with disabilities and improve access to inclusive sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services.

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BBC Media Action

BBC Media Action is the BBC’s international charity. Every year, it reaches hundreds of millions of people around the world through creative communications and trusted media. It helps people to have their say, understand their rights, responsibilities, and each other, and take action to transform their own lives.

About BBC Media Action
A woman in a wheelchair is reading a script. A man is acting beside her and there are microphones being held up next to them.
Actors during a recording of the radio series, Madubi.
BBC Media Action is not traditionally known for being a disability-focused organisation. What impact has being part of Inclusive Futures had on your work?

Alasdair: Inclusive Futures has been a real catalyst for us. It provided us with an opportunity to challenge some of our own assumptions about our ability to do disability-inclusive work, to improve the way that we work with other partners in this space, and to think about mainstreaming disability inclusion across all our work.

It has also enabled us to generate evidence that media and communications can have a really large impact in addressing disability stigma, and that it can do this at scale.

How has BBC Media Action embedded disability inclusion in its work over the past four years?

Alasdair: At the 2018 Disability Summit, we committed to doing more work to tackle disability stigma. However, Inclusive Futures was really the first programme of work that enabled us to do that.

One of the questions we had initially was: if we’re trying to target non-disabled audiences around disability stigma but also want to increase the voice of people with disabilities in media programming, are we best to create programmes specifically about people with disabilities and their issues? Or are we better to mainstream discussion of those issues and representation of people with disabilities within our broader, more mainstream programmes?

Our first Inclusive Futures project in Tanzania allowed us to pilot and test different formats with target audiences. Our research showed that the mainstreaming approach was likely to be more effective, as it wouldn’t put off non-disabled audiences by being too focused on issues around disability, and that it was a more effective way of increasing the voices of people with disabilities within programmes. This has informed our approach in subsequent projects in Nigeria – including adapting the long-running BBC Media Action radio drama Story Story to address disability stigma and discrimination.

Nick: Inclusive Futures has also supported us to mainstream more disability-inclusive practices throughout our work. For example, we’re currently working on an Inclusive Futures project in northern Nigeria, where we’re using a radio drama called ‘Madubi’ to address negative stereotyping around people with disabilities and their sexual health. People with disabilities have played a key role in all aspects of the drama production process – from content research to script writing, recording and post-production. They help ensure that our storylines accurately reflect the challenges faced by people with disabilities.

We also have actors with disabilities in the cast, so we’ve tried to make our recording spaces as accessible and inclusive as possible. We’ve put ramps in place to ensure that wheelchair users can access the recording spaces. We also produce braille scripts for actors with visual impairments.

When we’re collecting audience insights, we try to ensure that we hear from a diverse group of community members. We provide disability inclusion training for moderators and data collectors on appropriate language to use when speaking to people with disabilities and on ensuring that venues are accessible and aren’t a barrier to people participating. This now stretches to our other research work, beyond the Inclusive Futures projects.

Watch the video to learn about BBC Media Action's work with Inclusive Futures.

A key part of Inclusive Futures is working in a consortium. What has BBC Media Action learned from other partners who have greater experience of working on disability inclusion?   

Alasdair: Inclusive Futures gave us the opportunity to get support from other organisations who are experts in disability inclusion. Frankly, our work would have had much less impact if we hadn’t been able to leverage those partnerships.

For example, the Institute of Development Studies trained us on how to make our research more disability inclusive. We were also able to consult the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine’s disability inclusion team on how to approach measuring changes in disability stigma.

Inclusive Futures often partners with organisations of people with disabilities (OPDs). What has BBC Media Action learned from working with OPDs?

Alasdair: Connections with OPD partners have been vital for our learning about how to do disability-inclusive project work. They’ve also made us challenge some of our own assumptions and pushed us to go further to ensure that our project design, content production and research processes are as inclusive of people with disabilities as possible. This has been instrumental in feeding into broader thinking about how we make our project design and research more inclusive, beyond our Inclusive Futures projects.

Nick: As part of our inclusive family planning project in northern Nigeria , we’ve worked with Sightsavers to create a more formalised way of including OPDs in our programme design. We have a mass media design group that feeds into the development and production of all our project activities – across radio, social media, and capacity strengthening. We have members from lots of different OPDs, including the Nigerian Network of Women with Disabilities, to ensure that we have a diverse range of views and don’t simply think about people with disabilities having only one voice.

“Inclusive Futures gave us the opportunity to get support from other organisations who are experts in disability inclusion.”

Two men are acting into a microphone. A man behind is wearing headphones.
A recording of Madubi.
How is BBC Media Action making changes to its internal policies and practices to become more disability inclusive? 

Alasdair: Inclusive Futures has certainly prompted us to think more about EDI [equity, diversity and inclusion] issues as an organisation. BBC Media Action’s new EDI strategy, which was launched last year, includes clear targets on disability inclusion and addressing disability stigma. The strategy is framed around more inclusive design and development processes for our projects; trying to engage and inspire everyone that we might be able to reach with media and communications; improving representation (what we call quality representation rather than tokenism); increasing the voice of groups who are marginalised in our programming; wider and more equal partnerships – that includes organisations representing people with disabilities; and enhancing our evidence, learning and knowledge about how we’re doing all of this.

I’ll also just mention, there is a BBC-wide initiative called 5050, which was originally about improving gender equity within the BBC, but it’s now been extended to include targets and action on disability inclusion within the BBC workforce. We’re also now looking at how we can mirror that kind of initiative at BBC Media Action – thinking about our own recruitment processes, our own staffing and the representation within our country office teams to try and increase the proportion of people with disabilities that are working for us.

How has BBC Media Action put disability inclusion into practice in its projects outside of Inclusive Futures?  

Alasdair: Inclusive Futures has been instrumental in changing how we think about disability inclusion at BBC Media Action. In proposals, project design, research and implementation, I’m now seeing how our teams are embedding a disability-inclusive approach in work across the organisation, beyond the Inclusive Futures-funded projects and countries.

For example, we started to use the Washington Group questions to measure disability prevalence and disaggregate our reach and impact data by disability in Inclusive Futures countries, but we now apply this approach to our research work everywhere we work.

It has also helped us to think more broadly about other areas of marginalisation where we might want to tackle stigma, and this is now coming through in work that we’re doing in other countries. For example, we’re doing work in Ukraine now using narrative storytelling to tackle stigma towards women and LGBTQI+ communities, and much of this has been informed by our work as part of Inclusive Futures.

“The initiative has been instrumental in changing how we think about disability inclusion.”

What are the next steps in BBC Media Action’s disability inclusion journey? 

Nick: How do we go further in our disability inclusion work? This is a conversation we’re continually having, and we’re having it alongside our partner Sightsavers as well. Are there ways in which we can include characters representing wider disability clusters? How can we reach audiences with disabilities as much as possible?

For example, we’ve realised we need to make specific media communication content for people from different disability clusters. In Nigeria, in addition to the Madubi radio drama, the team has developed comic strips that represent each of the radio dramas so that audiences who are deaf or hard of hearing can access that content more easily online. We also want to get input from our audiences on how we can develop our ideas further to make our content more accessible.

Alasdair: We have good evidence from our Inclusive Futures work in Nigeria of the large-scale impact media and communications can have in tackling disability stigma and I’m confident our work across the organisation in general, is more disability-inclusive and will continue to be so.

But I’m hopeful that we can work with the consortium to encourage donors to recognise the impact that work on disability stigma can have and the power of media and communications in supporting this. Inclusive Futures has been working in a handful of countries. If this approach is rolled out further, the scale of impact we could have on disability stigma could be enormous.

Challenging stigma and discrimination

Read our learning report about how social behaviour change can be used to promote disability inclusion.

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