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Best Laid PlansCultural Entropy and the Unraveling of Aids Media Campaigns$
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Terence E. McDonnell

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780226382012

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226382296.001.0001

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Imagined Audiences and Cultural Ombudsmen

Imagined Audiences and Cultural Ombudsmen

(p.83) 4 Imagined Audiences and Cultural Ombudsmen
Best Laid Plans

Terence E. McDonnell

University of Chicago Press

The convergence around best practice also opens up opportunities for divergence and conflict within and among the enactment of those best practices. Using a production of culture approach, this chapter traces how AIDS organizations in Accra put best practices into practice, and identifies moments of entropy that emerge when designers produce campaigns. In a field that has converged around the value of incorporating formative research into the design process, organizations make themselves distinct by doing formative research differently. These divergences, namely whether organizations collect categorical or narrative data from audiences, lead them to produce campaigns with what I call “categorical” and “narrative” styles. Different styles produce more or less effective campaigns, undermining the intended goals of AIDS organizations. Organizations incorporate “cultural ombudsmen” into the design process who draw moral and cultural symbolic boundaries around the appropriateness of campaign ideas. Obmudsmen, with their veto power, can squash campaign ideas that designers like best and that have the support of communities, putting the practices of formative research and securing buy-in in conflict. This opens campaigns up to entropy, as organizations put out “lowest common denominator” campaigns that may have less resonance and lack organizational support.

Keywords:   production of culture, categories, narrative, best practices, cultural ombudsmen, qualitative measures, formative research, evidence-based design, quantitative measures

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