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Measuring Family Planning Norms in Zambia

December 17, 2021 • Rights of Women & Girls, Stages of Change


Since our founding in 1998, Population Media Center (PMC) has collaborated with like-minded partners and funders to amplify diverse environmental and social change efforts in service of a single, shared goal: a more equitable, flourishing, and environmentally sustainable world for all. As reflected in our mission, we are a global sustainability non-profit. Our proven approach to transformative storytelling has helped 500+ million people change their lives, communities, and environments for the better — delivering measurable, meaningful community empowerment through the power of popular entertainment.

Meanwhile, we understand that diverse societies are constantly evolving, and in order to continue to able to provide transformational opportunities to our audiences, we have to continually invest in our own understandings of social norms and other cultural dynamics.

That is why we are currently in the midst of conducting applied research on family planning social norms in the sub-Saharan country of Zambia. Fundamentally, we want to more thoroughly understand any social normative dynamics that may be underlying Zambia’s significant population growth rates. As of 2021, the country has a natural population growth rate of 2.9% - which means the current population of 19+ million could double in less than 30 years. Currently, family planning norms across Zambia result in large family size, inadequate birth spacing, and low use of modern contraception (Zambia Statistics Agency, Ministry of Health Zambia, 2019).

Standard population related indicators, such as low use of modern contraceptives and high fertility rates are certainly important to understand, but even more insight into their social drivers is critical.

Recently, PMC developed a suite of prototype family planning social norms measurement tools. The work pioneered the use of entertainment-education as a modality for catalyzing and collecting data from Zambian women.

Utilizing an innovative mixed methods cross-sectional design in one purposively selected rural (Mkushi) and urban (Kabwe) district in the Central Province of Zambia, we tested the utility of short, fictional vignettes to probe respondents on various family planning related social norm constructs. We found our survey tools produced rich insights into family planning social norms in Zambia — a promising development for designing future transformational stories in the country.

You can read more about this initiative in the African Journal of Reproductive Health (Vol. 25, Issue 5). The relevant chapter is “Measuring family planning norms in Zambia: A mixed methods vignette study,” which shows in detail how our study validated mixed-methods vignettes for measuring family planning norms in Zambia.

Picture of Joe Bish

Written by Joe Bish

Joe is the Director of Issue Advocacy at Population Media Center. He holds a Master of Science in Environmental Advocacy and Organizing from Antioch University New England.