Chapter 7: Why 3E Impact is Unique

“Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted. The trouble is, I don’t know which half.”

The 3E Impact method is a five-step method for delivering an ethical communications campaign that improves outcomes for beneficiaries and donors, created by Seefar and improved based on the lessons in this book.

Marketing pioneer John Wanamaker coined this phrase in the mid-1800s and it still sums up the key problem of any form of communications activity: While you may see increased sales, lower crime or decreased migration, you rarely know how you achieved that impact, or if your efforts contributed to it at all. 

However, if you start designing a campaign with this question at the centre of your thinking then it will ultimately lead you to a positive place – an ethical, engaged and effective campaign that benefits all parties.


Aissata has been a word-of-mouth counsellor for two years. She serves potential and transit migrants in her community in Bamako, Mali. She has been trained by Seefar on adaptive counselling methods and on migration facts, trends and news. 

Aissata is known in her neighbourhood as a migration expert. People considering migration trust her to give them reliable information about the risks they could face and the alternatives available to them. She schedules several one-on-one consultations each day. 

In her consultations, she listens empathetically to the unique motivations of the beneficiary, asking open questions to prompt them as needed. Then she provides information to fill any gaps in the beneficiaries’ knowledge, and helps them internalise the information. At the end, she helps the beneficiary decide on their next steps, whether that be to have another conversation with her soon or to explore a specific job opportunity in Bamako or to speak more to their family about their concerns, for example. She also gives her contact details, knowing she will be re-contacted with follow-up questions and for further advice in future. 

Aissata takes pride in the number of people she has been able to help, but is also anxious about the future of the people she serves. In her spare time, she volunteers as a mentor for some promising youth from her community.

When first developed, the 3E Impact method was cutting edge in its use of trained counsellors to deliver one-on-one consultations with potential and transit migrants. Hundreds of thousands of consultations later, we now have a sea of evidence underlining their effectiveness at driving individual attitude and behaviour change. 

These consultations provide the opportunity to discover and address unique motivations and information needs of the consultee. We use an empathetic counselling method to support people working through their migration ambitions, plans, and alternative options. It’s not a script that can be repeated; it is a set of skills. 

The number of counsellors in the field can be increased or decreased at a marginal cost, with the monthly cost of a counsellor being about the same as one minute of prime time advertisements on national television. 

Demonstrating Results

Based on what our donors tell us, the other innovative strength of the 3E Impact method is the approach to measuring impact which allows you to conduct robust evaluations. By using overlooked research tools and building monitoring into the everyday work of the campaign, the 3E Impact method allows you to demonstrate results that go beyond reporting on completed activities.

You will see that if done effectively, a migration communications campaign can have positive impacts for donors and beneficiaries – a rare win-win on a polarised topic.

Choosing between Channels

As we said earlier in the book, many communication channels could have a place in a campaign. But we need to look at the trade-offs that need to be made when selecting channels.

The charts below refer to Afghanistan and capture the relative size of:

  • Audience
  • Cost of implementation
  • Cost of getting feedback
  • Cost of verifying behaviour change

The data in the charts was developed from campaigns in Afghanistan and specifics will vary by country. For example, a place where Facebook usage is low will show something quite different on the Facebook ratios. Similarly, the radio and TV data are aggregated and would vary by station.

In Afghanistan, television had the biggest potential audience followed by Facebook and radio. Remember though, a particular channel may reach three million people in eastern Afghanistan, but which portion of that three million are you trying to reach?

On implementation cost, television was the most expensive. For the cost of a few adverts or a talk show, we can run direct consultations for a month.

On the cost of feedback on messaging content, we can solicit some input from call-in radio shows or television, but on-the-ground surveys and focus groups are the best way to get measurable feedback. Personal contact provides immediate and efficient opportunities for gathering feedback directly. Facebook is much more efficient than most other methods since it provides metrics that suggest reach and engagement with your content.

The fourth chart, showing the additional cost of change verification (i.e. attitude or behavioural change), is where direct consultations demonstrate their superiority from a monitoring and evaluation perspective. Personal contact allows us to solicit direct feedback and observe behaviour with minimal cost. It is among the best channels because it allows you to build trust and gather contact information to recontact beneficiaries to observe longer-term behavioural change at a comparatively small cost. 

Step 1: Specify

The first step of the 3E Impact method is to set expectations by defining the purpose of the campaign. What is it supposed to achieve for the donor? What will it achieve for people considering migration?

At this point you should ensure that the needs of both the beneficiaries and the donor can be achieved equally. If you are using the 3E Impact method then this will be possible. If they do not equate, you need to revisit why.

You then need to set objectives and metrics, and articulate a theory of change.

A theory of change is an important piece of text for your campaign. It is a statement of what you believe your campaign will accomplish and how. It defines long-term goals and then maps the preconditions for that change. It guides everything the campaign does at a high level, while at the same time providing a basis for evaluation.

As the old adage goes, “What gets measured gets done.” If you set the wrong expectations or the wrong objectives, then you will be evaluated against measures that don’t correspond to what you have been doing in your campaign.

Once you have set your theory of change, you have one of the two elements needed to design your results framework. The second element is the campaign strategy itself. While the theory of change sets the objectives and intended outcomes of the campaign, the campaign strategy provides the vehicle for achieving it. You can set high-level metrics with only the theory of change but you cannot finalise them and decide on the measurement tools until the campaign strategy tells you the channels that will be used.

Step 2: Understand

In reality, and therefore in the 3E Impact method, there is no substitute for primary source mixed-methods research in the field. Firstly, it is important to map out what you need to know. Then check your filing cabinets for data that is already available via a desk review. What’s left, if anything, should be your fieldwork. Pre-campaign research is foundational if nothing is known about the key questions but it adds little value if information about the beneficiaries is readily available.

This section outlines the key issues you need to address in your campaign research phase and how you can do it. They can broadly be described as:

  • Beneficiary segmentation
  • Motivations and understanding
  • Supporting channels
  • Message testing

Beneficiary Segmentation 

Because each piece of the pie is different (see Chapter 3: Selecting Target Segments), the first step is to identify and define the particular segment or segments your campaign will focus on. This sounds simple, but in our experience, it is actually the hardest question to answer in your research and design phase. Want to do a campaign in Nigeria? Which segments of the 210 million people living in 36 states and speaking 530 languages do you want to talk to? Not everyone in Nigeria is a potential or transit migrant.

And even if you were able to identify the demographics of potential or transit migrants within your campaign country, even this group is far from homogenous. A 35-year-old male farmer with four children living in a rural area of Kano state is unlikely to respond to the same messaging or engage with the same activities as a 21-year-old single female university student living in Lagos city centre. To maximise your impact, you’ll have to hone in on your priority groups and develop a specific theory of change for each, then design your campaign approach accordingly. 

So, how do you decide which segments to prioritise? We recommend you develop clear selection criteria on the basis of your overall objectives. For example, if your motivation is purely linked to border management, you might want to look for common characteristics among migrants who are arriving irregularly and are not eligible for asylum. Vulnerability could be part of your selection criteria – you might want to define a segment which is at greater risk of sexual exploitation on the journey, and focus on reducing their vulnerability. Efficiency should most definitely be taken into consideration when selecting priority groups; in other words, if the members of a segment are particularly costly to reach, you’ll need to be conscious of the trade-offs you make in choosing to prioritise them.

Another factor to consider is the level of influence your campaign can have over a particular group. For example, evidence from our past campaigns allows us to identify characteristics that correlate with a higher success rate in achieving our desired outcomes, so focusing on people with these characteristics could help us maximise our impact. 

The clearer an idea you have of the characteristics and needs of your priority segments, the more tailored your approach can be, and so the better your results will be. That means you’ll need to collect and analyse data in order to build up as detailed a profile as possible. Your final sketch of your priority segments will likely include information like their age range, gender, education level, marital status, employment status, motivations for migration, location, and more.

And how can you get this data? A combination of desk research, stakeholder interviews with interpreters or staff at NGOs and international organisations, and a survey of potential and transit migrants, as well as the diaspora. Interviewing stakeholders alone is not enough – they are liable to be influenced by their knowledge of your (and your donors’) interest and focus. Similarly, you may get false responses from migrants if you do not design and administer the survey with this in mind.

Motivations and Understanding

Once you have identified your target segment, you’ll need to understand their motivations, context and influential relationships. If you do not you will end up like Zembla – sending information that does not connect with your audience.

Understanding the influential relationships allows you to identify any secondary target segments. For example, in some communities in Afghanistan, fathers are very influential in their children’s decisions about migration. In these situations, you might want to specify a secondary target audience comprising fathers of your primary audiences. 

For all the segments, you need to find out what they know, think and feel about the issue of irregular migration in as much qualitative detail as possible. This allows your creative team to design meaningful messages on platforms like television or radio. It also helps later on when you are training your counsellors to understand the issues and how your priority groups think about them.

Supporting Channels

The next decision you need to make is which channels to include in the campaign. This choice should be informed by data from a quantitative survey of the usage of and trust in different channels among your beneficiary segments. Although we are advocating a method with counsellors at its core, you need to know which supporting channels to include or exclude.

It’s vital to understand not only which channels your beneficiary segments use most, but also how those channels can be used for campaigning. For example, a recurring issue we see with researchers new to migration communications campaigns is the temptation to focus on how the beneficiaries communicate. This is useful insofar as it tells us which channels they are accessible on. If you know a particular beneficiary segment uses WhatsApp every day to talk to their friends and families, then you’ll train counsellors to be able to interact with their consultees on WhatsApp.

But you also need a channel which will help you to inform hundreds of thousands of potential beneficiaries about your counselling service, and that’s not likely to be WhatsApp due to limitations in its broadcasting and advertising options. You’ll need to identify a different channel that will drive people to WhatsApp for those consultations.

Message Testing

Your creative content in a migration communications campaign will usually be directed towards two outcomes – either attempting to directly influence migration behaviour or to generate traffic to your other channels, such as websites or hotlines, where you can more effectively engage with beneficiaries.

No professional communications agency would launch media adverts to sell a product without making sure the advert is going to be effective. Unfortunately, time and again, we see no testing being done on media products in migration communications campaigns.

To find out which messages and content formats are most effective among your beneficiaries, one simple way is to ask them. This could be in an online survey, poll or post, or in interviews with your beneficiaries. For example, we asked our beneficiaries in Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan in 2017-2019 which topics were most useful for them. Physical risks, financial risks, and destination country policies were the top three. 

However, it’s important to also go beyond self-reported data from your audience by observing impact on actual behaviours or attitudes. When it comes to social media, you can quickly, easily and cheaply learn about which type of content and messaging generates more of your desired results at a lower cost by developing split tests. These tests present two (or more) versions of the same advertisement to similar audiences and gather data on which version performs better. 

Donors and practitioners ask us time and time again questions like: “What’s most effective, positive or negative messaging?” This question can be broken down into a series of more specific questions, like:

Is the audience more likely to seek further information about the risks of irregular migration, or about alternatives to it?

Does the audience engage more with images of relaxed-looking migrants in a clean reception centre, or images of distressed-looking migrants in squalid makeshift camps?

Does the audience respond better to text written in a hopeful tone or a pessimistic tone?

From these questions, we can then develop content which differs only by one variable and decide on the metric we will use to define success. From the results of these tests, we can then draw out actionable guidelines for content creation which will help us maximise our impact. 

But we should remember that different audience segments, even within the same location, age group and gender, may well respond differently, meaning we need to run these tests for each segment. For example, when we advertise the same test to two demographically identical audiences in Dari and then in Pashto, the results are often different. Take the following example: We tested a post with the call-to-action “Fill in this form for reliable information about the risks of irregular migration,” against a post that said “Fill in this form for reliable information about the alternatives to irregular migration.” In Dari, the ‘risk’ post was a clear winner in terms of cost per result, whereas in Pashto the contest was tight, with ‘alternatives’ winning by a slight margin. 

Split testing is not the only way to get this information, and at times it’s not the best way either. Running AI-powered software on the data from advertisements can reveal useful information which wouldn’t show up so clearly in specific split tests. This approach is useful for analysing the results of a large number of advertisements as it picks up patterns you may not have thought to test. Having the advertisements manually tagged is also useful for gathering deeper insights. For example, among Amharic speakers in Ethiopia, we have found that to optimise the viral reach of a social media post, the image should showcase some form of risk related to irregular migration. Text containing mentions of smugglers are also seen to achieve a higher viral reach than those without. 

This means that rigorous message testing should be a separate component of your research phase. This message testing should continue during implementation, acknowledging that message effectiveness can change with fast-changing circumstances on the ground. 

There are a number of other ways you can effectively test messages, most of which achieve the same outcome, so we will not outline them all here. Your purpose is to test ideas, scripts and then the actual products before you deliver them. Ensure that they achieve their objectives before you waste money, lose a valuable opportunity to inform and risk being counterproductive to your campaign aims. Do not be Zembla.

Step 3: Results

Designing your results framework is another element of the campaign strategy. There are two major components of a results framework – the monitoring and the evaluation.

The monitoring component usually comprises data that allows the campaign management to detect issues and ensure it is operating day-to-day as expected. It also provides donors and the project board with regular reports on progress towards achieving key metrics from the logframe, which is described below. 

It is important that the monitoring component goes beyond determining if the campaign activities have been delivered as planned. Data collection should be focused on providing continuous learning and systematic identification of the validity of the links described in your theory of change. This means, for example, collecting data that offer insights into the immediate impact of the campaign on beneficiaries and exploring the linkages between your activities and the impact. The evaluation component is a more formal review of campaign performance, designed to assess the impact of the campaign. In the 3E Impact method this involves using measurement tools to determine and verify whether the desired longer-term impact has been achieved. At a minimum, the output should be a completed logframe with issues and recommendations for improvement in a corresponding report.

The monitoring and evaluation components are contained in the results framework. In the 3E Impact method this is comprised of:

  • Theory of change
  • Logframe
  • Measurement tools
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Evaluation outputs

We discussed the theory of change in Step 1, including how it sets the objectives and intended outcomes of the campaign. The logframe takes this one step further and links inputs with outcomes. A 3E Impact logframe contains the following elements:

You will notice that the logframe outlines metrics at each level. It shows clearly and unambiguously your target inputs, your target outputs and, most importantly, the metrics for measuring your outcomes.

When you design these metrics, you need to refer back to the theory of change and ensure that your outcomes measure what you articulated in your theory of change.

So what is a successful outcome? This depends on your perspective. For donors, 3E Impact tracks the number of beneficiaries engaged who are no longer planning to migrate or have another behaviour change. This also allows you to generate metrics around cost per behaviour change. However, more importantly for the people we are providing a service to, 3E Impact tracks the number of people who report they have a greater understanding of risks, dangers and alternatives as well as the number who are satisfied with the service provided. 3E Impact also tracks the number of people who find the information delivered trustworthy and relevant. Find more on this in Step 5. 

Step 4: Execute


The channels we recommend here are based on our experience using and testing the effectiveness of almost every communications method available over the course of developing the 3E Impact method. These include stickers, street theatre, events, social media, large-scale media campaigns, posters, religious outreach, movies, TV and radio dramas, documentaries, testimonials and even building (and then branding) bus stops. Many of these do not work, for all the reasons we have discussed already.

Instead, we prioritise channels that support our methodology of addressing the unique motivations of individuals through trusted voices. We do this because it overcomes Wanamaker’s problem of not knowing which half of his marketing budget is wasted.

This section outlines a series of channels you might consider for a campaign; how they work at a generic level.


Counsellors are the trusted faces of campaigns. They are from the same communities as our beneficiaries. They help people make more informed decisions about migration.

The model involves recruiting people who are already trusted by their communities and who have high levels of empathy. We then train them to be counsellors, using methods developed by a behavioural psychologist. We teach them techniques to help them uncover and understand the unique motivations of their beneficiaries. We also train them to support their beneficiaries to internalise new information and reflect on what it means for their future. Counsellor training also focuses on making them experts on the topic of irregular migration and its alternatives.

The aim is to produce a service for potential and transit migrants. Counsellors are people from whom migrants can get reliable and factual information as well as help to better understand their options. They conduct their consultations either on the phone or in person, which allows them to adapt to the preferences and needs of the consultee. As the counsellors become known as reliable sources of migration information in their communities, their time is quickly over-subscribed.

At the beginning of a consultation with a new consultee, the counsellor prioritises building trust. The approach will differ depending on whether the consultation is remote or in person, but it will usually involve introductions, an explanation of the service, and general conversation to build rapport. The counsellors find it useful to emphasise that the service is completely free and confidential. 

Once introductions are complete, the counsellor will usually try to get a deeper understanding of the consultee’s current situation as well as their migration knowledge, motivations and plans. They do this by asking open questions and practising empathetic listening. Based on the information the consultee gives, the counsellor can then tailor their approach and messaging to make their consultation as useful and efficient as possible. They will give the consultee relevant information and help them internalise it by applying it to their own situation. 

Lastly, the consultation will focus on next steps. For example, depending on how the conversation has gone so far, the counsellor might turn to motivating the consultee to explore a specific livelihood opportunity. The counsellor may also refer the consultee to relevant service providers or sources for further information. On some occasions, a follow-up consultation is scheduled. Other times, the consultee might just follow up with the counsellor via messaging.

At no time in this conversation does the counsellor tell the person not to migrate. That is important for two reasons:

It is not the aim of the 3E Impact method; and

If the counsellor did that then they would likely be perceived as biased and lose the trust of the community.

Many origin communities have only limited access to migration information. They see positive images of successful peers on social media, a positive impression of destination countries in western TV programmes and many have smugglers and facilitators working in their community who are selling the idea of migration. The counsellors therefore fill an important role in the community by balancing these overly positive narratives. They engage beneficiaries to realistically reflect on how they personally would be affected by irregular migration, based on statistics for people with a similar profile to them. They also help beneficiaries to truly consider their other options and where relevant to change their perspective toward those options. 


Counsellors also organise a variety of events for beneficiaries. The main purpose of the events is usually to drive interest in consultations, but they are also beneficial for spreading campaign messaging to a wider audience and building brand awareness, trust and credibility within the community. 

Events are designed with the interests and habits of the priority segments in mind. Partnering with groups and institutions that are commonly attended by your priority segment can be extremely valuable.

For example, our counsellors have organised events in the past with the collaboration of sports teams, church groups, universities, schools, youth clubs and more. They’ve also spoken at events already scheduled by other relevant organisations like UNHCR. 

Usually events will use some sort of ‘hook’ to entice attendance, like a sports competition or a film screening or a workshop. Counsellors will use the activity to build rapport with beneficiaries. They will then take the opportunity to discuss campaign messaging. Events usually involve a question and answer session. Lastly, counsellors will make themselves available for consultations either on the day or by sharing their contact details for the future. 

Unpaid and Paid Media Stimulation 

In some contexts, an unpaid media stimulation component may be useful for campaign objectives. For this component, you should hire people with strong networks in the local media landscape. You’ll train them to become experts in migration. These media liaison officers will work with local media professionals to build up the latter’s capacity and motivation to cover migration-related issues, through a mix of formal training sessions and more informal ongoing support. 

As we don’t pay for this coverage, this component is usually relatively cheap to add to a campaign, and it can extend the reach of campaign messaging considerably. Our past experience shows us that media stimulation can lead to more and better quality migration reporting, even beyond the lifecycle of the project. 

However, before deciding to include this component, you should consider how much your beneficiary segments consume and trust different media channels and outlets. An initial assessment of the volume and quality of media coverage of migration-related issues is also important to ascertain whether or not there is a real need for this component. 

The 3E Impact method de-emphasises the use of paid media broadcasts or advertisements, but there are limited circumstances when it does work. Depending on the media consumption behaviours of priority segments, you might want to use paid media to drive traffic to online properties, hotlines or counsellors. For example, when the Covid-19 pandemic led to mobility restrictions, our counsellors in Afghanistan had to temporarily stop moving around their community to find potential beneficiaries for consultations. In response, we increased our online advertising of this service, but we also set up a series of radio advertisements in order to reach a priority segment which was less present in online channels. 

Purchasing airtime for a TV or radio drama or talk show might also be relevant depending on your campaign objectives and context. For example, when restrictions on gatherings came into place after the Covid-19 pandemic reached our target populations, we used radio talk shows to simulate in-person events. Listeners could call in with their questions on the migration topic of the day, and a counsellor would provide factual answers. The disadvantage of this approach is that it tends to be expensive, and it’s difficult to confirm if the viewers and listeners match your beneficiary segment. It’s also logistically costly and complicated to measure the impact of the content aired on these channels, as you’re only likely to be able to follow up with a very small portion of the audience. 

Social Media

Your online strategy will be guided by the broader intent and strategy of the campaign and the other channels involved. There are almost infinite ways you can effectively achieve your campaign aims online. But also remember our two warnings: 

Social media puts a hammer in your hand; but it can’t turn all your problems into nails. (see Channels and Messengers: Use of Social Media)

Just because your target audience uses a communication medium does not mean it is necessarily an effective channel for changing behaviour

In the 3E Impact model, even if social media is unlikely to be the campaign’s principal behaviour change tool, it might still be critical to the success of your campaign. Some of the nails your social media hammer could be helpful for are:

Gathering insights into your beneficiaries

Building brand credibility and trust

Efficiently marketing your services to priority beneficiaries

Spreading campaign messaging widely

When the social media messenger is trusted and the content is engaging, online campaigning can also help people learn something new or encourage them to reconsider something they originally believed. It can even trigger certain desirable behaviours like further research into alternatives or a discussion about risks with a trusted relative. But to be effective and to prove effectiveness, your online strategy needs to be designed and implemented accordingly. The best way to assess the value of social media to your migration communications ambitions is to treat it as you would any other channel: research, compare, test, compare.

Chapter 6: Long-term Solutions


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