Learning Area 6: Formats

What types of content can get our message across?


In a saturated media environment, the format of development messages may matter as much as the message itself. Well-packaged messages appear higher up in news feeds and search results. Once seen, they are far more likely to engage their target audience.

The challenge – and opportunity – for communicators is that technologies and media behaviours are constantly evolving. The COVID-19 pandemic, for example, has changed the game in many countries. With people confined to their homes, communicators were obliged to cancel in-person events and find innovative formats to engage audiences online.

In a series of virtual meetings in 2020 – called DevCom Zooms In – communicators have shared lessons on formats that have worked for them. The trend is clear: the best formats today are visual, interactive and more personal.

Infographic - 6 fun formats for communicating development


Businesses often use insights from psychology and behavioural science to inform their marketing decisions. Behavioural insights can also be of immense value to development communicators. Latest trends in the private and public sectors suggest three effective ways for development communicators to improve their content formats: go visual, get interactive and get closer.

Go visual. PwC reports that visual content on social media is 40 times more likely to get shared, and visual formats can improve understanding and can connect with an audience faster.

Get interactive. Audiences will retain more content if they can interact with it and make it their own. This is also an excellent way for communicators to learn more about their audiences.

  • Gamified formats can turn sustainable development into a fun challenge. The options include DJ-ing competitions, simple quizzes or SDG twister.
  • User-generated content encourages citizens to make public their commitments to sustainable development. This approach has worked well in campaigns promoting gender equality such as UN Women’s HeForShe campaign.
  • Polls and surveys are simple formats that can generate new ideas and audience insights.

Get closer. A number of emerging formats allow communicators to get closer to their audiences.

  • Podcasts can engage very specific target audiences and provide a lot of flexibility: audiences can listen to them almost anytime, anywhere.
  • Mobile apps allow communicators to reach audiences without intermediaries. The UN ActNow app encourages personal behavioural change for sustainability through videos and individual challenges.
  • Virtual and augmented reality can allow people to get closer to fellow global citizens and understand what they have in common.


  1. Read PWC’s report on The Power of Visual Communication which describes the importance of visuals and 10 tips for creating powerful and effective visual content.
  2. Learn about gamification by watching a TEDx Talk by gamification pioneer Yu-Kai Chou and getting to know his gamification framework ‘Octalysis’.


In Denmark, a partnership between the Scouts and Tuborgfondet produced a packet of activities that are fun for all age groups, including board games, recipes and projects.

The Swiss Development Agency developed a card game called Sustainable Development Geek to test players’ knowledge and encourage discussions on development topics.

The Asian Development Bank created a video about its infrastructure projects in Georgia. The video was low cost, using mobile phone footage taken by ADB staff and Georgian officials.

In 2022, DevCom held a Coffee Break to discuss the trends in annual reports and platforms. Check out our overview of 7 different formats for results communications of DevCom members: