The Core Modules of the Global Communication Project II

The content of this class is taken largely from The Global Communication Project, a web-based text was initially developed in 2015 by Drs. John Elder and Joseph Smyser with invited additional authors – Drs. Maggie Walsh-Buhi, Jessa Engelberg and Moshe Engelberg, and Ms. Erin Wardlaw. Beginning in 2019 The Global Communication Project II has been edited by Drs. Katherine Elder and John Elder, tracking the rapidly evolving field and adding new modules.


The ‘GCP’ is an online, interactive text with several modules that correspond to book chapters of a printed textbook. These modules comprise the “what”, “how”, “who" and “to whom”, and other specific topics in the field of health and social communication. There are many excellent textbooks that give extensive and comprehensive introductions to health communication. Our motivation is not to improve on these texts but to tackle the subject through an entirely different format. By using web resources to take the learner quickly to more in-depth explorations of topics, including both good and bad examples of health communication, we are modernizing the learning experience and illustrating the subject matter far beyond reading black print on white pages. However, the availability of examples of and resources for health communication on the WWW changes rapidly, just as the field of health communication does in this the age of social media. Hence, the online version continually  under modification with input from you, our audience.

There are many theories and models of health communication and social marketing; several of these will be presented in the Messages and other modules to which they most pertain. This overall text however is structured around William J. McGuire’s “Communication-Persuasion” theory [1]. Deriving from Social and Cognitive Psychology and influenced by the field of Marketing, McGuire’s theory is one of the most practical in the field as it serves to structure both a behavior change program (‘inputs’) and its evaluation (‘outputs’). McGuire’s input emphasis as well as ours is the “Message”.  The message is the “what” in terms of the basic description of the health, social, or other behaviors we hope the audience performs. Messages specifically comprise the content and feel of the health communication message. Armed with insightful formative research, effective health communicators and social marketers know how to capture the essence of a health or social issue with words, images, colors and sounds that best represent their theme.  The theme of a message can be thought of as its light (or logos), whereas the colors, sounds, words, and images used to elicit emotion (pathos) can be thought of as its heat.  

The “Audience” (or “to whom”) module sets the stage for any health communication effort. The audience or “receivers” comprise the target population we wish to contact (individuals, neighborhoods, communities, gatekeepers, politicians, etc.). Formative research conducted with members of the target audience or subject matter experts is necessary not only during message development but also for channel selection and audience segmentation.  Audience segmentation is crucial to finding the balance between being effective and being efficient: while one size does not fit everyone, we cannot afford to tailor messages to each individual in the audience. The process of segmentation determines the strategies required to address types of health or social issues, language or cultural distinctions, age and other demographic variables, and receptivity to change for different subgroups.


As the audience is the receiver of the message, the “Source” is the “who” that is sending the message. The “Source” module presents various options for selecting the best personality, character, or agency to be associated with the origination of the message.  The source of a message determines an audience’s reaction to a message, so particular attention is given to the selection of sources that are most likely to resonate with target audiences.


The channel is the “how” or the main method or media mix that we use to get the message out. Traditionally, channels have been thought of as print, broadcast (radio or television), or display (signs, billboards, etc.). However, with the advent of digital and social media there has been a revolution in our thinking about health communication. Media mixes (using combinations of the above and other channels) and media delivery systems (for example, print and video presented interpersonally or through the Internet) give us a broader perspective on the effective use of channels. Interpersonal communication, the most enduring and universal form of communication, is now once again at the forefront. Thus, the “Channel” module is supplemented by specialized pieces on “Social Media” and provider-patient communication. A separate module specifically on “Education/Entertainment” (or “Edutainment”) complements the “Channel” module by delving more deeply into paths to persuasion and the notion of a “communication contract” between Source and Audience. 

McGuire’s paradigm also includes “outputs”, namely, the cognitive-behavioral changes that the audience proceeds through to arrive at the desired behavior change, whether it be the purchase of a commercial product, change in a health behavior, or participation in a social cause. These outputs comprise a “hierarchy of effects” model, as they are predicated on a logical sequence of cognitive-behavioral change, from being exposed and paying attention to a message, all the way to permanent behavior change and even reaching out to others to do the same. Although research has shown that individuals do not necessarily proceed lock-step through this output hierarchy, its logical formulation is central to the design of the evaluation of our health communication efforts---while remembering that our primary task is to design and implement the “inputs”. In other words we need to know why we’re going about this effort in the first place, the “destination” or overall purpose of our campaign.

Additional Modules

“Edutainment” is a hybrid of message and channel inputs, showing how different balances between the heat and light of communication may be appropriate for different themes and goals. The “Public Speaking” module looks not only at this traditional form of communication but also discusses how best to support public presentations with slide shows and other resources. “Patient-Provider” communication reminds us of our health focus and the fact that much of medical knowledge the public learns is through primary and secondary care providers. We will wrap up with a “Program Evaluation” module that puts McGuire’s Outputs and Glasgow’s ‘RE-AIM’ frameworks to work in not only showing us how to assess our program’s impact but also how to look at it in the broader context of multiple levels of impact. We will use as a vehicle an evaluation model that reaches across the seemingly unrelated illnesses of mosquito-borne diseases and childhood obesity. Under construction is our “Photovoice and Citizen Journalism” module, due in the late fall of 20190. Finally, our “Ethics and the Future” module looks at recent scandals and ethical violations that have been committed by or at least through social media, and what vulnerabilities we have and protections we should develop in and beyond our field---balancing the fact that public health is a cause we all share while personal health is among the most private aspects of our lives.  

In Summary 

We hope that you, our audience, enjoys and benefits from your exploration of The Global Communication Project II.  We would greatly appreciate your suggestions on how to improve the modules: what topics should we add? What updated links would you suggest from YouTube, TedTalks, publicly available publications, etc. would improve the text? Which of these should be central to the “GCP” and which would be better in optional modules? Would you be willing to write some content? Your thoughts are appreciated!

About Your Editors

Katherine ("Katie") Elder, Ph.D., M.P.Aff., is Assistant Professor of Health Communication at California State University-Channel Islands. Prior to joining CI, she worked as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center on a grant-funded project designed to tailor health-related messaging to the needs and beliefs of legislators. She studies translation and implementation science, focusing specifically on how to bridge the gap between public health research and health policy. Her research interests are motivated by her work in the public sector. Prior to her doctoral studies, she worked for two years as a program analyst at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Recovery Act Office, where she was responsible for stimulus-created jobs data posted on Katie received her Ph.D. in Health Communication from the University of Southern California and her Masters of Public Affairs from the Lyndon B. Johnson School at the University of Texas at Austin.

John Elder, Ph.D, MPH, is Distinguished Professor of Public Health (Emeritus) at San Diego State University, the only faculty in SDSU’s history to receive the “Distinguished Professor” twice, once for his research and once for his teaching. John is also Adjunct Professor at the UCSD School of Medicine Moores Cancer Center. John received his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from West Virginia University and his MPH in International Health from Boston Universityu. He has worked on some of history’s largest health communication projects in the USA and abroad, such as the Pawtucket (Rhode Island) Heart Health Program (USDHHS/NIH), the 21-nation HealthComm Project (USAID), the PEPFARs HIV/AIDS project (USDOD) and the COMBI dengue and subsequently tuberculosis projects (PAHO/WHO). He teaches the MPH health communication class at SDSU in both real-time and online formats.

Activity 1.1

Describe yourself in terms of your general characteristics, personal history, important lifetime experiences or in other ways you deem important and are willing to share in order for your instructor and classmates to get to know you better. Then, write a bit about your background in public health and/or communication, and what you would like to get out of this course.

[1] McGuire, W. J., Rogers, E. M., Storey, J. D., Meekers, D., Van Rossem, R., Silva, M., & Koleros, A. (2007). Theoretical foundations of campaigns. Studies in Family Planning, 38(2), 41-70.