18 Aug

Funding for social and behaviour change projects: Key donors to follow

Social and behaviour change (SBC) is increasingly being seen as an important approach to analysing global development challenges, with powerful tools for better quality programme design. The field is growing rapidly, and luckily, an increasing number of donors are investing in behavioural science or SBC projects. Here is a quick overview of the key SBC donors to follow and the thematic areas they fund. I also recommend this fantastic article on recent moves to formalise and coordinate work being done by various SBC donors.  

USAID: Health and education

USAID is the leading SBC donor. It funds several important initiatives, including The Compass for SBC, Breakthrough ACTION and RESEARCH and Think BIG. Administrator Samantha Power is also a strong advocate for the integration of behavioural science in global development.

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation: Health and family planning

Gates Foundation fund many SBC projects and play an active role in growing the field of behavioural science for global development. For example, they funded the research that produced the excellent CUBES framework.

GIZ: Agriculture and nutrition

Another active donor in the SBC space is Germany’s GIZ.  Their key interest has been in funding SBC initiatives in agriculture and nutrition. They published an excellent SBC guide in 2019, and in 2020, co-hosted a series of webinars on SBC in the field of nutrition and agriculture.  

AmplifyChange: Sexual and reproductive health and rights

AmplifyChange recognises the central role that social norms play in realising sexual and reproductive health and rights. Several of its grantees are experts in social norms transformation, and the Fund has a dedicated learning platform, AmplifyChange Learn, where grantees can exchange their successful experiences.

Wellcome Trust: Health

The Wellcome Trust is funding one of the most significant initiatives in the behaviour change space, the Human Behaviour Change Project. This is a donor worth following for research-focused funding on behaviour change.

Children’s Investment Fund Foundation: Health

CIFF look for organisations that can help them to achieve their impact. One of these impact areas is ‘transformational change’ which includes sustained behaviour change. They have funding a number of behaviour change projects in nutrition, sexual and reproductive health and rights and hygiene.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Netherlands: Migration and development

The Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs has an increasing interest in how behavioural science can be harnessed to improve messaging to migrants using irregular channels, for better protection outcomes. The funding concept note refers to ‘raising awareness’ but hopefully it will be expanded to more comprehensive understanding of SBC in the future.

William and Flora Hewlett Foundation: Family planning

Hewlett Foundation have a focus on behavioural science to improve access to and uptake of family planning methods. In particular, they use behavioural economics in their approach with their grantees. The Foundation is also a sponsor of next year’s SBCC Summit.

David and Lucile Packard Foundation: Social and environmental change

Behavioural and brain sciences play a central role in Packard Foundation’s work. To support grantees in applying this approach to their work, they funded the fabulous publication Heartwired, a fantastic guide for advocates working for social change.

It is wonderful to see so many donors embracing the value that behavioural science can have in the space of global development. Hopefully this will inspire other donors to include a behavioural approach to their programme design and grant-making strategies.

Have I missed other donors in this list? Leave me a comment on LinkedIn!

19 Jul

Tips for designing social and behaviour change projects

Tips for designing social and behaviour change projects

Social and behaviour change (SBC) is an evidence-based, theory-driven process that identifies factors that influence people’s behaviour and addresses these by using approaches that are most likely to produce positive changes in behaviour. There is increasing recognition of how an SBC approach can benefit global development programme design. Incorporating a behavioural lens to development programming has been one of the reasons why we have been able to achieve difficult things like reducing HIV infection rates and increasing the number of people who use insecticide-treated bed nets, even if challenges still exist. Other sectors of global development like child protection, education and migration can also benefit from behavioural design. The key lies in the approach that is taken from the outset to designing projects. If a systematic, behavioural approach is followed, it is likely that the quality of the projects will be high.

If you are in the beginning of your journey to incorporate behavioural thinking into your project design, I will share some tips to help you along the way. Incorporating behavioural science does not have to be a taxing process and can be done with systems and tools that you already have at your disposal.  

Tip 1: Get the right people in the room.

When designing new projects, diverse perspectives are important. You will want colleagues who have worked with communities, government, service providers and in partnership with other civil society organisations. Additionally, it is crucial to have a subject matter expert in the room. It is always recommended to have a colleague with some understanding of behavioural science around. This could be the SBC advisor, the person who just completed a course in human-centred design or someone who has worked on communication for development projects. If you do not have team members with this expertise, hire an applied behavioural scientist or SBC consultant from the outset. They will provide excellent direction on the overall approach of building your project. The team should not be too big – a maximum of six or seven people is ideal.

Tip 2: Mine your data and existing research for behavioural insights.

Most NGOs have a plethora of data that, with the right skillset, can be mined for behavioural insights. Some of the best documents to get information from include:

  • Needs assessments for projects targeting the same groups and thematic areas.
  • Recent stakeholder analyses.
  • Routine monitoring and other project reports.
  • Recent external or internal evaluations.

A key aspect is being able to match behavioural determinants with their theoretical construct equivalent. For example, survey questions asking about confidence or skill level in conducting a task will give insight on the degree of self-efficacy the target has in carrying out specific tasks. Questions around trust in service providers or infrastructure can give insight into structural barriers. Insights on cognitive biases can also be mined if you have information on who people seek information from most often (messenger effect).

The next step is to do a semi-systematic review of the literature to get information on what factors research has shown to be most salient in your area of interest. As far as possible, search for meta-analyses and reviews first before delving into individual studies. Third party data or datasets may also be available from resources such as the Demographic and Health Survey Programme. It is tempting to commission new research right away, but it is much more valuable to first take stock of all the information available to you, so that whatever research you commission next is focused on filling key knowledge gaps.

Tip 3: Use behaviour maps.

Before building your logical framework or results framework, get in the habit of using behaviour maps first. Behaviour maps are a conceptual representation of the steps that need to be taken to reach a desired goal or behaviour. They are a great tool to help you:

  • Focus on key behaviours to change (at the individual, interpersonal, community or societal levels).
  • Map out all the crucial steps an individual or a group of people have to take to reach the desired change.
  • Identify at which point of the process your project is likely to have the most impact.

The Manoff Group offers an excellent guidance template on how to develop a behaviour map (they call it a ‘Behaviour Profile’). It also helps designers interrogate what has to happen around the person or group of people to facilitate the behaviour.

With your team in place, some key questions to ask are:

  1. What is the exact behaviour you want the person/people to do?
  2. What positive existing things do you want to promote?
  3. What inhibits the behaviour?
  4. What can you do about these inhibitors?
  5. What are the empirically verified tactics you can use to influence the behavioural determinants?

Tip 4: Identify relevant theoretical frameworks and build a theory of change.

Once you have a good idea of what factors are influencing your behaviours of interest, you want to start building a model of how the determinants you identified work to influence the behaviour. The complexity of global development work means that you need to take a multi-theory approach, that is, no one theory will be able to sufficiently explain everything that is influencing the behaviour. For example, if you are designing a programme on how to engage parents to read more with their children, you may find relevant determinants from the Theory of Planned Behaviour, Learning Theory and Behavioural Economics. Once you land on the key determinants and understanding the theoretical parameters, you can build your theory of change and logic model. This will also make it easy for you to build your logical and results framework.

Tip 5: Plan for some form of testing.

A high-quality SBC project requires some form of pre-testing. Do this with whatever means are available to you. While randomised control trials are often viewed as the gold standard, they are not the only way to get good quality evidence for how and under what conditions your intervention works. A quasi-experimental design, such as some form of comparative effectiveness, where you compare how your target group who received the intervention compares with another group that is as similar as possible on a set of key criteria, and was not exposed to the intervention, is a widely accepted good quality approach. The World Bank for example applies quasi-experimental designs, which they call ‘nimble evaluations’. If this is too complex, then the standard qualitative and quantitative methods will do. The bottom line is, do not roll anything out without testing it first!

These five tips are central to the design of any good SBC project. Please check out my other articles for additional resources to help in your behavioural design journey and feel free to get in touch if you have questions!

16 Jun

A behavioural approach to irregular migration information design

A behavioural approach to irregular migration information design

Next week is the United Nations Behavioural Science Week! The United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s Guidance on Behavioural Science will be launched. This long-awaited document, along with a report on how 25 UN entities are applying behavioural science to help reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), will offer guidance on how a behavioural approach to development challenges is helping to deliver more innovative and effective solutions than traditional approaches.

One of the areas that has huge potential to benefit from behavioural science is information design in the context of irregular migration. The term irregular migration is “generally used to identify persons moving outside regular migration channels. The fact that they migrate irregularly does not relieve States from the obligation to protect their rights.” (International Organisation for Migration (IOM), 2021). It refers to the situation that a person finds themselves in as they move between borders.

Making migration safer is one of the key priority areas under the SDGs. SDG target 10.7 is to “facilitate orderly, safe, and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies” (United Nations, 2020). One of the ways that governments and international organisations are trying to contribute to achieving target 10.7 is through information and awareness raising campaigns.  However, very few of these campaigns are designed from a behavioural perspective, and so they are not able to provide potential migrants with the information they need to move safely.

Migrants need access to high quality, tailored information. Several studies have shown that migrants often start their journeys with limited or biased information and thereby end up in vulnerable and life-threatening situations (Tjaden et al, 2018).  We also have little knowledge of what works: out of 60 publicly available evaluations of information campaigns (out of a total of 3,600 evaluations), the findings of two evaluations were published in peer-reviewed journals (Tjaden et al, 2018). The bar for designing these vitally important information campaigns is extremely low.

Large investments and weak outcomes

Information and awareness-raising campaigns for migrants or potential migrants are common. Campaigns vary in the target groups, types, formats, messages and strategies of such campaigns are also diverse. For example, across the European Union, over EUR 23 million has been devoted to information and awareness-raising campaigns to counter migrant smuggling since 2015 (European Commission, 2018).

Evaluations of awareness-raising and behaviour change interventions to minimise risks associated with irregular migration are limited. Furthermore, the reliability of the evaluations is limited too and often there is no description of a systematic approach used for the evaluation or the campaign (Tjaden et al, 2018).

Designing campaigns based on behavioural drivers

The behavioural literature that exists on migration decisions has shown that individuals’ risk perception and decision-making processes operate in a complex milieu of external and internal determinants, and a myriad of push/pull factors (Zimmerman et al, 2015).  The context (family, community, national and global) in which migrants find themselves is critically important to decision-making. Koser & Kuschminder (2016) offer a decision-making theory of how migrants in transit decide whether to move on or to return which further confirms the complexity of environmental factors affecting migrants’ decision-making processes.

Factors Determining Migrant Decision Making in Transit (Koser & Kuschminder, 2016)

For (potential) migrants, decision-making is happening in a continuous and dynamic manner. Their information needs change based on where they currently are, what is happening in their social networks and policy conditions. Deciding what to do next with such a complex mix of information inputs makes it our responsibility to design information in an accessible manner that helps (potential) migrants make the right decisions to keep themselves safe.

Successful behavioural approaches

More recently, there has been increased interest in applying behavioural science to design information and awareness raising campaigns to improve their quality. In 2019, IOM conducted the first randomised control trial of its Migrants as Messengers campaign in Senegal, which used videos featuring migrants’ stories about their journey. They compared groups who watched these videos (test group) with groups who did not (control group) and retested them six months later. They were able to increase knowledge, increase risk perception, decrease intention to migrate irregularly and change views about returnees (Dunsch et al, 2019).  Similar results were found in a study conducted in Nigeria where the researchers concluded that using targeted information campaigns improved the odds of risk protection among young people (Obi et al, 2019).

One of the most pioneering initiatives is IOM X. IOM X is IOM’s campaign to encourage safe migration and public action to stop exploitation and human trafficking. IOM X moves beyond raising awareness to affecting behaviour change. It applies a Communication for Development (C4D), evidence-based and participatory framework using the P-Process for campaign design and tailoring messaging for its activities. The website offers lots of resources and guidance on how to design behaviourally-informed campaigns that are of value to people on the move.

Lessons learnt from successful campaigns

Designing successful communication campaigns supporting migrants facing irregular circumstances is possible by using a tailored and behaviourally informed approach. According to Browne (2015) successful campaigns have the following characteristics:

  • They are delivered by a trusted source;
  • They are targeted to specific groups, with specific messages;
  • They include testimonials from (returned) migrants;
  • They are repeated and not delivered piecemeal or once-off; and
  • They are integrated into broader migration policies and campaigns.

The Mixed Migration Centre (2020) surveyed Afghan returnees on their experiences before and after the journey,  and put forward two key recommendations when designing information campaigns:

  • Information campaigns should target the wider community and actively include diaspora communities as key influencers of risk awareness and protection;
  • As well as providing a realistic overview of potential risks en route and how to mitigate them, information campaigns should also include content on job opportunities, living conditions and asylum procedures in destination countries.

A key lesson from this research is that taking a behavioural approach will remind us to take the most fundamental and crucial step: ask our audiences what their experience has been and what information they needed.

The agendas of the different actors in the migration and development space vary, but ultimately, taking a behavioural approach to designing information campaigns is taking a human-rights based approach. We should be focusing on providing targeted information to (potential) migrants in all their diversity in a timely manner to help them stay safe along their journeys.

Browne, E. (2015). Impact of communication campaigns to deter irregular migration (GSDRC Helpdesk Research Report 1248). Birmingham, UK: GSDRC, University of Birmingham.

Dunsch, A. Tjaden, J. & Quiviger, W. (2019). Migrants as Messengers: The impact of Peer-to-Peer Communication on Potential Migrants in Senegal. Impact Evaluation Report (IOM Geneva, 2019).

European Commission (2018). European Commission contribution to the European Council, Managing migration in all its aspects: progress under the European Agenda on Migration.

European Migration Network (2019). Migration and communication: Information and Awareness-raising Campaigns in Countries of Origin and Transit Austrian National EMN Conference 2019 – Briefing paper

International Organization for Migration (2021). Key Migration Terms.

Koser, K. & Kuschminder, K. (2016). Understanding irregular migrants’ decision making factors in transit. Occassional Paper Series No. 21|2016. Maastricht University / UNU Merit.

Mixed Migration Centre (2020). The decision to migrate among Afghans: access to information and key influencers.

Obi, C., Bartolini, F., D’Haese, M. (2019). Evaluating the impact of information campaign in deterring irregular migration intention among youths. a randomised control experiment in Edo State, Nigeria. A paper submitted for presentation at the AAAE Conference, Abuja.

Tjaden, J., Morgenstern, S. & Laczko, F. (2018) Evaluating the Impact of Information Campaigns in the Field of Migration: A Systematic Review of the Evidence, and Practical Guidance. IOM Global Migration Data Analysis Centre: Central Mediterranean Route Thematic Report Series, Issue 1.

United Nations (2020) SDG Indicator 10.7.2. Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

Zimmerman C., McAlpine A. & Kiss L. (2015). Safer labour migration and community-based prevention of exploitation: The state of the evidence for programming. The Freedom Fund and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

14 May

Social norms transformation: what works in the context of SRHR?

Social norms transformation: what works in the context of SRHR?

What are social norms?

Put simply, social norms are social rules, created by people, that allow us to live and cooperate with each other. We need social norms. They help us to create societies and collaborate, predict each other’s behaviour, and be accepted in society.

People conform to social norms on the condition that they believe (a) most people in their reference network conform to a specific behaviour (empirical expectation), and (b) that most people in their reference network believe they ought to conform to the behaviour (normative expectation) (Bicchieri, 2006). Similarly, Cialdini et al (1991) distinguish between descriptive norms (beliefs about what others would do in a given situation), and injunctive norms (beliefs about what others would approve or disapprove of).

Social norms can be positive or negative. For example, in the context of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), they can be positive when communities promote autonomy over reproductive choices. They can be negative when there is acceptance of child marriage. SRHR organisations want to change negative social norms to allow communities to adopt new norms that produce positive SRHR outcomes.

Within SRHR interventions, social norms often come up as one of the main behavioural drivers for anything from youth access to contraception, condom use, child spacing and access to safe abortion.  They are often also the behavioural determinant that, if successfully changed, can lead to highly impactful SRHR outcomes, because of the potential for diffusion of adoption of new healthy behaviours.

While this article focuses on how projects have succeeded in transforming social norms, it is important to remember that it is still necessary to conduct thorough research on the full range of behavioural drivers of the SRHR topic one is addressing, to ensure that an evidence-based intervention is designed. Another important aspect to consider is that a behaviour can be driven by multiple social norms, and so working on only one may not be enough to effect change. Cislaghi & Heise (2018a) offer excellent guidance on how to avoid common pitfalls with regards to social norms intervention design.

Approach to transforming social norms

For organisations to work on social norms, it is important to understand that social norms change is a dynamic process and requires working at multiple levels. According to The Dynamic Framework For Social Change (DFSC), work needs to be done at the institutional, individual, social and material levels, while also taking into consideration the effects of gender dynamics and power structures, as well as forces at the global level. Cislaghi & Heise (2018b) offer good starting points on how to design a social norms focused intervention using the DFSC.

The Dynamic Framework For Social Change (Cislaghi & Heise (2018b)

Examples of successful social norms transformation interventions


Growing up GREAT! (Institute for Reproductive Health, Georgetown University, 2021)


Format & target audience

Growing Up GREAT! adapts and scales existing social norm shifting interventions implemented over nine months, which aims to shift priority norms through activities that engage very young adolescents (VYAs, 10-14) and their families, communities, and health systems.


The intervention includes: weekly small group discussions and activities using an interactive, gender-transformational toolkit; community facilitators working with local organisations; caregiver sessions; video testimonials featuring parents and VYAs from local communities; facilitated discussions; and linkages to the formal health system by inviting facility-based health workers trained in adolescent-friendly health services.


The Growing Up GREAT! quantitative evaluation compared baseline and follow-up surveys among intervention and control groups. Growing Up GREAT! improved gender-equal sharing of household chores, communication about sexual relationships and contraception, as well as out-of-school adolescent girls’ perceptions of their ability to participate in daily life decisions, make their voices heard, and freedom of movement. The quantitative evaluation did not show any intervention effect on three measures that assessed VYAs’ agreement with specific unequal gender norms related to stereotypical male and female characteristics and roles and romantic relationships.

Safe Homes And Respect for Everyone (SHARE) (Kerr-Wilson et al, 2020)


Format & target audience

SHARE is an intimate partner violence (IPV) prevention intervention. It targeted men and women in Rakai, Uganda. SHARE used five community level strategies: advocacy, capacity building, community activism, learning materials and special events.


SHARE integrated IPV prevention into Rakai Health Sciences Program (RHSP), an organisation that conducts HIV prevention trials, laboratory/clinical research and qualitative studies, and provides health education, HIV counselling and testing and HIV medical care. SHARE was modelled on a community mobilization approach developed for IPV prevention in East Africa, based on the Transtheoretical Model, borrowed methods from Stepping Stones, and provided enhanced HIV post-test counselling services to address violence against women.


The SHARE study showed a 20% reduction in women’s reports of past year physical and sexual IPV three years after baseline; however, men’s reports of perpetration were unchanged. The reduction in the experience of IPV is very positive and the programme merits further exploration into its strategy of transforming social norms on IPV and other forms of violence against women.

Values clarification workshops on  abortion (VCAT) (Turner et al, 2018)


Format & target audience

A workshop format that can be held with various types of stakeholders who are reference groups or who control access to abortion services (e.g. healthcare providers, policy-makers, traditional leaders).


The focus is on the real consequences of abortion stigma: unsafe abortion, which can result in women’s injury or death. The VCAT intervention consists of participatory presentations and activities (14 total activities in the Toolkit) that engage participants with accurate abortion information, realistic scenarios, critical self-reflection, empathy-evoking experiences and meaningful dialogue on abortion beliefs, values and professional ethics and responsibilities.


The workshops: deepen policymakers’ understanding of existing or new knowledge on abortion; help policymakers experience empathy for people who seek, provide or are affected by abortion; enable policymakers to clarify current values on abortion and explore alternative values; help policymakers recognise barriers to change and become open to change; and get policymakers to advocate for high quality, comprehensive abortion care for all women.

The Kalyani Campaign: Community-level behaviour change campaign in India (Banerjee et al, 2013)


Format & target audience

The campaign was composed of three communication tools: interpersonal communication (household visits and community group meetings), street dramas with interactive quizzes and wall signs or posters in public areas, along with distribution of take-home material. It targeted women 15-49 with low literacy levels.


The intervention was designed to dismantle social norms around abortion and to promote self-efficacy. It provided information on the legality of abortion, the locations of the nearest public-sector facilities offering safe abortion and contraceptive services, and the health consequences of unsafe abortion using a fictitious young woman named Kalyani as the protagonist.


Women who had been exposed to any intervention communication event had significantly higher odds than those who had not of knowing the legal status of abortion. The women who were exposed to all three message formats showed the greatest increases in knowledge, particularly in knowledge about more complex concepts such as the legal gestational age limit. There was also improvement in women’s self-efficacy with regards to family planning and abortion. Importantly, the women in the intervention districts at follow-up reported higher perceived levels of social support for abortion within their families.

“Roving” Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (RANMs) in Nepal (FACT, 2018)


Format & target audience

RANMs collaborated with Female Community Health Volunteers, provided group education sessions  and engaged with community members. Target group was women 15-49.


Addressing deep-seated social, structural, and geographic barriers to enhance the reach of formal health services.


RANMs effectively reached marginalized communities. Women in the RANM communities experienced improvements in social norms and pressures over time. Women in the RANM sites were 2.7 times more likely to have a high fertility awareness score than women in the non-RANM sites.


Key considerations when addressing social norms in SRHR

Promising practices for addressing social norms in SRH programming. Adapted from the Social Norms Learning Collaborative (2021).

Overall, SRHR projects that are successful in transforming harmful social norms share a few common characteristics.

  1. They are well designed, well planned and grounded in behaviour change theory.
  2. They have a full understanding of the drivers of the behaviour and the context.
  3. They are pretested and refined.
  4. They have a wide range of intervention tactics, including interpersonal communication, community level communication and mass-media.
  5. They are long-term and are implemented with high fidelity and optimal intensity.
  6. Staff and volunteers are carefully recruited, thoroughly trained and well supervised.

For more information, please see the references below, and there are fantastic initiatives that share knowledge and learning in the field of social norms such as the ALiGN Learning Collaborative.

Banerjee S.K., Andersen K.L. & Warvadekar, J.  (2013). Effectiveness of a behaviour change communication intervention to improve knowledge and perceptions about abortion in Bihar and Jharkhand, India.  International Perspectives on Sexual and    Reproductive Health. 39:142–51.

Bicchieri, C. (2006). The Grammar of Society: The Nature and Dynamics of Social Norms. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Bicchieri, C & Funcke, A. (2018).  Norm Change: Trendsetters and Social Structure , Social Research: An International Quarterly, 85(1), 1-21.

Cialdini R.B., Kallgren C.A. & Reno R.R. (1991). A focus theory of normative conduct: A theoretical refinement and reevaluation of the role of norms in human behavior. Advances in experimental social psychology, 24(20):1–243. 

Cislaghi, B. & Heise, L. (2018a). Theory and practice of social norms interventions: eight common pitfalls. Global Health 14 (83). https://doi.org/10.1186/s12992-018-0398-x

Cislaghi, B. & Heise, L. (2018b). Using social norms theory for health promotion in low-income countries. Health promotion international.

FACT (2018). “Roving” Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (RANMs)

Institute for Reproductive Health (2021). Insights from two norm-shifting interventions to support very young adolescents.  Washington, D.C. Georgetown University for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Kerr-Wilson, A., Gibbs, A., McAslan Fraser E., Ramsoomar, L., Parke, A., Khuwaja, H.M.A. & Jewkes, R. (2020). A rigorous global evidence review of interventions to prevent violence against women and girls, What Works to prevent violence among women and girls global Programme, Pretoria, South Africa.

Social Norms Learning Collaborative (2021). Social Norms Atlas: Understanding Global Social Norms and Related Concept. Washington, DC: Institute for Reproductive Health, Georgetown University.

Turner, K.L., Pearson, E. & George, A.. (2018). Values clarification workshops to improve abortion knowledge, attitudes and intentions: a pre-post assessment in 12 countries. Reproductive Health  15: 40

15 Apr

Top behavioural intervention design frameworks for NGOs

Top behavioural intervention design frameworks for NGOs

Behavioural science is a multidisciplinary, open-minded field that combines sociology, psychology, economics and other social sciences. It offers a valuable set of skills, tools and techniques for designing effective development projects. A behavioural approach does not replace domain-specific methodologies, but rather adds to them by helping to understand the user-facing side of a project. Whether we are trying to introduce inclusive education into schools and communities, build savings and loans cooperatives or transform health systems, the people in these projects need to act or do something. In other words, they need to change their current behaviour and do one or several things differently. In my consultancy practice, I use behavioural science to help NGOs: build skills in its application, design projects, write proposals, conduct programme evaluations, and design communication materials.

In this article, I share a few frameworks that have been designed for use in development or policy contexts. Using a behavioural framework is a great way to understand how to engage with behavioural concepts, how to research concepts and how to measure and evaluate change. Some frameworks are better suited for certain types of projects than others, so I have listed them on this basis. I share five frameworks that can be used with little experience, while the last two require a bit more understanding of behavioural science. I’ve also included a list of other relevant frameworks at the end.

Frameworks to use with little experience in behavioural science

These frameworks are great for organisations that are starting out in using behavioural science because they come with extensive guidance and explanation of each step and what is meant by various concepts.

1.       Overarching framework: Behavioural Drivers Model (2019)

As I wrote in another article on the Behavioural Drivers Model (BDM), UNICEF published the BDM specifically for social and behaviour change (SBC) programmes. Drawing on concepts and learning from relevant theories, from, among others, psychology and sociology, the framework offers much-needed practical guidance on how to apply behavioural science principles and methods to international development projects. BDM is a great starters toolkit for organisations that are just beginning their journey into behavioural science and behavioural design.

2.       Communication projects: P-Process (1982, updated 2013)

Although social and behaviour change is not only done through communication (media) activities, campaigning, awareness raising events, social media campaigns and print material are some of the most popular ways in which NGOs like to engage in SBC. The quality of these SBC projects can be kicked up several notches if a structured process and framework is used. The P-Process was developed by Johns Hopkins University Centre for Communication Programs in 1982 and updated in 2013.  It is a five-step approach:  Inquire, Design, Create and Test, Mobilize and Monitor and Evaluate and Evolve. Full guidance on how to implement each step is available on the Compass for SBC.

3.       Violence and stigma prevention projects: ALIV(H)E framework (2017)

Based on a socio-ecological model, “the Action Linking Initiatives on Violence Against Women and HIV Everywhere (ALIV[H]E)  Framework is an applied research implementation framework. It draws on the evidence for ‘what works’ to prevent HIV and violence against women and adolescent girls (VAW) in all their diversity, in the context of HIV. At the same time, it aims to contribute to expanding the evidence base on what works to reduce VAW. The ALIV[H]E Framework provides a step-by-step approach to developing an effective programme, including a monitoring and evaluation (M&E) framework, for implementing and evaluating VAW and HIV responses. All the steps and actions are completed through participatory and group-based discussion, practical exercises, and reflection with community members, under the guidance of local non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community based organizations (CBOs) and, ideally, alongside other organizations that support or work with this community. The framework aims to support NGOs and CBOs, working with community members, in leading creative and dynamic programmes to address VAW in the context of HIV. The framework can also be used by donors, researchers, policy-makers and others to expand the evidence base in partnership with NGOs and CBOs.”

4.       Social marketing projects: Keystone framework (2018)

Developed by Population Services International (PSI), the Keystone framework offers a unique focus on “consumer and social behaviour change with market development”. It is a neat four-phase framework (Diagnose, Decide, Design, Deliver) offering a great way to organise thinking about getting socially beneficial products into markets in low-resource settings. The framework offers guidance on how to “understand the broader context of our beneficiary’s behaviour – how her ability, opportunity and motivation to adopt healthy behaviours is influenced by her interactions at an interpersonal level (friends and family), community level (providers or influential community members) and societal level (institutions and social norms)”. The Keystone framework  also offers guidance on the project design phase, the implementation plan and the Theory of Change.  

5.         Policy-related projects: MINDSPACE (2010)

Commissioned by the UK government, MINDSPACE (Messenger, Incentives, Norms, Defaults, Salience, Priming, Affects, Commitment, Ego) is a checklist of contextual behavioural drivers, that, if accounted for, could reap large and cost-effective benefits in policy implementation. While the checklist has its limitations, it’s a great tool for NGOs to help governments in the Global South to develop better policies that are responsive to citizens needs by taking into account the behavioural dimension of policies and policymaking. MINDSPACE includes a user-friendly explanation of the key concepts and examples of its application.

Frameworks to use with more advanced experience in behavioural science

The next two frameworks are more complex to use and require more understanding of behavioural science. Still, I would encourage any organisation interested in behavioural science to take a look at them.

6.           Repeat-behaviour projects: CUBES framework and toolkit (2020)

CUBES: to Change behaviour, Understand Barriers, Enablers, and Stages of change was developed by Surgo Foundation, with a rich toolkit that focuses on how to select the right research tools and techniques to understand the barriers and enablers of behaviour. NGOs often use knowledge, attitudes and practice (KAP) surveys when they think they are taking a behavioural approach, but CUBES clarifies exactly why this view is limited. CUBES also offers a rich synthesis of theory and other behavioural frameworks including their pros and cons. A unique feature of CUBES is that it differentiates how project design needs to be approached differently when the behaviour needs to be done once (e.g. getting a vaccine) as opposed to when it has to be done repeatedly (e.g. exercising) when we are not only dealing with behaviour change, but also habit formation.

7.          Health-related behaviour change projects: Intervention Mapping (2016)

If your NGO works with driving health behaviour change, the Intervention Mapping book is an excellent investment. It offers step-by-step guidance on how to design an effective health promotion programme. The Intervention Mapping (IM) protocol “describes the iterative path from problem identification to problem solving or mitigation. Each of the six steps of IM comprises several tasks each of which integrates theory and evidence. The completion of the tasks in a step creates a product that is the guide for the subsequent step. The completion of all of the steps serves as a blueprint for designing, implementing and evaluating an intervention based on a foundation of theoretical, empirical and practical information.” Even though IM has been designed for work in health, it is useable in other fields, especially if it is combined with other frameworks that have more of a communication or human-centred design focus.

Update 13 July

Other frameworks


Public health and other fields: Behaviour Change Wheel by Michie et al (2014)

A Guide To Designing Interventions

Preventing violent extremism: BI4PVE by UNDP (2021) 

Behavioural Insights for Preventing Violent Extremism

Climate change and sustainability: Behaviour Change for Nature by RARE (2019)

A Behavioral Science Toolkit for Practitioners

Policy design: BASIC Framework by OECD (2019)

Tools and Ethics for Applied Behavioural Insights: The BASIC Toolkit 

General: Human-Centred Design by IDEO (2015)

The Field Guide to Human-Centred Design

Policy Design: The Method by BehaviourWorks Australia (2021)

The BehaviourWorks Method 

General framework: Behaviour Centred Design by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (2016)

Behaviour Centred Design

Agriculture: Designing for Behaviour Change Framework (2017)

Designing for Behaviour Change


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04 Feb

Exploring self-identity to improve adherence to Covid-19 preventive behaviours

Exploring self-identity to improve adherence to Covid-19 preventive behaviours

While we have vaccines being rolled out, the need to prevent the spread of Covid-19 is not over. Immunity takes times and we don’t know how long immunity lasts yet (Madad et al., 2021).

In several countries, adherence to the key protective behaviours (handwashing, physical distancing and mask-wearing) is declining (see figures below from KAP Covid). This means that we need to think of new ways to design behavioural interventions to promote these behaviours. 

When we design a behaviour change intervention, we first look at what is driving the behaviour, that is, what the underlying beliefs and thereby the behavioural determinants are. While we could do a better job at identifying the behavioural drivers for each the Covid-19 preventive behaviour, we generally know that risk perception, attitudes towards the behaviours, social norms, perceptions of response efficacy and self-efficacy are key.

Now that adherence is declining, we need to think differently and do more in-depth research to understand what else is driving non-adherence. One behavioural driver we may want to explore more closely is self-identity. In a recent paper, (Snippe et al., 2021) systematically reviewed the available research on the role that self-identity plays in intention and behaviour. One of their findings was that self-identity is different from attitudes, subjective norm and group identity, and so it clearly has a separate function on our decision-making process.

In a recent event, Jay Van Bavel described how political affiliation (Republican versus Democrat) in the United States was linked to adherence to protective behaviours (Nesterak, 2021). Those who identified as Republican were less likely to take the necessary precautions to avoid infection. This identity had more impact than seeing the virus spread in their communities and neighbourhoods, resulting in no behaviour change.

Bicchieri et al. (2021) showed that whether a person had high or low trust in science played a significant role on whether they chose to follow social norms around the key protective behaviours. In other words, the self-identity of believing in science or not was more decisive on the final behaviour, overriding social expectations. This provides us more impetus to explore these types of self-identities.

Another reason we need to take a closer look at self-identity to design better interventions is that we need to understand how one’s self-identity would cause different groups of people to respond to the different interventions we design. For example, we generally assume that messages framed positively is the way to go when designing health communications. But a study by Sherman & Updegraff (2012)  showed that while white men responded better to gain-framed messages, East-Asian men responded better to loss-framed messages.

A final reason to dig deeper into what is driving risky behaviour is that we may simply not be asking the right questions. In many African countries for instance, there are livelihood and vulnerability challenges that we need to address alongside our Covid-19 strategies (Meffe, 2021). And these issues will be just as relevant when we start mass vaccine roll out in the Global South.

We can leverage our better understanding of self-identity to design better interventions. We should associate the positive attributes of self-identity with handwashing, mask-wearing, physical distancing and vaccination.

Bicchieri, C., Fatas, E., Aldama, A., Casas, A., Deshpande, I., Lauro, M., Parilli, C., Spohn, H. M., Pereira, P., & Wen, R. (2021). In Science we (should) trust: expectations and compliance during the Covid-19 pandemic. Not Published, 1–27. 

Madad, S., Bajaj, K., & Popescu, S. (2021). 3 doctors explain why COVID-19 prevention doesn’t stop at immunization. Business Insider

Meffe, D. (2021). Ethiopia is an Early Symptom of Africa’s Impending Covid Crises. African Arguments

Nesterak, B. E. (2021). Four Things I Learned About Behavior Change During a Pandemic from Katy Milkman and Jay Van Bavel. Behavioral Scientist

Sherman, D. K., & Updegraff, J. A. (2012). The Role of the Self in Responses to Health Communications: A Cultural Perspective. Self Identity, 10(3), 284–294. 

Snippe, M. H. M., Peters, G. Y., & Kok, G. (2021). The operationalization of self-identity in reasoned action models : a systematic review of self-identity operationalizations in three decades of research. Health Psychology and Behavioral Medicine

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21 Jan

Making behaviour change work in your development project

Making behaviour change work in your development project

Global development organisations, regardless of the sector they are working in, are trying to change behaviour in one way or another. They may be trying to get policymakers to design better child protection policies, trying to get a community to accept people of diverse capabilities, advocating against the Global Gag Rule or trying to get people to accept vaccines.

Behaviour change frameworks and theories are extremely powerful tools to help you design your projects and most importantly, get results! And there are great resources out there to help you get started. Regardless of the approach you take, Kok (2014) points out three make-or-breaks to look out for.

Figure out what you are really trying to change.

First of all, figure out what it is that you actually want to change by clearly defining your outcome objectives and the behaviour you want your target to do. You’ll formulate these by conducting a good needs assessment and doing formative research as well as you can within the budget and time you have. My top tip at this stage is to conduct a really good desk review before the full formative research so that you can tailor the research to knowledge gaps relevant to your project. Once the research is done, define your objectives and target behaviours based on its findings.

Choose the right behaviour change technique.

There are many types of effective behaviour change techniques, but in turn, each of these techniques is better suited for changing specific behaviours and not others. For instance, agenda setting is very effective for changing policies, but is not likely to be effective in reducing stigma. Instead, for stigma reduction, behavioural journalism is often a great intervention. Luckily, there is a comprehensive list of effective behaviour change techniques developed using the Intervention Mapping approach, available here.

Implement the project the way it was designed.

Piecemeal implementation of projects is very common in development work. A stigma-reduction project may be started without consulting all the key stakeholders. A communication strategy designed for 24 months gets implemented for 18 months. Implementing a project with adequate fidelity is one of the key determining factors for its success, since how things are done is just as important as if they are done at all.

Here’s my recommended reading for applying behaviour change theories in designing your next project:

Kok, G. (2014). A practical guide to effective behaviour change: How to apply theory-and evidence-based behavior change methods in an intervention. The European Health Psychologist, 16(5), 156-170.

Peters, G.-J. Y. (2014). A practical guide to effective behavior change: how to identify what to change in the first place. The European Health Psychologist, 16(5), 142-155.

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21 Jan

A resource guide on how behavioural science is applied in international development

A resource guide on how behavioural science is applied in international development

Right now, there’s a lot of exciting stuff going on in the world of behavioural science (BeSci) and international development. Organisations are starting to understand the value of behavioural insights and theories of behaviour for their work. I’ll be sharing another article on some of the ways in which behavioural science has helped to improve the design and implementation of development programmes.

This is a quick overview of interesting resources for NGOs to give you inspiration and hopefully pique your interest to work with BeSci in your next project, if you are not already doing so!


“The Mind, Behavior, and Development Unit (eMBeD), the World Bank’s behavioral sciences team, works closely with project teams, governments, and other partners to diagnose, design, and evaluate behaviorally informed interventions. By collaborating with a worldwide network of scientists and practitioners, the eMBeD team provides answers to important economic and social questions, and contributes to the global effort to eliminate poverty and increase equity.”


“The OECD uses an inductive approach to policy making that combines insights from psychology, cognitive science, and social science with empirically-tested results to discover how humans actually make choices.”


“Our team of experienced Social and Behavior Change (SBC) professionals identifies the latest resources to help you enhance your projects, improve your skills, and review impactful projects from around the world. And we invite you, as users, to upload your own materials to share with your colleagues.” 


“Innovative solutions based on how people act and make decisions in the real world are often buried in academic journals. The Behavioral Evidence Hub (B-Hub) brings them into the light of day. On the B-Hub you’ll find strategies proven to amplify the impact of programs, products, and services—and improve lives.”

UN Behavioural Insights Group

“The UN Innovation Network has set up a Behavioural Insights Group, which comprises of more than 200 members from across 40+ UN Entities and 60 countries. The Group promotes awareness and supports behavioural insights work at the UN; provides learning opportunities about BI approaches and methods; and brings views and approaches from outside to the UN. The UN BI Group collaborates with academics in the behavioural sciences and organisations specialising in designing and implementing behaviourally-informed projects.”

The Communication Initiative Network

“The Communication Initiative Network convenes the communication and media development, social and behavioural change community for more effective local, national, and international development action.”

Recommended reading:

Carter, B. (2017). Using Behavioural Insights to Address Complex Development Challenges. K4D Helpdesk Report. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies.

Shankar, M. & Foster, L. (2016). Behavioural insights at the United Nations. Achieving Agenda 2030. United Nations.

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21 Jan

5 awesome things about the Behavioural Drivers Model!

5 awesome things about the Behavioural Drivers Model!

Current social and behaviour change (SBC) projects are sometimes criticised for being too simplistic, not taking into consideration complex behavioural drivers. Instead of diligently identifying behavioural determinants, many SBC projects see large-scale or media-oriented campaigns as the end-all of SBC, with the expectation that communication activities alone will impact long-term behaviour change and even adoption of new behaviours.

Recognising these shortcomings, UNICEF published the Behavioural Drivers Model (BDM), a framework specifically designed for SBC programmes. Drawing on concepts and learning from relevant theories, from, among others, psychology and sociology, the framework offers much-needed practical guidance on how to apply behavioural science principles and methods to international development projects.

Here are five things that I find pretty awesome about BDM.

1. Relevant determinants from 25 theories.

A central feature of designing development projects, and specifically SBC projects, is the need to include insights from several theories, which at times requires creating a new model for a project. This causes uncertainty about the way specific constructs and determinants are applied, especially to a field that may not have benefited much from behavioural science (for example, migration). Moreover, it is not particularly good practice to hypothesise about how different determinants work on influencing each other for each new project, without the model having been vetted by experts.

BDM offers a tool that builds on the socio-ecological model and allows us to explore factors that are more pertinent to our project and leave out those that may not be. As in the image above, BDM identified how different determinants affect each other and at which stage of the process.

2. More than 130 behavioural drivers to explore.

BDM unpacks over 130 behavioural drivers that are summarised neatly in the categories in the diagram above. This is very useful because most behaviours we are dealing with in international development require intervention at multiple levels. BDM offers a succinct description of each behavioural driver and a thorough reference list to explore specific behavioural determinants for a more in-depth analysis.

3. A list of evidence-based behaviour change methods.

In another article, I talk about some of the most common pitfalls of designing and implementing behaviour change projects. One of these pitfalls is not choosing the right behaviour change method for the behavioural determinant you are looking to change, as well as taking into consideration the conditions under which the method will work.

BDM offers a list of evidence-based behaviour change methods for all the categories of behaviour change in the diagram above. This makes it easy to choose and apply the appropriate behaviour change method for each determinant.

4. A method to auto-generate a monitoring and evaluation framework.

As one develops their SBC strategy, BDM offers linkages to the various parts of a monitoring and evaluation framework. This way, one does not miss out on the crucial steps of assessing how different aspects of the SBC strategy are going to be measured, whether the tools to measure them are available, and if not, how and when they will be developed.

5. BDM is a living tool.

Rigid tools do not serve the nature of international development projects well. BDM is a tool that will get better as it is implemented in different fields and feedback is shared. It offers the opportunity to build learning on how it is applied in different fields and what behavioural determinants were identified and targeted under different contexts. If BDM is consistently used across organisations and projects, we have a good opportunity to get some solid data on what types of SBC strategies work in different sectors and under what conditions.

A bonus thing I like about the BDM is the thorough research behind the document and the fact that it refers to using an Intervention Mapping approach, which I think is absolutely crucial!

Have you worked with BDM? Share your experience in the comments!


Petit, V. (2019). The Behavioural Drivers Model: A Conceptual Framework for Social and Behaviour Change Programming. UNICEF.

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21 Jan

Leveraging social neuroscience in development projects

Leveraging social neuroscience in development projects

Social neuroscience is an interdisciplinary field that studies how our brain reacts under various social interactions. In this piece, I briefly outline why understanding social neuroscience will greatly improve the way in which we approach the design of projects and help us better anticipate how people may react to the projects and interventions we design.

Competing systems

You might have heard of ‘System 1’ and ‘System 2’, sometimes referred to as fast and slow thinking. System 1 operates automatically and quickly, with little or no effort and no sense of voluntary control. System 2 allocates attention to the effortful mental activities that demand it, including complex computations. The operations of System 2 are often associated with the subjective experience of agency, choice, and concentration (Kahneman, 2012).

Just as there is evidence from cognitive psychology of these two systems, so is there evidence from neuroscience of the existence of two systems: one impulsive and fast-acting and another which is more controlled and slow-acting. The first system often dictates how we interact with others in daily life, with its vigilant avoid/approach conditioning (Chein et al., 2011).

A social brain

The SCARF model simplifies and summarises the most important things we need to understand about System 1 in order to design contexts that help us to communicate effectively and smoothly (Rock, 2008).

SCARF stands for Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. Because our survival depends on our social interactions, our need for these five things is as basic as our need for food and water.

Status focuses on our need for social standing, the need to be recognised, seen and valued. Certainty is about our need to know what will happen next and to feel secure. Autonomy refers to our need to feel that we made a decision freely. Relatedness is about the need to feel part of a group. Fairness is about the perception that the rules that apply to us apply to others.

Our brain’s sensitivity to our social environment is so strong that research shows that our brain processes social pain in the same way as physical pain (Eisenberger, 2013), as illustrated in the image below (Rock, n.d.)

Implications for programming

The fact that we share a need for status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness and fairness and that a lack of these triggers a pain sensation in us has some interesting implications for how we design development projects.

Essentially, we can leverage our capacity for empathy, which is governed by our brain’s mentalising system, to a far greater extent. Mentalising refers to our ability to read the mental states of others, effectively putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes.

Let’s take the example of stigma reduction, and let’s say that we want to design a project that will prompt adolescents to be more empathic and less stigmatising to peers with a health condition. Masten et al., 2010 showed that prosocial behaviour can be promoted in adolescents by exposing them to simulations of situations where peers were subjected to social exclusion. The simulations led the adolescents to write empathic supportive messages to the peers they felt were wronged.

We see similar patterns when it comes to racial bias and discrimination. Our reaction to a member of an outgroup is very fast and reflexive (Azab, 2016). So, if we want to reconcile members of two clashing communities, we need to design projects that will build relatedness, certainty and fairness.

What this tells us is that solely relying on appealing to the rational part of our brain, System 2, with rational arguments alone is likely to be far less effective because it will not trigger the mentalising system. We need to use our innate and powerful capacity for empathy to design and execute better projects.

Azab, M. (2016). Why Is It Impossible to Not Judge People ? Psychology Today, 1–5. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/neuroscience-in-everyday-life/201610/why-is-it-impossible-not-judge-people

Chein, J. M., Albert, D., O’Brien, L., Uckert, K., & Steinberg, L. (2011). Peers increase adolescent risk taking by enhancing activity in the brain’s reward circuitry. Developmental Science, 14(2), 1–16. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1467-7687.2010.01035.x

Eisenberger, N. I. (2013). The neural bases of social pain: Evidence for shared representations with physical pain. Psychosomatic Medicine, 74(2), 126–135. https://doi.org/10.1097/PSY.0b013e3182464dd1.The

Kahneman, D. (2012). Of 2 Minds: How Fast and Slow Thinking Shape Perception and Choice. Scientific American, 9, 1–15. https://bit.ly/2QQIjoW

Masten, C. L., Eisenberger, N. I., Pfeifer, J. H., & Dapretto, M. (2010). Witnessing peer rejection during early adolescence : Neural correlates of empathy for experiences of social exclusion. 5, 496–507. https://doi.org/10.1080/17470919.2010.490673

Rock, D. (n.d.). Managing with the Brain in Mind. https://www.oxfordleadership.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/OL-Managing-with-the-Brain-in-Mind-2019.pdf

Rock, D. (2008). SCARF : a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others SCARF : a brain-based model for collaborating with and influencing others. NeuroLeadership.

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