For most projects, I recommend conducting or commissioning a literature review before anything else. It’s an efficient and cost-effective way to help you focus your intervention design, or plan further formative research if it turns out that that is necessary.

The challenge though is what to do once that 50-page report is ready!

In social and behaviour change (SBC) programming, we want to use evidence to help us guide product, tool or service design. This, in turn, means that we need to bring all our colleagues, who have multi-disciplinary backgrounds, together to develop the programme. A crucial part is getting everyone on the same page about what the literature is telling us.

Here are some tips on how to make the process as fruitful as possible.

Tip 1: Make sure that, as the behavioural science expert, you are involved in writing the literature review terms of reference.

While the team responsible for monitoring and evaluation should take the lead in writing the terms of reference (ToRs) it is imperative that the SBC manager is involved too. The SBC or behavioural science expert’s role is to formulate the questions that should be answered during the literature review. They should be targeted behavioural questions that will help the team understand the drivers and barriers across the socio-ecological model. No vague questions please! A nebulous question would be something like ‘Are contraceptives widely available in Nairobi?’, while a useful literature review question would be ‘What obstacles do 15–19-year-old girls experience when attempting to access a method of contraception in lower income neighbourhoods in Nairobi?’.

Tip 2: Give clear instructions on how to present the literature review findings.

If I see another slide deck that looks like this, my head will explode!

Give the reviewer clear instructions on how you expect the literature review to be communicated. It is best to have a complete report with all references, as well as a slide deck and presentation to be shared with the team. Do yourself a favour and give them examples of what you think a good slide deck should look like.

Tip 3: Use a tool that your team is comfortable with to collate the findings.

If you are lucky, the literature review slide deck will be organised in a way that is ready to use for programme design. Most of the time though, you will still need to undertake another exercise of collating the literature review findings to make them implementable in project design.

The key consideration here is using a tool that your whole team is comfortable with. Think about all the team members who will have to use the tool and consider choosing a tool that is both user-friendly and visual enough to communicate key points to the entire team.

Tip 4: Make the literature review findings compelling for intervention design.

As the SBC manager, it is key to make the research findings directly make sense for intervention design. Once you’ve identified the right tool to communicate with your team, think about what the team needs to get to the next stage. The next steps are usually:

  • Categorising the barriers identified in a way that will help teams assess what is possible to address and what is not.
  • Shortlisting the categorised barriers.
  • Identifying the correct behaviour change tactics.

Assuming that there were no major knowledge gaps found and that there is sufficient data to go from the literature review, the communication tool you choose should be very effective in helping teams move through the process of categorisation, shortlisting and tactic selection.

Tip 5: Make the connection between the literature review and intervention design clear.

I think it is always worthwhile to help team members who do not specialise in behavioural science understand how all three or five stages (depending on the framework you use) of the behavioural intervention design process fit together. As such, it is usually a plus if you can find a tool that helps to tell the whole story:

  • What is the high-level impact you want to achieve?
  • What are the behavioural targets?
  • What does the behavioural journey look like and when are barriers encountered?
  • What are some of the characteristics of the target audience?
  • What type of product, tool or service would be most appropriate?
  • How are we going to assess success?

As SBC experts, to make ourselves useful to various team members, it is important for us to continuously explain how all the pieces fit together and why none of the steps are redundant. Just trust the process!