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.