I attended the long-awaited International Social and Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC) Summit in Marrakesh from 5-9 December. It was so good to finally meet so many clients and collaborators in person, and to make connections with like-minded behavioural science fanatics!

There were hundreds of sessions, so it wasn’t possible to attend everything. But some of the ones I attended left a strong impression on me. Here are a few of my takeaways.

We, as SBC practitioners, need to learn to speak the language of different sectors.

I attended a highly engaging session on the power of entertainment education (EE) with presentations from, amongst others, Georgia Arnold of MTV Staying Alive Foundation and Tobias Deml of the Social Impact Entertainment Society. They showed us how limited we are in the way that we frame and sell our work. There are so many other sectors that we can learn from and ones whose ethos align with ours, but who do not quite understand what we do as SBC practitioners. This creates a lot of missed opportunities and is hindering our field from growing.

We need to get better at selling ourselves to Hollywood, Nollywood, Bollywood and all the other ‘woods’.

There are great films and series that have potential to transform social norms, and improve self-efficacy and attitudes that were not designed from a social and behaviour change perspective (e.g. Queen of Katwe, Hidden Figures, Sex Education, Don’t Look Up). Nonetheless, when studied for impact on behaviour change, they sometimes show high effects. This demonstrates that with better alignment with the entertainment industry, we can do big things.

We often confuse social norms transformation and social change.

A perspective that I found very interesting came from Alessia Radice from UNICEF. She talked about how our interventions can often be focused on transforming social norms, but that is not always enough. We need to analyse more carefully where a systems thinking / structural change approach to specific challenges is needed, so that our interventions will eventually produce social change, which will in turn transform norms or social expectations. This is very closely tied to the observation made several times that the toolbox applied by SBC practitioners is limited, while what is needed is to use the right framework at the right time.

Our theoretical toolbox is still WEIRD and limited.

One of the things that I was really looking forward to from the Summit was being introduced to new theoretical models and frameworks from the Global South. Alas, I was still left with a huge knowledge gap. We all know how WEIRD behavioural science is, and the Summit missed a big opportunity in creating more space for Global South academic voices in helping us understand the societies we work in better.

One new perspective I gained was from Dr Cássia Ayres from UNICEF LAC Region who showed how her team used Paulo Freire’s critical pedagogy approach in conducting their analysis and in intervention design. I suppose that comes back to the point of incorporating different schools of thought in behavioural science, and I found the example she gave clear and insightful. Still, this was not quite what I was looking for, which is a snapshot of what behavioural science looks like in Latin American, African and Asian academic institutions.

Clinical psychology has a lot to offer to SBC intervention design.

We need lots more collaboration between SBC practitioners and clinical psychologists to design interventions. One great example of how this was done was presented by Shawn Malone from PSI who gave a presentation on their Coach Mpilo project and how it is used for HIV self-testing among men in South Africa. The Coach Mpilo concept along with the project content was co-developed with a clinical psychologist. Although the PSI team only had anecdotal evidence at the time, the concept clearly benefited various aspects of the men’s lives, including their personal relationships and their agency. I found this to be a wonderful example of how we should be drawing on clinical psychology more when we design interventions.

We are starving for spaces to share, learn and speak candidly.

Karen Greiner and Antje Becker-Benton brought Charles Kakaire, Hana Banat, Nicole Grable and I for a wonderfully designed session called “Confessions of Mad Implementers”. Although our session was at 17:00 on a Wednesday, we had a room packed with people and lots of engagement about how we can get better. Thanks to Karen and Antje’s design, people felt safe to be candid about what they want to see change and how we can transform as SBC practitioners. I want to give a special shoutout to Zonja Penzhorn and Sara Isaac who shared fantastic insights and perspectives during the session.  

All in all, it was a highly worthwhile event to attend, and I am looking forward to outcomes of our discussions on how to design future Summits to make them more inclusive and more behaviourally informed.

You can also read interesting reflections about the Summit from:

The International SBCC Summit: After 2022 International SBCC Summit, ‘The Work Continues’

Sara Isaac: Key Takeaways from the SBCC Summit

Warren Feek: Personal reflections on the SBCC Summit

David Roberts: Quick reflections on the SBCC Summit