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 21 April: I’ll be adding other frameworks here.

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 

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