Over the years that I have been working with organisations on designing and implementing social and behaviour change (SBC) projects, I have seen many variations of how to put together a team that will design an impactful SBC project.

When I zoomed into the ways in which successful projects are similar, I found the common denominator to be a well put-together core design and implementation team. These teams contain seven key functions.

1. Subject matter expert.

There is a common misconception that the behavioural scientist or SBC manager will also be the subject matter expert. Instead, what is needed in a strong intervention design team is a subject matter expert in the topic that is being addressed. For example, this will be your mental health expert, your financial literacy expert or your early childhood development expert. They make sure that the intervention designed is technically sound and is following recommended guidelines and adhering to ethical standards.

2. Behavioural science expert.

The behavioural science expert has several responsibilities in the SBC design process. The subject matter expert works closely with the behavioural scientist to ensure that the right behaviours are targeted, and to identify and categorise barriers. The behavioural scientist or SBC manger plays a critical role in ensuring that the right tactics are applied in intervention design.

3. Community representatives and co-designers.

Impactful SBC projects distinguish themselves by having a layer of co-design with the people they are working for. While securing a level of ownership with the project, co-design also offers a cost-effective mechanism to ensure that the products and project components will be acceptable. A tricky part here is to take the time to understand what ‘community’ means in each project context, and to ensure that one is not homogenizing groups of people with very heterogeneous needs.

4. Project leader.

Often a make-or-break for projects, clear, inclusive, apt and motivating leadership is essential. The leader is ideally a generalist who has good command of many issues such as the political situation, the funder’s needs and the strategic focus of the implementing organisation. But they also need to have good understanding of what it takes to apply behavioural science properly and be able to draw from the subject matter expert and behavioural scientist the essentials for successful intervention design. Another key task of the project leader in being able to keep team members (including external stakeholders) engaged and feeling like valuable contributors to the process for a shared sense of purpose and ownership.

5. Influential stakeholder.

Almost every SBC intervention has activities that span across the socio-ecological model. This means that we often have programme components that require the buy-in of community leaders and policy-makers. It is imperative to take the time to identify influential stakeholders. Make sure that they understand enough about the project to be able to explain it to others. This approach has so many advantages, including being able to counter any potential negative consequences of the intervention, for example, where specific project components can cause unintended inequalities or harm. Another important advantage is having enough time to iron-out where potential avenues for sustainability lie.

6. Creative team.

All our analytical work must be translated into a form of compelling communication product. Teams with strong SBC impact have creative team members who really ‘get’ behavioural science, or at the very least understand why it matters. They are eager to know why certain communication products work or don’t work, and understand that engagement metrics are not enough. They are often also eager to understand the findings of the formative research and want to be part of applying what was discovered. SBC design teams that include their creative departments as well as external service providers in understanding the challenges to be addressed are more likely to deliver top notch products and services.

7. Impact measurement expert.

Just as it is important to design products and services that people actually want, it is also important to know how we are going to measure what is working and what is not working. Waiting to measure effectiveness after a significant amount of time has passed (say, 12 months) is a grave mistake in an SBC project. We need various mechanisms to monitor and evaluate our intervention as it unfolds. Crucially, we need to have a clear plan of what we want to measure, when we will measure it and how we will measure it.

I hope that this post gave you and idea of what the characteristics of an effective SBC team could be, and hopefully it will be helpful in putting together your next SBC project team. At the end of the day, teamwork, an inclusive approach and keeping everyone engaged with the process are paramount.

What variations of team structures have you found helpful? Share your thoughts with me here!