If you look at the solutions to the most pressing global problems, such as climate change, poverty or gender inequality, you will see that they have one thing in common: they rely on someone doing something differently. People switching to more efficient sources of energy. Farmers adopting more effective agronomic practices. Men taking on responsibilities for household chores. Politicians supporting more favourable policy environment. Whatever social or environmental challenge you want to tackle, behaviour change is likely to be at its core. 

The single best way of enabling people to adopt positive behaviours is to understand and address the factors that: 1) prevent them from adopting these behaviours, and those that:  2) motivate them to adopt the behaviours. The more you understand people’s perceptions and practices, the more effective your behaviour change intervention is likely to be. This website offers several research methods that help you to understand peoples’ behaviours.

The only one who can actually change a person’s behaviour is the person himself/ herself, not a relief or development organization. The role of such organizations is to enable people to practice those behaviours that are proven to effectively address the given problems and are supported by the key stakeholders. With the exception of serious risk or harm-inducing behaviours (such as violence against women), the choice of whether a person will (not) practice the promoted behaviour is ultimately his/ her own free will.

There are several easy steps you can take to learn more about behaviour change:

  • watch a brief video about the main behaviour change myths

  • read our practical Behaviour Change Toolkit

  • explore the Resource section of this website

  • ask your colleagues to go through these resources and then together discuss how you can use the know-how they offer

You are right – our workload is often high and new approaches that we are told to learn and follow are constantly mushrooming. However, since your work takes up so much of your life, you are likely to want this time to be well spent – on things that actually achieve the objectives of your projects and avoid wasted efforts. And this is exactly what developing your behaviour change expertise is about – designing your projects in a way that delivers much better results. Yes, it requires an initial effort; however, it pays off generously in the resulting good quality, positive impact and satisfaction achieved by your work. So let’s give it a try!

You are right that some changes take time (for example, when it comes to changing social norms). However, many barriers can be tackled even within a one-year project. The key is that right at the beginning of the project you conduct rapid formative research (focusing on a limited number of behaviours) and analyse which of the identified barriers can realistically be addressed within the limited time you have. You can help people to make progress along the path to the adoption of a new behaviour (pre-awareness ↔ awareness ↔ preparation ↔ action ↔ maintenance), for example, by helping them to move from the awareness to action stage.

Formative research is a usually a process of a few weeks that is used to better understand the factors that determine whether people adopt (and sustain) the behaviours we intend to promote. It supplements the information collected by the quantitative studies, such as baseline survey. Formative research often makes relief and development interventions more effective as it helps the project staff to focus their attention on things that determine whether or not (and to what extent) the target group members adopt the desired behaviours. Considering how big a difference such insights can make, formative research is definitely worth the effort.

Once you have conducted the formative research, the first thing to do is to examine your current behaviour change strategy and identify ways in which you can address the barriers through the existing strategy.  For example, if you are promoting behaviour change through health talks, you can maintain the talks, but change the content of the talk to address the barriers. However, if your current strategy does not address a key barrier, then you may need to initiate a new behaviour change activity. Your project proposal and budget needs to be designed in a way that allows some flexibility, so that you can respond to the formative survey’s findings.

Since the formative research we conduct cannot always study all the behaviours our projects intend to promote, focus on:

   - behaviours for which there is a clear (scientific) evidence that they have direct, significant impact on achieving the project’s goals (i.e. on solving the problem your project is addressing)

   - behaviours that people do not practice and you do not know why

   - behaviours that you can influence within your project’s budget and time

   - behaviours that you aim to influence at a larger scale and are therefore worth the investment