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Development Communication > Involving People, Evolving Behaviour

Involving People,
Evolving Behaviour

Editors: Neill McKee, Erma Manoncourt,
Chin Saik Yoon, Rachel Carnegie

Contributing Authors: Mira B. Aghi,
Rachel Carnegie, Bruce Dick, Erma Manoncourt, Neill McKee, Pamela Reitemeier, Douglas Webb, Rhona Birrell Weisen, Esther Wyss, Chin Saik Yoon

Publishers: Southbound and UNICEF, 2000
Published in 2000
ISBN-10: 983-9054-22-8
ISBN-13: 978-983-9054-22-4
EAN: 9789839054224
272 pages, 14.5x22cm, US$22.00



This book is aimed at people who are involved in designing, implementing and monitoring social sector programmes and projects for developing and disadvantaged communities, anywhere in the world. The intended reader may wear many different hats: programmer, programme planner, communicator, communication programmer, evaluator, researcher, economist, etc. The reader may be working in the fields of education, health, water and sanitation, agriculture extension or in intersectoral programmes such as HIV/AIDS prevention and care, community development, emergency relief, child protection, etc. He or she could be from a government ministry or department, a national or international non-governmental organization, a United Nations or bilateral agency, or the private sector.

Very often such “development professionals” work in a compart-mentalized way. Each applies his or her own skills and knowledge to a particular problem area. This book is an attempt to bring together the best practices from a number of different disciplines into programming for behaviour development and behaviour change, an area of growing interest around the world today.

Why is there such a growing interest?

Development professionals are experiencing increasing pressure to bring about sustainable change within the communities and areas in which they work. This push is coming from the sponsors of development projects and from the management of development agencies who are concerned with an apparent stagnation in the progress of their programmes, after almost four decades of activity in the developing world. Recent deep cuts in the budgets of almost all international development agencies has driven the issue to crisis levels.

A large part of the current discontent stems from apparently insurmountable obstacles to developing long term changes in the practices of people who are the intended “clients” of projects. Evaluation of completed interventions, carried out immediately upon the termination of projects, may reveal “satisfactory” levels of practising the desired behaviour. However, follow-up studies often show sharp drops in these levels.

The shift in evaluation emphasis, from quantifying physical outputs to less tangible appraisals of the changes in people’s behaviour, is part of a broader thrust aimed at promoting sustainable development. Many programmes seek to influence the development of behaviour, especially of children and young people, or to change unhealthy behaviour, especially of adults. This new emphasis on behaviour development and change, seeks to engage people in adopting new ideas about the physical or social environment, internalising them, and then expressing them in new practices.

Behaviour development and change

Adopting new kinds of behaviour has been the chief aim of the health sector for a number of decades. It was the primary focus of numerous health education campaigns before to such initiatives were taken up by organizations working on environmental concerns. The escalating numbers of people testing HIV-positive has spurred this thrust within the health sector and because HIV/AIDS prevention and care have become national priority areas in many countries, behavioural approaches in programming have attracted much attention and interest from other sectors of the development community.

However, development professionals, in general, are discovering very quickly what those working in the health sector have known for a long time - that developing healthy behaviour, or changing unhealthy behaviour, for individuals and communities, is very difficult. At the same time, they have discovered that when this is successful, the impact is long-term and extremely rewarding.

Effective solutions to challenges posed by programmes dedicated to behaviour development and change have been available for some time. They remain elusive to programmers because the solutions are dispersed across many sectors and amongst many professions. Although much of past development programming may not have been designed primarily to influence people’s behaviour, it has addressed behaviour issues indirectly. As a result, we have a pool of highly relevant programme design and management experiences, which, when brought together, offer programmers solid ground on which to design and mount behavioural interventions.

This book is a multi-sectoral and interdisciplinary synthesis of field experiences and lessons learned, which offers fresh insight and debate in the context of behaviour development and change. Its aim is to challenge traditional approaches to programme design, using a range of different perspectives from the personal to the political, with a view to increasing the impact and sustainability of international development programmes.

Chapter One: “What Makes People Change Their Behaviour? Theories and Frameworks” is intended as an introduction to the area. It offers a clear and wide-ranging overview of behaviour theory from the inter-related perspectives offered by sociology, psychology and anthropology. The chapter explains and describes the key elements of salient theories and frameworks, identifying key behavioural determinants and translating these into lessons to be learned for sustainable programme design. However, the author emphasizes that many theories of behaviour are grounded in Western individualistic culture and demonstrates how they must be adapted when applied to developing country contexts. The writer concludes that programmes are most effective when supported by behavioural theories or conceptual frameworks which take into account local realities

Chapter Two: “The Age of Information: Behaviour In Context” situates behaviour in the context of contemporary society, which is evolving at an unprecedented rate, driven to a great extent by new information-communication technologies. It contains case studies which illustrate how information has been a catalyst for change but, from a development perspective, it reminds us of the risks inherent in an information-centred approach. It raises the vital issues of values, culture and ethics in the context of behaviour development and change and concludes with the argument that information is a necessary but insufficient ingredient for knowledge.

Chapter Three: “Motivation To Act: Effective Communication” describes the process of effective programme planning from a communication perspective and offers concise definitions of concepts used in communication for development. It highlights some key components of successful programme design and reviews some effective methods of communication used to motivate people, such as interpersonal communication and social mobilisation. It draws upon concrete experiences from different continents and cultures, covering a variety of programmes.

Chapter Four: “Ability to Act: Strengthening People’s Life Skills” distils a rich body of experiences from the field of participatory learning. Life skills programmes set out to equip people with the necessary skills to interact effectively within their community and to play a meaningful part in bringing about the behaviour change which they desire. In principal, this approach aims to empower everyone – especially the minority and disadvantaged members of the community – not only with knowledge and skills, but also with the confidence and ability to initiate and sustain changes in their lives.

Chapter Five: “Shifting Boundaries: Creating an Enabling Environment” addresses the role of the wider environment in either facilitating or constraining change. The environment here includes not only the natural and physical environment, but also factors which can affec t how we behave, such as: policies and legislation, economic status, provision of health and education services, cultural norms and religious beliefs. The authors argue that people need more than information, motivation and skills to initiate and sustain behaviour change - they also need an enabling environment, which facilitates rather than blocks the changes they wish to make.

Chapter 6: “Behaviour and Beyond: An Evaluation Perspective” describes the different methods which development professionals can adopt to evaluate the progress and results of their activities in evolving desired behaviour, amongst the communities they serve. Evaluation is recommended here, not simply to satisfy project administration requirements, but to give programmers criteria which will allow them to choose between different strategies and approaches, with the participation of programme clients. Such systematic reflection helps them to acquire and accumulate invaluable data, enhancing and expanding the skills of those involved.

Overall, the chapters of this book elaborate a new model (see below) which, it is proposed, encompasses all of the necessary ingredients for behaviour development and behaviour change programmes and, ultimately, the empowerment of people. Providing timely and relevant information, employing appropriate and effective communication for motivation, supporting people’s ability to act through the acquisition of life skills, and fostering an enabling environment – these are proposed as the essential elements required for sustaining behavioural change and developing healthy behaviour. When combined with extensive research on the perceptions, attitudes and beliefs which are the expressions of people’s value systems, these elements provide a model which offers clarity in a difficult area, as well as a promise of greater success in our programmes.

Behaviour development and change model

At the centre of the model is the self. However, the pages which follow will reveal that in most cultures in the developing world, it is difficult to separate the self from family, peers and community. It has been proposed that individuals in developing societies are more governed by these social forces than they are in Europe and North America. Therefore, behavioural theories must be critically examined adapted and modified when they are applied in developing country contexts. However, behaviour theories provide a conceptual framework and are very helpful in analysing situations and developing objectives and strategies.

Information must be provided in a timely, relevant and appropriate manner to the different groups who are being addressed by a programme. The same information should not be offered in the same form to all. And without carefully shaping the information into communication formats which provide motivation to act, people will simply ignore the messages. In other words, information can be formulated in interesting ways and communicated through various media in a manner that keeps people’s attention and involves them. Effective communication strategies often allow people to use and shape the information themselves, through participatory processes. This is when information becomes knowledge.

However, if people do not have the skills or abilities to use the knowledge they have acquired, the preceding efforts may be fruitless. People need essential life skills. Traditionally, educational systems have concentrated on cognitive skills, such as reading and writing, and vocational and physical skills. However, today it has been recognized that psycho-social life skills are vital. These skills consist of decision making, problem solving, critical thinking and creative thinking, communication skills, interpersonal relationship skills, empathy, self awareness, and coping with stress and emotions.Home and school environment often constrain the development of such skills. Children are taught to learn facts and not to question authority. Creative problem solving is not encouraged.

However, even if people acquire information, motivation and relevant skills, they still may be unable to act if they do not live in an enabling environment. Besides the social environment, mentioned above, appropriate and accessible health and social services and supplies must be present. There should be appropriate policy and legislation to ensure that the programme remains a national priority and will not be withdrawn. In addition, educational systems and cultural, religious, socio-political, socio-economic and physical environmental factors will assist or hinder the adoption of new behaviour. These elements of the environment must be carefully considered when designing programmes. Also, organizations may be very facilitating or very disempowering. It is difficult to promote empowerment in a disempowering organization. Facilitating organizations allow their employees the scope to foster positive behaviour change and, sometimes, the empowerment of people.

Finally, the values held by people in different cultural contexts are of paramount importance when designing programmes. The issue of values cuts across all of the above factors. Values are expressed by perceptions, attitudes and beliefs and these must be carefully researched and understood for programmes to be effective. If we do not take people’s value systems into account, the programme will hit a brick wall.

The chapters which follow will explore the above ideas in greater detail. But to summarize:

  • Accurate and timely information is a necessary, but not sufficient, prerequisite to behaviour development and change. Information alone seldom leads to behaviour change;
  • Communicating information through appropriate channels in motivating formats is one essential component of successful programmes; however,
  • People need essential life skills to act on the information received, no matter how motivated they are; and
  • Their wider environment must support and facilitate change for programme effects to be sustained.

In addition, it is hoped that the reader will learn two key lessons through the following analysis:

  • Specialists working in different development sectors should coordinate and integrate their efforts; and
  • Programmes must be participatory in nature, or “people-centred”.

There is no “quick fix” or “magic bullet”. We must take the longer road of involving people, in evolving new and positive behaviour.  

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