Changing Behaviors, Changing Lives: Three major problems that can save millions of lives

Origins of Social Behaviour Change is traced back to branches of academic rooting such as Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Economics and Neuro-biology.

Social Behaviour Change
Aspects of Social Behaviour Change is an importat part of development programmes.(Representative Image)
Social Behaviour Change
Aspects of Social Behaviour Change is an important part of development programmes. (Representative Image)

By Siddhi Mankad, Shrirupa Sengupta & Luke Albers

Social Behaviour Change is the central piece in development programmes. It is the aspiration that unites development programme thinkers, doers and investors alike. The theoretical origins of Social Behaviour Change are traced back to branches of academic rooting such as Psychology, Sociology, Anthropology, Economics and Neuro-biology. In recent years, learning from multi-sectoral spaces such as Design, Marketing, Technology have seen the implementation of Social Behaviour Change programmes as a whole or by its component become increasingly nuanced and with ostensibly better impact.

Consider the Do Kadam Programme in Bihar that worked towards addressing what was perceived as a sheer dearth of evidence on what can successfully change notions of masculinity and femininity, reverse norms at a community level that condone marital violence, and reduce women’s experience of intimate partner violence. The Do Kadam Programme is held as an example of how Social Behaviour Change can be influenced using multi-sectoral approaches finding mention in the Health Communication Capacity Collaborative (HC3) report on impactful SBC programmes.

The activities included gender-transformative life skills education and sports coaching to boys and young men; empowering women and addressing violence against women through self-help groups (SHGs); modifying behaviours and notions of masculinity through a programme led by locally elected representatives; and screening and referring women experiencing marital violence by the frontline community and health workers.

A 2017 evaluation found that by the end of the programmes, 72% of boys in intervention clubs as opposed to 60% from the control group said that a man has no right to beat his wife if she goes out without telling her husband. Similarly, 60% of SHG members in the intervention arm believed that a man has no right to exercise control over what his wife does, compared to 44% of those in the control arm. A brighter silver lining was that 40% of boys in the intervention clubs compared to 27% of those in control clubs reported they had intervened to stop an incident of violence.

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On help-seeking behaviour, compared to the only 18% and 7% of women who had sought help from anybody at all on experiencing physical and/or sexual violence prior to the intervention, post-intervention, these percentages increased by end-line to 50% and 23% among those who had disclosed their experience to a frontline worker!

Given how powerful SBC programmes can be in the context of social development, there is understandably an increased focus on the field of social behaviour change with a number of evolving socio-psychological, economic and cognitive models and approaches that seek to change behaviours deemed to be detrimental to individual and social well being. Never before has the sector seen the seamless matching of strengths from Technology, Humanities and Sciences.

When doers, thinkers and investors who are determined to find solutions for complex societal problems come together in solution circles related to social and behaviour change, a lot can be achieved. The solution circle can examine identified issues through a social and behaviour change lens, brainstorm innovative solutions, and implement these on the ground. Needless to say, it draws on the experience of experts from the public and private sectors and from academia.

In the world of Social Behaviour Change, there are 3 major problems that if solved can save millions of lives and improve the health and wellbeing of many more.

Improving access for pregnant women to full ante-natal care. Hardly 1 in 4 women access the full 4 ANC visits. The reasons behind this based on anecdotal evidence gathered by front line workers range from social norms of not stepping out of the house during pregnancy, myths and misconceptions to individual practices as well as structural inadequacies that affect service delivery.

Improving handwashing practices by health care service providers in healthcare facilities. Handwashing by health care service providers is crucial for health care to be effective. In the State of Handwashing in 2017: Annual Research Summary published by Global Handwashing Partnership, reasons were given by doctors in India for not practising hand hygiene were non-accessibility of sinks or alcohol-based hand rubs at points of care and lack of hand drying materials.

Improving intergenerational communication to reduce the vulnerability of adolescent and youth to several issues, such as underage marriage, teen pregnancies, depression, etc. There are changing norms around sexuality across the length and breadth of India but the social norms around elders not speaking about it with the children and adolescents remains as is.

By approaching these challenges with a diverse cohort, the most wide-ranging relevant issues can be laid bare, and innovative solutions generated. Given the advent of both social and biological sciences along with technology here has never before been a better time for collaboration for catalysing social impact.

(This column is co-authored by Siddhi Mankad, Srirupa Sengupta and Luke Albers. Views expressed are their own.)

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