|UPDATED – February 3, 2021|
Successful development programs rely on people to behave in certain ways and make certain choices. Behavioral economics helps us understand why people behave and choose as they do, and behavioral design harnesses these insights for effective program development.
Behavioral economics brings a unique perspective
For social and behavior change (SBC) professionals, understanding behavior is at the core of developing interventions to improve the lives of families and communities. Behavioral economics offers a unique perspective on behavior. Behavioral economics applies psychological insights to economic theories to help explain why people sometimes act in a way that is not consistent with their own preferences and stated intentions.1 It maintains the focus from standard economic theory on the institutions and contexts in which decisions are made, but incorporates insights from psychology to build a nuanced view of how people react to those contexts.2
Behavioral design harnesses insights about behavior to design solutions
|Behavioral Design in ActionThe (re)solve project, a collaboration between Pathfinder International, ideas42, Camber Collective, and the International Center for Research on Women funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, employed behavioral design in Burkina Faso to create a suite of solutions to reduce unmet need for family planning services among adolescent girls. One component is a board game through which players face real-life relationship scenarios, make choices, “experience” the consequences, and share advice. The game elevates girls’ perceived risk of pregnancy; helps them to understand the personal, relational, and social trade-offs associated with an unintended pregnancy; and addresses concerns that hold girls back from accessing family planning services.5|
Behavioral design brings a new tool to the SBC toolkit, harnessing insights from behavioral economics and other fields of research to design solutions that are attuned to the quirks of human behavior. The resources shared here offer several models for approaching behavioral design. One behavioral design model uses formative research to uncover the features of a person’s context—physical environment, past experiences, and interactions with others—that influence their choices and actions. It then applies those insights to programming through a participatory design process.3
Application to family planning
For people around the world, the ability to make choices about having children—whether to have them, when to have them, and how many to have—depends on a wide range of factors. Cultural norms, local health policies, identity, community dialogue, and individual method experience, to name a few, all shape how women and men think about family planning and use contraceptive methods. While global efforts have improved family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) services, there are still many people who do not use these services even when they want to plan their families.
Behavioral design has shown promise to develop innovative solutions to make FP/RH services more effective in responding to women’s needs.1 These solutions reshape the context in which women and families make choices about family planning and in which services are offered and support the use of FP/RH services that align more closely with families’ needs and goals.4
- Ashton et al. 2015. A Review of Behavioral Economics in Reproductive Health. Berkeley, CA, USA: Center for Effective Global Action. http://www.beri-research.org//nas/content/live/globalcompass/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/BERI-White-Paper_version_1.20.15.pdf
- Darling M, Datta S, & Mullainathan S. 2013. The Nature of the BEast: What Behavioral Economics Is Not. Center For Global Development. https://www.cgdev.org/publication/nature-beast-what-behavioral-economics-not
- Tantia P et al. 2019. Changing Behavior to Improve People’s Lives: A practical guide [Internet]. New York, NY: ideas42. https://www.ideas42.org//nas/content/live/globalcompass/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/I42-1152_ChangingBehaviorPaper_3-FINAL.pdf
- Family Planning and Reproductive Health. ideas42. https://www.ideas42.org/blog/project/fprh/
- (re)imagining contraceptive services: (re)solve in Burkina Faso. Pathfinder International. https://www.pathfinder.org/publications/reimagining-contraceptive-services-resolve-in-burkina-faso/
Banner photo: Women from a Young Mothers Group in Uganda meeting and getting family planning information from a community health worker. The program is supported by Reproductive Health Uganda, with the goal to empower the women in the group, and provide them with family planning information. License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International (CC BY-NC 4.0). Learn more