Communication for Development (C4D)

Behaviour and social change

© UNICEF/India/Enrico Fabian
Nagma, 15 years, reads from a book while her brother and sisters listen carefully. Nagma was a child labourer but now attends school. She receives the full support of her family and wants to become a doctor.

Behaviour and social change have often been seen as two distinct approaches, requiring different strategies and unique skill sets.

Behaviour change is commonly defined as a research-based consultative process for addressing knowledge, attitudes and practices that are intrinsically linked to programme goals. Its vision includes providing participants with relevant information and motivation through well-defined strategies, using an audience-appropriate mix of interpersonal, group and mass-media channels and participatory methods. Behaviour change strategies tend to focus on the individual as a locus of change.

Social change, on the other hand, is understood as a process of transformation in the way society is organised, within social and political institutions, and in the distribution of power within those institutions. For behaviours to change on a large scale, certain harmful cultural practices, societal norms and structural inequalities have to be taken into consideration. Social change approaches, thus, tend to focus on the community as the unit of change.

UNICEF C4D sees behaviour and social change as complementary techniques used to define and address the individual, interpersonal and social influences in life. UNICEF C4D currently employs the Social Ecological Model (SEM) framework, which enables programmers to analyse barriers and constraints across all levels of the community. The resulting analysis informs interventions that encapsulate and interlink all levels of action to address underlying multiple, systemic and intersecting influences.

UNICEF supports strategies across the behaviour and social change continuum, and urges that a combination of approaches be utilized in order to ensure meaningful change is sustained. UNICEF's nurturing of both behaviour and social change approaches can be evidenced in a wide range of initiatives.

Sierra Leone: Ebola survivors begin to find acceptance
Yeabu Kalokoh, 18, is beaming with smiles as she holds her baby girl, Grace, and gently caresses her. The young mother and her nearly 2-year-old daughter share the terrible ordeal and the good fortune of escaping the deadly grip of the Ebola virus. They are two of more than 400 Ebola survivors in Sierra Leone’s Bombali District who met to share their experiences and to discuss issues of stigma and discrimination. 

The Meena Communication Initiative in South Asia is one example. The school-based children's programme centers on a spirited, nine-year-old girl who braves the world – whether in her efforts to go to school or in fighting the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in her village. The initiative uses a combination of mass media and interpersonal communication to enhance children's self-esteem and self-worth and allow them to familiarise themselves with life skills essential for their empowerment.

Radio 'Meena Ki Duniya' or Meena Radio is an entertainment-education radio series designed to communicate with children, especially adolescent girls in rural schools, their educators, parents and community leaders. Launched in 2010 by UNICEF and the Department of Education, the programme reaches 5000 schools in 9 districts of Uttar Pradesh, India.  

The Thinkwise - Don't Stigmatise campaign in Bangladesh is a partnership between the government, NGOs and the professional cricket league to raise HIV awareness in adolescents. Spectators of the girl's cricket tournament hear information on the nature of HIV and how to prevent infection as part of the match commentary. Pink t-shirts adorned with the slogan “Be aware, save yourself” have been distributed to cricket fans throughout the competition. Cricket activities across India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka have joined the campaign and hope that the informed youth will continue to reverse the global spread of HIV.

Villagers in Slaeng, 60 kilometres southwest of Phnom Penh, have made a commitment almost unique in rural Cambodia. They have determined to abandon ‘open defecation.’ ‘In the past’, according to Dr. Chea Samnang, Health Care Director of the Ministry of Rural Development, ‘our aim was just to build latrines, not to change behaviour — this was the reason for our failure. There was no involvement from the community, no encouragement and no clear picture of what to do next. What made a big difference in this project was the participation of the villagers in discussing the problem and analysing the solutions themselves.’ Dr. Samnang was surprised at the speed of change in the village — which shows that attitudes and knowledge are more important drivers of new behaviour than cash inducements and crude exhortation.

UNICEF has long worked on behaviour and social change. Efforts such as the partnership with Worldview International Foundation in planning, designing and implementing the Nun, Chini, Pani ("Salt, Sugar, Water") oral rehydration communication campaign in Nepal helped reduce the number of annual diarrhoeal deaths from 45,000 children in the mid-1980s to 30,000 a decade later.

The support to Tanzania's Iringa Nutrition Project — a community-based integrated development approach which put participating villages at the heart of identifying problems and making their own constructive changes to farming and nutritional practices — is another example. 

For over twenty years, UNICEF and its partners have supported Tostan, an NGO in Senegal that works on health, education and gender-based issues using a community-led development approach. Tostan has been recognized globally for its contribution towards abandonment of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) using social empowerment and community outreach through public declarations in about 3,000 of the 5,000 communities across Senegal.



FGM/C Report

Turning opposition into action - 2013
Full Report -  Summary

Children as agents of change

The Benefits of a Child-Centered Approach to Climate Change
UNICEF UK and Plan International - 2011

New enhanced search