Social and behaviour change
Helping families access the decisions that affect their lives.
Everyone seeks to chart their own course, in pursuit of a happy future. But the decisions available to us don’t always lead to the outcomes we want, or even expect.
Various factors that shape the ways we come to understand and interact with our world also influence how we navigate choice. These factors may be social, like the norms that fuel discrimination and drive communities to comply with harmful practices. They may be psychological, like the mental models that determine what we perceive to be desirable, even possible.
And too often – for families living in poverty, exposed to insecurity, or relying on weak public systems – the factors that limit control over choice are structural. Deeply rooted power imbalances, underlying discriminatory societies and institutions, cut people off from the decisions that most affect their lives.
Taken together, these factors explain why the things we do – individually and collectively – are not simply a reflection of our personal preferences or beliefs. But social and behaviour change can help mobilize local action to expand people's control over the choices they need to protect their rights.
What is social and behaviour change?
Social and behaviour change (SBC) aims to empower individuals and communities, and lower structural barriers that hinder people from adopting positive practices and societies from becoming more equitable, inclusive, cohesive and peaceful.
Drawing on various disciplines (from sociology and psychology, to communication and behavioural economics), SBC encompasses any set of strategies and interventions that influences drivers of change and supports local action towards better societies. It helps development practitioners and policymakers design more effective programmes for reducing poverty and inequity. And it blends scientific knowledge with community insights, most importantly, to expand people’s control over the decisions that affect their lives.
From the experts
Why is social and behaviour change critical to protect children’s rights?
In more than 190 countries and territories, UNICEF reaches children with the nutrition, health care, protection and education they need to be healthy and happy. But improving the availability of services doesn’t automatically improve the well-being of families.
For various reasons, caregivers may struggle to benefit from services meant to help children thrive: Sometimes the value of a programme isn’t self-evident. Other times, it neglects to address a root challenge or unseen barrier to access.
Parents may keep their teenager out of school, for example, or decide against immunizing their infant. They may subject their daughter to female genital mutilation, or deny a son with disabilities specialized care – despite understanding the consequences of these choices. Parents do so, not out of ill will or lack of awareness, but because the context of their decision is nuanced beyond the purpose of the programmes meant to serve them.
Most of the deprivations children experience are symptoms of underlying problems – like deeply rooted power imbalances or ideologies that express themselves through harmful practices and discriminatory institutions. In such cases, protecting children’s rights means changing the structures that shape how societies distribute power.
How does UNICEF practise social and behaviour change?
UNICEF recognizes that changing knowledge is not enough to change behaviours: We partner with families and community leaders to understand their needs and motivations, identify their strengths, and lower barriers to positive change. In every sector, our SBC programmes bring together local knowledge with scientific insights to support the most vulnerable. We don’t work to change who people are – we work to change the environments in which they act, making it easier for individuals and communities to adopt protective practices for children.
We also recognize that improving the situations of families requires social change. UNICEF actively engages with women and children worldwide to strengthen the role they play in creating the societies they want – societies in which equity prevails, stigma and discrimination recede, and their own voices contribute to meaningful change. Above all, we focus on participation and accountability to give families more control over the decisions that affect their lives.
With the largest institutional workforce in the field, UNICEF has been a leader in social and behaviour change for over 35 years. Our work blends traditional and emerging approaches: While communication and community engagement remain central to what we do, we also rely on methods from applied behavioural sciences, human-centred design, and digital and implementation research to achieve the change families deem most critical.
Our global partners
Collective Service for Risk Communication and Community Engagement (RCCE)
The Collective Service enables collaboration between a wide range of organizations to increase the scale and quality of RCCE approaches.
Global Alliance for Social and Behaviour Change
The Alliance is a coalition of organizations from a diversity of fields who are united by a common commitment to building informed and engaged societies.
The International Social and Behaviour Change Communication Summit brings together the global community of SBCC organizations, practitioners and researchers to advance the field of behaviour change.
Faith and Positive Change for Children, Families and Communities (FPCC)
FPCC is a partnership between UNICEF, Religions for Peace (RfP), and the Joint Learning Initiative on Faith & Local Communities (JLI), which brings together each organization's global network and expertise.