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What drives human behaviour when it comes to development solutions?

The SEI Initiative on Behaviour and Choice blended service design and experimental approaches to find out what makes people change their behaviour when it comes to development solutions. The result is a comprehensive hands-on methodology for understanding behaviours, what drives them and how to embed this knowledge in reality.

Date published
27 February 2020

About this initiative

SEI initiatives explore key issues on sustainable development and serve as hubs for our research. The SEI Initiative on Behavoiur and Choice examined what drives people to change their behaviour when it comes to adopting technology or changing of daily practices in the context of development solutions. The early focus of the initiative was on household energy, with case studies examining the drivers of behaviour linked to clean cookstove adoption. This work provided the basis for the initiative’s conceptual framework for understanding individual behaviour in complex adaptive systems. Later, the conceptual framework was used to design a weather index insurance in Uganda, to support the development of mango value chains in Kenya, and to promote wider use of clean cookstoves in Kenya. The experience from each of the cases helped to refine the conceptual framework, which was later translated into a toolkit for behaviour-based development interventions. This feature gathers highlights from the initiative’s work, including a brief about the toolkit and examples of its use.

Duration: 2015–2019
Main output: Behaviour-based toolkit
Region: East Africa

The world has spent more than US$3 trillion on development aid since the 1960s. These investments have achieved many successes, but challenges remain, with development “solutions” often failing to really solve the problems they set out to do. Clearly, there is a need for innovative solutions – but which are also feasible and scalable in terms of resources, capacities and the agendas of governments and development partners. We need tools that help us grasp why interventions work, and how they might be scaled up or replicated in new locations.

Service design is an approach for understanding people’s needs, motivations and behaviours as well as the context where they take place. It aims to create services or systems that meet the needs of the end-users. It has already been successfully applied in the design of public policy in Europe and North America, but hasn’t yet gained traction in international development. That is why we created our behaviour-based toolkit.

Toolkit for behaviour-based development interventions

Our approach combines service design, complex adaptive systems thinking and behavioural science in a way that allows for effective and efficient design and implementation of development interventions in complex settings.

How we used the toolkit

We tested this methodology in East Africa, in three very different situations: to design a weather index insurance product in Uganda, to support the development of mango value chains in Kenya, and to promote wider use of clean cookstoves, also in Kenya.

Of course, these are small-scale trials, and they need a wider application to prove their worth. However, already at this early stage, the approach shows that service design can help us make sense of the complexity surrounding development interventions. It offers a way to work side by side with people who the development solutions are for. With this approach, we can deliver what international development projects aim for: solutions that work because they are context-specific yet scalable and because they are grounded in reality by design.

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