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SEI Initiative on Behaviour and Choice

Often, sustainable development solutions introduced in low income settings fail to take hold because people on the receiving end of these initiatives do not behave the way we expect. Many development interventions focus on households, and often require people to adopt new technologies or practices. However, the underlying reasons why adoption happens or doesn’t remain unknown.

The SEI Initiative on Behaviour and Choice asks: what drives people to change their behaviour when it comes to technology adoption or change of daily practices?

Inactive project


Initiative contact

Fiona Lambe /

The SEI Initiative on Behaviour and Choice ended in 2019. You can find a summary of the key results and achievements from the initiative here

Why this initiative?

The SEI Initiative on Behaviour and Choice is developing and applying new methods to identify behavioural drivers in the context of environment-development interventions aimed at households and communities in low income settings.

The insights generated from this research will help to improve the design and effectiveness of interventions, policies, products and service systems that seek to improve health and livelihoods.


The early focus of the initiative was on household energy with case studies examining the drivers of behaviour linked to clean cookstove adoption including a  household level analysis, an analysis of social relations and a political economy perspective on technology innovation. A review of behaviour change frameworks relevant for the clean cookstoves sector provided the basis for the initiative’s conceptual framework for understanding individual behaviour in complex adaptive systems (forthcoming).

During phase one the initiative also conducted a study on sustainable sanitation and has since expanded to include a wide range of fields, including agricultural innovation consumer behaviour, adoption of small-scale solar power, climate insurance and marine management. In partnership with experts in product and service design, we have contributed to an enhanced understanding of the drivers of human behaviour by integrating design thinking in our research methods.

A defining feature of the initiative is the iterative process used to design and implement the research. This approach involves key boundary partners at every stage of each case study – from research design to data analysis, to prototyping and testing methods, allowing us to better explore and test the enabling conditions for the uptake of innovation. This modus operandi equips us with a “knowledge lab” to co-design solutions to real-world problems – which could be regulatory (e.g. new standards for testing cookstoves), technical (e.g. a new product) or social (e.g. new behaviour change techniques or “nudges” applied to trigger the uptake of farming technologies) – together with boundary partners and end users, ensuring ownership of the results.

Activities and outputs

During the first phase of the initiative (2015–16), we focused on household energy in the context of Kenya and sustainable sanitation in Burkina Faso.

Both the national government and international development partners view Kenya as a “fast track” country in terms of scaling up access to clean cookstoves. This level of interest and ongoing activity offered opportunities for us to engage with a range of actors in the cookstove sector and in policy processes in order to generate and test insights. For example, we developed a partnership with the Clean Cookstoves Association of Kenya and the Kenyan inter-ministerial committee on clean cooking, and worked closely with them to design the research and to deliver key findings to support their efforts. As a result of this work we were invited by the energy ministry’s renewable energy directorate to support county-level capacity building activities for energy planners by contributing briefings, and a series of training workshops in six counties. Linked to this policy engagement, the initiative was asked to contribute a background paper to the 2016 Africa Progress Panel Report on the state of household energy access in Sub Saharan Africa.

During phase one a case study was also conducted in collaboration with the SEI Initiative on Sustainable Sanitation in Burkina Faso. Insight into human behaviour made it possible to frame unsustainable sanitation as a common-pool resource issue, providing grounds for the initiation of a collective action process that can contribute to latrine use and re-use of human waste in agriculture and energy. This case study indicated that leveraging social capital through understanding of what drives behaviour may contribute to implementation of ecological sanitation and empower local leaders to sustain development efforts.

Phase two of the Initiative (2017–18) is going beyond technology uptake to explore changes in practice, and is broadening the geographical scope to include empirical studies in Uganda, Bangladesh, Zambia, and Thailand. Through externally funded projects, the initiative has also developed a focus on behaviour change in sustainable intensification of smallholder farming, with empirical work conducted in Kenya.

Outputs from phase two will include a new conceptual framework for understanding the drivers of individual and household behaviour in environment-development interventions, and a methodological toolkit to help practitioners and development partners improve the design and delivery of interventions.

Download brief about the initiative (PDF, 397kb)

Highlights and updates



Fiona Lambe
Fiona Lambe

Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Ylva Ran
Ylva Ran

Research Fellow

SEI Headquarters

Marie Jürisoo
Marie Jürisoo

Deputy Director and Operations Director

Global Operations

SEI Headquarters

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