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What is Behavioural Insights?

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Behavioural Insights (BI) is a problem-driven approach for applying and experimentally testing solutions based on behavioural science insights/evidence. BI designs and tests people-centered policies and interventions using evidence and experimental methods from disciplines such as social psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, behavioural economics and other social sciences. BI provides solutions to address key challenges in order to improve community's socio-economic status. These solutions take into account how people actually process information, make decisions, and think about, influence, and relate to one another. In many cases, such solutions entail framing options in a way that encourages a desired course of action while allowing decision makers to exercise their freedom of choice. This strategy is also known as "choice architecture." A behavioral approach priotizes mindsets, decision making framework, and the social environment. BI attempts to discover the many irrational factors that influence decision making and seeks to improve the well-being of society and it's people through sound experimental methodologies.

Behavioural Insights in Public Policy

Public policy influences almost all aspects of our lives. From driving safely to conserving natural resources, policies are shaping the way we act everyday.

Conventionally, approaches in policy making have relied on the assumption that human behavior is fully rational. This assumption is questioned by the emergence of behavioral economics, which states that human beings are not naturally rational and unbiased. Real people don’t always behave like robots like classical economic theories assume (Thaler, 2000).

The ideal rational individual described in classical economic theory is called “homo economicus”. To a homo economicus the way in which choices are presented to them (choice architecture) doesn't matter, as they will make the optimal choices disregarding the way these choices are presented to them.

In reality the choice architecture matters in everyday decision making. For example, most people opt for the default choice when they are presented with one, this is called “anchoring bias” (Tversky and Kahneman, 1974). There are many other cognitive biases that often drive our perception and choices that we make.

Therefore, an understanding of behavior can inform interventions that can make policies have even greater impact. By understanding behavioural insights, policy makers can facilitate behavioural interventions or nudges into their policy making keeping people at the center. This further pushes governments to take a more realistic view of human behaviour than they have in the past. Behavioural approaches offer a potentially powerful new set of tools for policymakers that aid in understanding the structural context that drives decision-making which may result in structural solutions to policy challenges such as illiteracy, malnutrition, environmental sustainability, child labour, child marriage and so on.

Behavioural Interventions

Social and Behavioural Change (SBC) is a collection of approaches and strategies that promote positive and measurable changes toward the fulfilment of the rights of women and children, which eventually leads to a large-scale, positive transformation of communities and societies, across sectors, to promote change such as gender equality, community resilience, social cohesion, and responsive governance. 

SBC is an approach incorporated into UNICEF programming that aims to improve the use of behavioural science and business intelligence.

Behavioural Insights (BI) is poised to be one methodology that can be used to supplement SBC efforts and expand the toolbox used to change human behaviour. SBC puts greater emphasis on using behavioural insights in policy and programme development. Governments such as the Netherlands, Germany, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States have institutionalised the use of behavioural sciences in public policy since 2010.

Following in their footsteps, international organisations such as the World Bank, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), the Inter-American Development Bank, UNDP, the WHO European Region, and Save the Children have all begun to develop their own organisational capacities to incorporate behavioural science into their public policy initiatives.

SBC allows us to keep people at the centre of what we do while also meeting the needs of the most vulnerable. It ensures policies and programmes to be behaviorally informed, designed with communities, and tailored to local contexts. A hesitant mother decides to vaccinate her child; a father tries new ways of teaching his children; an adolescent works to improve her mental well-being; a community becomes less accepting of child marriage; local organisations mobilise for women's rights to be recognised; a society that accepts and prioritises the needs of disabled children; a sector in which decision-makers collaborate with the people they serve: all of these changes are the results of SBC, and contribute in overall development. 

Common tools for Behavioural Interventions

Reminders, Prompts and Incentives


Mass Media


Leveraging the cultural and social contexts and networks of Frontline Workers.


Community Based Events / Programmes and Initiatives


Capacity Building

Phases of a Behavioural Insights Project

1. Problem identification: This phase entails identifying priority areas and population groups where targets are not being met; equity and the situation of those experiencing disadvantage should be taken into account. This includes determining which approach is applicable.

2. Diagnosis and investigation: This entails employing appropriate methods to comprehend the barriers and drivers of behaviour in the target population. Cognitive shortcuts and heuristics, literacy, and social and cultural norms and historic practises that support or drive a specific behaviour can all be barriers or drivers.

3. Intervention Design: Based on the findings of the research phase, one or more interventions or policy recommendations aimed at enabling, promoting, or changing behaviour are developed. There are numerous examples, ranging from increasing trust in vaccination consultations by using motivational interviewing techniques to instituting a sugar tax on beverages to influence producer and consumer behaviour. This phase also includes monitoring and evaluation planning.

4. Monitoring and impact assessment: Monitoring and evaluation seek evidence of the process, outcomes, and impacts of one or more interventions, as well as any unintended consequences. This is critical because human behaviour is complex and highly contextual. A successful intervention in one context may not have the same impact in another, and it is difficult to predict which interventions will work in a given context.


5. Scaling: Interventions are frequently launched on a small scale. Following scale-up, effective interventions and policies are implemented on a larger scale to benefit a greater number of people. Scaling up should include additional monitoring to understand the effects in a larger group than the original project. Early planning and securing of resources for scale-up aid in ensuring success.

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