DevExplains: Behavior-centered design for development

By Jenny Lei Ravelo 13 December 2016

An attendee browses program materials at the Forum for Healthy Behavior Change. Photo by: Nicka Smith / Kaiser Permanente Institute for Health Policy / CC BY-SA

Development organizations aiming to influence people’s everyday actions often rely on messaging to recommend safer and healthier habits. But when these attempts don’t provide the desired outcome, it’s likely that the problem lies in the approach.

That’s because knowledge isn’t always enough to change behavior, according to Valerie Curtis, a behavioral scientist and director of the Environmental Health Group at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and Robert Aunger, associate professor on evolutionary public health at LSHTM. The two have studied the nature of behavior for years and learned that “invisible forces” such as people’s motivations and habits, as well as their environmental settings, also contribute to how they behave. By understanding this concept, organizations aiming to change people’s behavior to improve their health would have better chances of achieving their goals.

“We need to understand settings better because they control us,” Curtis said during a TEDx Talk in November 2015. “And if we understand them, we can control them.”

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About the author

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Jenny Lei Ravelo@JennyLeiRavelo

Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex senior reporter based in Manila. Since 2011, she has covered a wide range of development and humanitarian aid issues, from leadership and policy changes at DfID to the logistical and security impediments faced by international and local aid responders in disaster-prone and conflict-affected countries in Africa and Asia. Her interests include global health and the analysis of aid challenges and trends in sub-Saharan Africa.


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