Introduction >

II. Behaviour change theories

As for other types of intervention carried out by Action Against Hunger, effective behaviour-change interventions should be built on a solid theoretical basis, backed up by evidence of effectiveness.

There are many theories that seek to explain human behaviour and what may drive or prevent behaviour change.

The different approaches presented in this guide all use one or more of these theories to suggest how behaviours may be understood and influenced in practice. For a detailed explanation of these theories, follow these external links to Assisting Behaviour Change Part 1 (AAH, 2013), pages 23-49.

In essence, theories suggest that behaviour and behaviour change are driven by a wide range of factors, some related to the individuals practising the behaviours and others relating to the environment (social, physical, economic, etc.) in which the individual practices those behaviours.

In order to achieve effective, reliable and sustainable behaviour change, these factors need to be identified and understood so that they can be influenced by the intervention.

The various theories that underpin the different behaviour-change approaches, supported by learning from behaviour-change programmes in practice, suggest that effective behaviour-change interventions are built on understanding and influencing the following factors:

  • The social and institutional context within which people practice behaviours, not just the individuals in isolation.
  • Self-efficacy, which is the individual’s or group’s perception of their own skills and capabilities to accomplish a given task.
  • The material constraints and opportunities that may hinder or enable behaviour change and therefore other components that may be required.
  • Social norms and the way they influence the behaviour of individuals, both in terms of what people consider to be normal behaviour in a given context, and the influence of other people’s opinions on the behaviours of individuals.
  • A wide range of factors that motivate people to adopt a behaviour, and not just knowledge about the behaviour and its supposed benefits.
  • The challenges of maintaining new behaviours over time through self-regulation of individuals and communities.

Some behaviour-change approaches use this theoretical and empirical basis to propose a standard set of behaviour factors that can be researched and influenced in a fairly standardised way.

In the table below you will find a comparison of the factors at the core of the DBC (Designing for Behaviour Change), RANAS (Risk, Attitude, Norms, Ability, Self-regulation), and SaniFOAM (social marketing) approaches. Note how some factors appear in all three. Other approaches such as ABC and BCD use behavioural factors as part of a broader and more complex way to understand and influence behaviour. This is one reason why they may require a higher level of expertise to implement.

DBC determinants

The Four Most Powerful Determinants

  1. Perceived Self-Efficacy/Skills
  2. Perceived Social Norms
  3. Perceived Positive Consequences
  4. Perceived Negative Consequences

Eight Other Determinants:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Skills and self-efficacy
  3. Social support
  4. Roles and decisions
  5. Cues for Action/ Reminders
  6. Perception of Divine Will
  7. Policy
  8. Culture

Plus “universal motivators”:

  1. Love
  2. Recognition
  3. Pleasure
  4. Freedom
  5. Success
  6. Security
  7. Positive self-image
  8. Social acceptance
  9. Comfort
  10. Peace of mind
  11. Status
  12. Power

RANAS determinants

Risk factors – a person’s understanding and awareness of the health risk

  • Health knowledge
  • Vulnerability
  • Severity

Attitude factors – a person’s positive or negative stance towards a behaviour

  • Beliefs about costs and benefits
  • Feelings

Norm factors – perceived social pressure towards a behaviour

  • Others’ behaviour
  • Others’ (dis)approval
  • Personal importance

Self-regulation factors – a person’s attempts to plan and self-monitor a behaviour and to manage conflicting goals and distracting cues

  • Action planning
  • Action control
  • Barrier planning
  • Remembering
  • Commitment

Ability factors – a person’s confidence in her or his ability to practice a behaviour

  • How-to-do knowledge
  • Confidence in performance
  • Confidence in continuation
  • Confidence in recovering

SaniFOAM determinants

Opportunity determinants

  • Access and availability
  • Product attributes
  • Social norms
  • Sanctions and enforcement

Ability determinants

  • Knowledge
  • Skills and self-efficacy
  • Social support
  • Roles and decisions
  • Affordability

Motivational determinants

  • Attitudes and beliefs
  • Values
  • Emotional / physical / social drivers
  • Competing priorities
  • Intention
  • Willingness to pay