Introduction >

V. Ethical considerations

Action Against Hunger’s interventions that are designed to change behaviour are carried out to improve the nutrition and wellbeing of populations at risk, that is to say people who may be experiencing distress and disempowerment. It is important to apply the “do no harm” principle so as not to sacrifice any of Action Against Hunger’s ethical principles to achieve its goals.

There is a strong gender dimension to behaviour and behaviour change in the areas of interest to Action Against Hunger. In societies with a marked gender-based distribution of roles and responsibilities, women and girls tend to be the ones performing the bulk of essential behaviours that affect child nutrition security and development.

For example, women in many societies are strongly judged by other women according to the way they care for their children and the wellbeing of their children, and this is felt personally by mothers. This is an important ethical consideration for behaviour-change programmes.

The following table provides some recommendations of unethical behaviour-change practices to avoid, with examples. It’s been adapted from Behaviour Change Toolkit (People In Need, 2017).

Unethical practices to avoidExamples
Using fear and shame as a way to provoke behaviour change• Disseminating messages such as “Pay attention! If you don’t always wash your hands with soap and water after contact with stools and before handling food, your child could die of diarrhoea!”
Using excessive social pressure, stigmatizing
and victimizing or reinforcing oppressive social
• Judging people or labelling individuals as a bad mother/ farmer etc. when they do not follow certain practices
• Publicly discrediting the behaviours of minority groups within the population
• Accentuating the responsibility of women and girls for care practices without ensuring sufficient support and
promoting the involvement of men and boys
Promising more than the behaviour can deliver• Exaggerating the real benefits that a behaviour can deliver
• Downplaying the costs of changing behaviour (required time, effort, disapproval of others etc.)
Promoting a behaviour with unproved
effectiveness, weak impact or low priority
• Asking people to spend their time, effort or resources on a new behaviour or practice for which there is no strong evidence of effectiveness
Creating demand without adequate supply• Encouraging people to use products or services which are hard to access (due to costs, poor availability, distance etc.) without helping to improve access
Ignoring the already present positive behaviours• Introducing new practices without assessing and taking advantage of the existing positive behaviours, beliefs and know-how
Changing a behaviour without trying to
understand it first
• Arriving at a community with a plan to change a given behaviour(s) without making an effort to first understand why people practice it, why they cannot/ do not change it
Implementing culturally-insensitive interventions • Raising a topic in an insensitive manner, putting people at risk, undermining important traditions that do not cause any harm
Putting informants at risk during formative research• Going ahead with discussions and interviews without participants’ informed consent
• Sharing sensitive research information, including participant identity, with third parties