Blog: Rethinking the Role of Social and Behavior Change in Gender and Nutrition Outcomes
Though it may not be immediately obvious, behaviors and gender are central to why malnutrition occurs. Not only do dietary habits make up one of the immediate determinants of malnutrition, but gender factors—such as norms around what men, women and children eat, or how food is distributed in the household—can also influence how those dietary practices come about.
The Impacting Gender & Nutrition through Innovative Technical Exchange in Agriculture (IGNITE) project supports selected African institutions in integrating household nutrition and women’s empowerment into their agricultural interventions and as a way of doing business. To ensure the sustainability of interventions, social and behavior change is a key component of the project work.
Recently, IGNITE facilitated a three-day social and behavior change training in Nairobi, Kenya, for the four local service providers who make up IGNITE’s implementing partners. These providers help cascade the lessons learned and tools developed by IGNITE into their respective countries: Nafaka Kilimo works in Tanzania; Pan Africare, in Burkina Faso; Fair & Sustainable, in Ethiopia; and Center for Gender Economics, in Nigeria. Led by IGNITE gender and nutrition experts Winnie Osulah and Olive Muthamia, the training provided comprehensive insights on how scientific evidence and social knowledge can be combined to design interventions that address the root causes of malnutrition.
(A similar training was held in March, to the implementing partners of the Inclusive Processor-Producer Partnerships in Dairy (TI3P) project: Tanzania Agricultural Development Bank, Tanzania Ministry of Livestock and Fisheries, Land O’ Lakes Venture 37 and Heifer International. IGNITE has been working closely with Nafaka Kilimo to help TI3P integrate gender and nutrition into its business model. Specifically, TI3P is working to contribute to inclusive agricultural transformation in Tanzania by enabling public-private partnerships, increasing the incomes of small-scale dairy producers through improved access to reliable markets, increasing women’s participation in agriculture and increasing the consumption of diversified diets at the household level.)
How social and behavior change works
In the case of malnutrition, social and behavior change aims to lower the structural barriers that may hinder people from adopting nutrition-sensitive gender interventions and behaviours. Effective social and behavior change interventions focus on key issues affecting human behavior, such as context, culture, emotions, an individual’s psychological state, family and friends, community, institutions, and the policy environment.
A participatory process allows engagement with the affected population in identifying the direct and indirect causes of their problems, prioritizing key issues to be tackled and determining the most effective and reliable interventions.
Factors for intervention success
But who is the target audience for such interventions? Those most affected by the identified (direct or indirect) problem. In any social and behavior change campaign, audiences are prioritized based on the amount of influence they have in creating an impact.
Other factors paramount in designing successful social and behavior change interventions:
- Theory of change: The theory of change is essentially a process that details how the proposed activities will be undertaken and how change is likely to happen.
- Force field analysis: This offers a framework to determine factors in favor of or against the suggested intervention. Factors in favor should supersede those against the intervention; if not, existing barriers must first be reduced for the proposed intervention to succeed.
- Partnerships: The majority of social and behavior change interventions are implemented through a multi-sectoral approach, hence the need for solid partnerships. To avoid misunderstandings, it’s advisable to define each partner’s roles and responsibilities and incorporate all players’ feedback during project design and implementation. Throughout the intervention process, parties should foster open communication and continuously assess the progress being made.
- Consideration of individual or system-level approach: The best approaches used to enact social and behavior change target the change at the individual level, system level or both. These include social and behavior change communication, which involves strategic communications to positively influence knowledge, attitudes and social norms among individuals, institutions and communities; social movements, which bring people together with an aim of achieving a specific goal; and public policies target change within the community—such as the enactment of laws banning female genital mutilation in Kenya—while community engagement involves taking views of the community into consideration.
Importance of monitoring and evaluation
Monitoring and evaluation is important throughout the process, as it helps to assess whether the intervention is achieving its intended goals and objectives. It additionally provides evidence-based feedback for improving program design and implementation and promotes accountability. Ultimately, monitoring and evaluation enables program sustainability by identifying successful strategies that can then be replicated in future programs.
However, not all social and behavior change interventions succeed. Some fail due to an inadequate understanding of factors determining the behavior, poor application of the monitoring and evaluation learning to project adaptation, an excessive number of conflicting messages, an overreliance on information transfer as a behavior change approach, too much emphasis on barriers rather than leveraging opportunities, and an excessive focus on individual change rather than social and structural changes.