SWIFT’s behaviour change pilot explained by ODI researcher Florence Pichon
Florence Pichon works for ODI as a Water Policy Programme Research Officer. She is conducting research on behaviour change theory within the SWIFT programme.
A typical WASH programme focuses on health risks of not practicing safe hygiene and sanitation behaviours, assuming that these risks are both unknown to people and are persuasive enough to motivate people to change their habits. But yet development history is littered with failed WASH programmes – after projects end, water systems break down, people stop replenishing handwashing stations with soap, and latrines that become filled are never emptied and replaced. How can SWIFT be sustainable where others have failed?
SWIFT’s behaviour change pilot
This pilot, which focuses on two semi-urban areas in eastern DRC, aims to design the programmes around the specific factors that motivate people to practice a particular WASH behaviour. The pilot is underpinned by a behaviour change theory called “RANAS” – an acronym which stands for
Risks Attitudes Norms Ability Self-regulation
RANAS isolates and measures individual factors that motivate people, focusing on diverse social and psychological features that range from the desire to gain others’ approval, having sufficient knowledge to practice the behaviour, and attitudes about the benefits or the costs.
By identifying what motivates people to change their behaviour, the teams in the pilot can adjust the strategy to ensure we are deploying messages that persuade or appeal to people – and that the messages are being delivered in a way that gets people to listen.
What it looks like in practice
Based on formative research conducted earlier this year, the SWIFT teams have targeted different messages for women, young people, and men. For young people, some messages focus on the necessity of handwashing to be perceived as clean, attractive, and more desirable to a possible date. Would you want to hold hands with someone who did not wash their hands after using the loo? For men who hold the family purse strings, the messages may focus on the cost-effectiveness of building handwashing stations and latrines instead of paying recurrent doctors’ bills when family members fall ill. Other messages are designed to appeal to norms of being a gracious or dignified host – “If you don’t have a latrine, where will your mother-in-law go when she comes to visit?”
But the aim of the pilot is not just to develop messages and let them play out. We intend to understand what works – do people understand the messages? Are they persuasive? Do we need to use different channels to reach people? This requires a much more iterative and intensive approach, collecting regular feedback, holding internal team meetings, and even organising debates amongst students or with health clubs.
Will behaviour change theory succeed where health messaging has failed?
Only time will tell. Until then, my favourite message of the bunch, developed by the creative teams in Maniema: “The river is dangerous and full of crocodiles – don’t risk pooing there. Use a latrine in the safety of your home!”
Since 2014, the Sustainable WASH In Fragile Contexts (SWIFT) Consortium has been working to provide access to water and sanitation and to encourage the adoption of basic hygiene practices in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and in Kenya.
Various partners implement SWIFT’s actions in both target countries, in collaboration with governments as well as water providers, including utilities. The consortium is led by Oxfam, and includes Tearfund and the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) as global members.
The SWIFT programme is funded by UK aid from the UK government under a Payment by Results (PbR) contract.