Kaplan, L., S. Kuhn & J. KuhntThe behavioral lens: Taking a behavioral vantage point to improve the success of development programs

Recommended reading

Lennart Kaplan, Sascha Kuhn & Jana Kuhnt

Release date:
January 2020

German Development Institute, briefing paper 2/2020

Successful programs and policies require supportive behavior from their targeted populations. Understanding what drives human reactions is crucial for the design and implementation of development programs. Research has shown that people are not rational agents and that providing them with financial or material incentives is often not enough to foster long-term behavioral change. For this reason, the consideration of behavioral aspects that influence an individual’s actions, including the local context, has moved into the focus of development programs. Disregarding these factors endangers the success of programmes. The World Bank brought this point forward forcefully with its 2015 World Development Report, “Mind, Society and Behavior”, herewith supporting the focus on behavioral insights within development policies. While agencies may intuitively consider behavioral aspects during program design and implementation, a systematic approach would improve programme effectiveness at a relatively small financial cost. For this reason, we present a framework – the Theory of Planned Behavior (TPB) (Ajzen, 1991) – that aids practitioners and researchers alike in considering important determinants of human behavior during the design and implementation of development programs The TPB suggests considering important determinants of human behavior, such as the individual’s attitude towards the intervention (influenced by previous knowledge, information or learning); subjective norms (influenced by important people, such as family members or superiors); and the individual’s sense of behavioral control (influenced by a subjective assessment of barriers and enablers). The theory should be used early on in the program design to perform a structured assessment of behavioral aspects in the appropriate context. Components of the TPB can often be addressed through cost-effective, easy changes to existing programs. Simple guiding questions can help integrate the theory into the programme design. An iterative and inclusive process, particularly in exchange with the targeted population and other stakeholders, increases success.

Link to publication