The BIRD Lab is a virtual space for experimentation and innovation in the application of evidence and methods from the behavioural sciences to achieve UNICEF programme results.
Protecting and promoting children’s rights requires a deep understanding of human behaviour, as well as a keen grasp of how to apply insights from the social and behavioural sciences to encourage the kinds of decisions and habits that will secure a better future for all children.
UNICEF provides technical assistance and builds capacity to support the co-creation and scale-up of contextualized, people-centered and evidence-informed approaches to social and behavioural change. Current and recent projects employing behavioural insights research and design approaches include:
What We Do
The BIRD Lab uses a combination of methods and frameworks from applied behavioural sciences, human-centered design, and implementation research to achieve social and behavioural change.
The BIRD Lab draws on many existing frameworks for behavioural research and design, including the methodological steps outlined in the DEPTHS approach:
We start by taking time to be sure we are precise about what problem and which specific behaviours we are working to address.
We use research and data to understand the sociocultural, environmental, and psychological factors at play.
We use human-centered design methods to co-create tentative solutions directly with the people who will use them.
We use implementation research and experimental methods to iteratively trial and adapt interventions in context.
We solve with a systems lens, scaling by learning and learning by scaling.
Small changes can make a big difference
People’s decisions and behaviours are affected by the context in which they operate: what cues they receive, what options are available and most visible, which actions seem easiest, what they see others around them doing, or how people try to influence their decisions.
Changing knowledge is not sufficient
Changing knowledge and attitudes is often not sufficient to change behaviour. People’s intentions do not always match their behaviours.
People fail to predict how they will behave
People often fail to predict how they will behave in a given situation. Behavioural science can help us understand how the features of a situation shape how people behave. Simply asking people directly why they do (or do not) behave in a certain way is not sufficient to understanding the underlying drivers we need to address for sustained social and behavioural change.
Small changes in the context can sometimes lead to significant changes in behaviour.
The Secretary-General's Guidance Note on Behavioural Science
The UN cannot maintain a business as usual approach if it wants to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and deliver on our mandates
across all pillars.
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Behavioral Scientist is a non-profit digital magazine that offers readers original, thought-provoking reports from the front lines of behavioral science. Born out of the labs and offices of leading researchers, practitioners, and journalists, our mission is to help our readers make sense of today’s world through a deeper understanding of human behavior.
Every day, the decisions and actions of parents, teachers, healthcare workers, community leaders, and policymakers profoundly affect children’s lives. These decisions and actions are themselves influenced by habits, norms, and cues in the social environment that can influence or “nudge” people—for better or worse. Emerging evidence from the sciences of human behaviour can provide actionable insights and practical methods to encourage decisions and habits that secure a better future for all children.
UNICEF has long played a leading role in social and behavioral change programming to help children and young people survive and realize their full potential. UNICEF Innocenti is helping the organization update its approach based on the latest evidence about human behaviour, applying a behavioural lens to identify, understand, and test solutions while scaling up the incorporation of experimental methods and implementation research in our programming.
We do this by:
• creating a global research agenda for building a child-focused behavioural science evidence base
• capacity building internally and with partners to ethically harness the application of behavioral sciences
• partnering with research centres, particularly in low- and middle-income countries
• building local research capacity to ensure decisions are evidence-informed, feasible, adaptive and equitable.
Upcoming work includes:
• Ethical guidelines for using behavioral sciences with children and adolescents
• Establishing and co-chairing a virtual behavioral insights research and design laboratory
• E-learning and webinars to increase internal capabilities to apply behavioral science and encourage South-South exchange
• Using behavioral sciences-informed interventions to increase uptake of primary health and immunization services in programme countries
• Supporting UNICEF’s and partners’ capabilities to utilize low-cost field methods to assess the contribution of interventions to outcomes
Ethical Considerations When Applying Behavioural Science in Projects Focused on Children
Evidence increasingly shows applied behavioural science can positively impact childhood development and contribute to reducing inequalities. However, it is important for practitioners to reflect on the ethical considerations. For example, are you confident that the intervention is unlikely to have unintended harmful consequences? Or, is it easy for child recipients to opt out of the intervention?
To better understand these impacts, we consulted children in Australia, Chile and Ghana, interviewed subject matter experts and practitioners, and conducted a targeted literature review. This paper distils our findings and provides examples of how evidence-based interventions can meaningfully impact children’s futures. It is accompanied by a toolkit to guide and support practitioners through key ethical decision points.