September 28, 2018 — Statement by Cynthia McCaffrey, Director, of UNICEF Office of Innovation at a recent UNGA Side-Event (hosted by UNDP & UNICEF) – Experimentation & Behaviour Change for the SDG’s: Bringing Behavioural Insights to Scale. Also joining the discussions was Prof. Cass Sunstein of Harvard University, co-author of the bestseller ‘Nudge’ and former Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs sharing insights on how to facilitate behaviour change for a sustainable future and its application to UNICEF’s work.
UNICEF has a long history of working to promote healthy and protective behaviors to support children’s rights, and to advocate for policy changes to strengthen partners’ capacity in this area.
UNICEF’s social mobilization and behavior change programmes focus on a broad range of issues critical to child and adolescent well-being – breastfeeding, immunization, girls education, preventing violence against children, amongst others.
We are always looking for innovative approaches and tools to foster social and behavior change.
Behavioral Insights (BI) is one of the newest tools that we have started to look at since 2017, particularly through its integration in communication for development interventions.
Our current strategic plan for the next four years has 25 key results that include various behavioral dimensions. Take early child development for example, where uptake of positive parenting practices such as early stimulation and interaction in the first 1000 days is so critical to the long-term well-being and development of a child.
We can point to many others – completing a child’s immunization schedule, safe water use and consumption to prevent diseases, reducing water wastage especially in camps, school retention and completion, life skills training for adolescents and youth and prevention of corporal punishment and violence in schools.
UNICEF has also recognized the need to revitalize the state of our Monitoring practices. Much has already been done, in countries around the world, regional offices and headquarters, to develop monitoring guidelines and systems. Until now, however, most of this work draws on “good examples” or theoretical models. There has not been a systematic effort to test small changes that can address common gaps between current monitoring and desired practices. UNICEF will be working to develop a Monitoring Practice Lab which will be a virtual facility applying Behavioral Insights as a lens to focus on stubborn gaps in monitoring practices. The Monitoring Practices Lab will allow Country Offices to work on resolving monitoring issues they face and establish a systematic approach for working through each issue to identify the small changes that can improve office efficiencies.
UNICEF HQ’s Communication for Development team is in the process of developing a pilot intervention in Lebanon in collaboration with Nudge Lebanon and with the technical advice from Professor Lori Foster – a behavioral insights expert at North Carolina State University. The behavior change focus is to help families complete the required number of vaccines for their children, particularly among the Syrian refugee population, and others, due to challenges such as – families are used to different schedules in the past than the calendar in Lebanon, or the wait times are too long hence children are not brought back, and the poor attitude and interpersonal communication skills of health workers.
And we have many examples of BI work supported by the Office of Innovation through U-Report, UNICEFs official youth and community engagement platform – now present in more than 50 countries around the world which engages almost 6 million people. In 2017, U-Reporters in Cameroon received hyper-targeted information around polio vaccinations. A poll was sent to over 10,000 U-Reporters to assess knowledge levels on the immunization program, the effects of the vaccination, and awareness of the campaign. Thirty-six (36%) of respondents were not aware of the campaign in their communities, and 29% said children in their communities did not receive the polio vaccine during the campaign. As a result of these insights, UNICEF altered their campaign and communications approach to reach these children, and to help vaccinators better reach every household. Thanks to U-Report, the rates of children being vaccinated increased by 33% the following month.
The Office of Innovation has worked on the Internet of Good Things (IoGT) which has brought changes in awareness and knowledge around key life-enhancing areas as well as changes in attitudes and behaviours as a result of new knowledge gained through mobile technology.
In a large number of communities in Eastern and Southern Africa, we observed that limited interpersonal communication skills amongst health workers had led to poor communication of important early learning and parenting information to families. There was also a gap in getting early learning information to the “end-user” – parents and caregivers who have the opportunity to talk, sing, and play with their young children, daily.
In 2017, UNICEF used the Internet of Good Things, a localized mobile communication platform to promote early learning information, tips, and practical activities to parents and caregivers of children between the ages of 0 and 3. Eight per cent (80%) of IoGT users reported learning, with 42% saying most or all of the child development tips provided were new to them.
Importantly, users of IoGT report changes in attitudes and behaviours as a result of new knowledge. In 2017, 73% of respondents reported that they think or feel differently about some of the topics on the IoGT sites and 47% reported that they have done something differently because of IoGT.
The Internet of Good Things has been accessed by 10.7 million users in 2017 and by more than 25 million since it launched in 2015. IoGT provides mobile web resources in 13 languages and is made accessible free of data charges in more than 60 countries and territories.
Partnerships with governments and local academia is the cornerstone of how UNICEF works. In this context, we have just begun exploring the type of capacity development needs in-house to see how BI could be used to achieve our corporate results; and with partners, as part of our local capacity development efforts on accelerating evidence-informed social and behavior change.
With that in mind, our communications for development team has been working with Professor Foster to develop a strategic approach to advancing this work which will include the development of tools and guidance, implement country-level capacity development initiatives, provide technical support to UNICEF country offices and partners, and facilitate learning and sharing.
Last, but not least, we also see great opportunities in collaborating more systematically with UN agencies that have already embraced the use of Behavioral Insights. This is one of the reasons why we are partnering with UNDP, and previously engaged in a similar event in the context of the recent High Level Political Forum.
We look forward to continue working with our UNDP colleagues, other UN agencies, academic and NGO partners to leverage our respective strengths and capacities to advance the integration of Behavioral Insights and accelerate results for children, families and communities.