An Overview of the Social and Behavior Change Communication Summit

By Gael O’Sullivan

Over 1,200 delegates attended the second Social and Behavior Change Communication (SBCC) Summit in Bali, Indonesia on April 16-20 this year, almost double the attendee count over the 2016 event in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. They gathered to discuss “Shifting Norms, Changing Behavior and Amplifying Voice: What Works?” The Bali audience was heavily represented by bilateral and multilateral donor-related stakeholders, especially those related to USAID and UNICEF, from a wide array of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), universities, local government agencies, and independent consultants.  Notably absent were a focus on the social marketing field and a strong showing of private sector companies.  Sponsors included Sanofi, Population Services International (PSI), and EXP Social Marketing.

The Summit format included three tracks following the sub-themes of ‘What works’, ‘Making sense of now’, and ‘Voice and agenda setting’, which included a mix of plenary sessions, pre-formed panels, oral presentations, ‘comms talks’ (similar to mini TED talks), skill-building workshops, poster sessions, multimedia showcases, and an exhibit area with about 50 organizational exhibits.  There were also a number of auxiliary events such as workshops, technical meetings, and networking events. Over 1200 abstracts were received and over 300 reviewers selected the final presentations. 

Sessions dealt primarily with health topics, although the organizers continue to strive for more social and behavior change examples from other sectors such as agriculture, education, the environment, and peace/social justice. Much of the evidence-based best practices and literature in SBCC come from the health sector, given the long history of using behavioral science and social marketing principles to improve health behaviors.  

Some highlights were:

Behavioral Economics – Channing Jang of the Busara Center for Behavioral Economics gave an engaging and thought-provoking talk on the links between behavioral economics and social and behavior change communication.  He noted that behavioral economics has a ‘W.E.I.R.D.’ problem.  Behavioral economics models have been developed by ‘Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, Democratic’ nations, and in developing country contexts do not account for how variables like scarcity impact behavior and decision-making.

Social Norms – Several presenters noted the importance of distinguishing between injunctive and descriptive norms when designing behavior change strategies and interventions. Injunctive norms refer to people's beliefs about what ought to be done in a situation, and descriptive norms refer to beliefs about what is actually done by most others in one's social group.  

I moderated a panel session on ‘Social Networks and Social Norms”. A fascinating presentation amongst the four dealt with child marriage in India.  The comprehensive set of interventions used in this example included: life skills education, parent dialogues, teacher engagement, and counseling with boys and men.  Impact data showed statistically significant increases in the percentage of girls staying in school, girls marrying after the age of 18 and girls who said they felt confident they could convince their parents to delay marriage.  

Technology – Advances in technology are dramatically changing the SBCC space.  This abstract summarizes a particularly interesting presentation in a session on “Cutting Edge Research Methods”.

Digital Vaccines Based on Neuropsychology to Reduce the Risk of Lifestyle Diseases Bhargav Sri Prakash, FriendsLearn, Inc. 

"fooya!" is an mHealth intervention that is being developed as a vaccine candidate for prevention of Diabetes by FriendsLearn, which is a mission-driven technology startup. The product is an application based on Neuropscyhology and Cognitive Behavior Therapy that harnesses immersive mobile gaming technology. The intervention has been shown to achieve statistically significant outcomes in randomized controlled blinded clinical trials. A recent partnership between the co-authors and endocrinologists at the Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh aims to assess a specialized adaptation and extension of "fooya!". “Fooya!” has been developed to empower pediatric Type 1 diabetes patients with behavior design mechanisms that can reinforce strategies to better manage their condition. It is also used to augment standard of care protocols for treatment of newly diagnosed patients. 

Know Your Audience – Kamden Hoffman from Save the Children, Melanie Morrow from ICF, Inc. and I conducted an interactive, Skill-Building Workshop on ‘Knowing your Audience’.  The session is based on work recently published by the World Health Organization and other partners which examined the evidence for social, behavioral, and community engagement(SBCE) interventions that improve maternal and child health:;jsessionid=E60651BCF3E97E549235FA0823C31AB5?sequence=1

The session focused on: 

  • Understanding 10 implementation principles contributing to effective SBCE intervention approaches, emphasizing the first two principles related to formative research, audience analysis, and SBCE theories; 
  • Applying these principles using real world case studies; and 
  • Applying examples from the case studies to participants own work, discussing opportunities and challenges. 

Two of the ten implementation principles for SBCE included in the Evidence Map for SBCE interventions were highlighted: 1) Design programs based on formative and summative qualitative and quantitative evidence, and 2) Design programs based on a clear audience analysis, using social change or behavior change models and theories.

Declaration – At the conclusion of the Summit, Warren Feek of the Communication Initiative drafted a resolution on behalf of all the conference delegates to help guide the SBCC field going forward. Follow this link to read the draft statement and comments from the community:

Link to resources and presentations: