What Will Others Say? — Social and Behavior Change in Nutrition

Human behaviour is mostly predetermined by social interactions and societal conventions — a factor which needs to be reflected better in the decision-making of development projects

Photo: GIZ

Human behavior is deeply embedded in social and institutional contexts. We are guided by what others around us say and do as much as we are influenced by societal conventions. Personal choice, it turns out, is rather limited and this fact needs to be considered when food and nutrition security projects are carried out. — This was the core message emanating from the one-day workshop on social and behaviour change held in Lilongwe/Malawi on 26 April.

Recently, GIZ’s food and nutrition security related projects have made social and behavior change aspects an integral part, considered imperative for overall success. The sector project Agricultural Policy and Food Security therefore organized a workshop on the subject for the SNRD FNSR working group meeting.


Stacia Nordin, a Malawi based researcher and USAID Feed the Future project manager, provided the basis for understanding on social and behavior change to the workshop participants. She stated that most cases across health and nutrition programs proved that knowledge, awareness and attitude on the side of the target groups did not necessarily translate into action. These were only early steps in the entire process of change. And since social and behavior change depended as much on social and institutional contexts as on the individuals, communications was not the only tool to use in food and nutrition security projects, albeit certainly an important one.

Project examples from other organizations highlighted gender-sensitive approaches such as Concern Worldwide who presented their work with couples and engaging men in food and nutrition security projects. The Malawian NGO Storyworkshop uses storytelling, theater for development and various other communication tools to convey messages for behavior change in agriculture. The University of Malawi enlightened the audience with a concise presentation on the RANAS Model on behavioral settings and norms to change complementary food hygiene practices.

The presentations and discussion demonstrated that social and behavior change in nutrition is a process that takes time and requires many efforts such as

  • Formative research on the target groups and nutrition behavior
  • Sufficient resources
  • Good planning and well-designed strategies

Workshop participants felt that “motivation to change a certain behavior is as crucial as knowledge”. They found that the workshop had provided a good “opportunity to reflect on the own behavior of GIZ staff” in order to better understand how one could work with target groups on behavior change in nutrition.

The sector project will deepen its work on the topic — jointly with the work stream on Behavior Change for Improved Nutrition of the SNRD FNSR working group — and support projects with exchanging and learning from experiences and providing technical support. Furthermore, the sector project will share the draft manual on theories in social and behavior change for nutrition and practices for review and feedback from SNRD FNSR working group members.