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Research for impact: The role of behavioural science in public policy design

Pavan Mamidi, the Director of the Centre for Social and Behaviour Change (CSBC) gives a snapshot of CSBC's initiatives in 2022

Since its inception, the Centre for Social and Behaviour Change (CSBC) has been dedicated to expanding and sharing knowledge and underscoring the role of behavioural science in designing effective public policies. We have endeavoured to pursue a coordinated and collaborative approach that fosters innovation and agency to advance behavioural science in India, and 2022 was no different. 

So far, we have amplified and applied evidence to drive better outcomes related to health, water, financial inclusion, sustainability, and rural livelihoods. We successfully competed for funding to study vaccine hesitancy in rural India and grievance redressal among women who use digital financial services. Our research has been published in several academic journals, including Health Communication, Vaccine: X, and Reproductive Health. We launched our working paper series in 2022. In the spirit of open access, we also shared raw data from completed projects and extensive codebooks to explain each variable in the data files. Finally, we initiated the changelog, our bi-monthly newsletter.

We presented our research at the Sabin Social and Behavioral Research Grant Partner Coalition Meeting, the Learning Collaborative Strategy Summit, International Conference on Social Dilemmas and the Behavioral Research in Economics Workshop. Our researchers spoke at several national and international platforms, including the UN Young Changemakers Conclave, Financial Inclusion Week, Moonshot, the Rural WaSH Partners Forum, and at leading academic institutions like LBSNAA, LSE, ICMR, IEG, ISB, IIM Calcutta, IIT Jodhpur and the University of Copenhagen. We hosted in-person and virtual discussions with experts like Dr Ravi Dhar, Amitabh Kant, Parameswaran Iyer, Nobel prize-winning economist Michael Kremer, and others. We launched the CSBC Colloquium, our flagship in-person speaker series, in December 2022 and have since hosted Manjari Jaruhar, IPS, and Dr Diego Gambetta.

Our behavioural scientists taught an online professional certificate programme, How to Change a Life, which was co-created with AshokaX. The course introduced students to behavioural science concepts and applications to change individual and community behaviour. We conducted a seminar series, Constructing Stories for Behaviour Change, which took a closer look at narratives and how they become instruments of behaviour change. Finally, in collaboration with CSIR-CSIO, CSBC co-hosted the Summer Institute for Computational Social Science, a week-long programme for PhD candidates, junior faculty, and young professionals. The summer school involved lectures and hands-on tutorials by global and Indian faculty on digital data, ML, crowdsourcing, experiments and ethics, culminating in individual research projects.

On the policy side, the Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU) of India at NITI Aayog, our team embedded in the CEO’s office at NITI Aayog, began scaling up interventions we designed to increase IFA uptake among pregnant women. The NITI-BIU led the global call for ideas and papers under ‘Lifestyle for Environment (LiFE)’, a global movement by the Indian government that aims to drive climate action through behaviour change. We also signed an MoU with Tata Trusts for work on the Jal Jeevan Mission (JJM). Under this, we identified behaviour change strategies within the programme.  The insights were published in a diagnostic report on ‘Behavioural Barriers and Levers in JJM’ with the Department of Drinking Water and Sanitation, Ministry of Jal Shakti. We extended our MoU with Dvara Health Finance, under which we will design and test behaviour science-backed interventions to increase the take-up and usage of their health finance services.

At the state level, our team in Bihar worked closely with the State Rural Livelihoods Mission to scale up a kit to promote the uptake of the COVID-19 vaccine, mask-wearing and other safety behaviours. The JEEViKA team trained over 7 million women with the kit during SHG meetings. A survey of a sample of these women found that many accurately recalled the kit’s contents, and the majority took the vaccine citing the recommendation as one of their top reasons. Our Uttar Pradesh team launched the Pop-UP lab, the first-of-its-kind mobile lab in the state. In the years to come, these initiatives will continue to advance research and learning in behavioural science, design novel interventions, improve on-ground indicators, and build local capabilities. 

As we enter 2023, our main priority is to remain intentional in our work, in line with our ultimate goal of research for impact. By being deliberate about the sectors and scope of our projects, we will continue to create value for the communities we work for and the field of behaviour science.

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