WHO convenes expert group for behaviour change

The World Health Organization convened its first Technical Advisory Group on Behavioural Insights and Sciences for Health.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught the world that public health agencies and experts need a better understanding of how people and societies behave and make decisions in relation to their health,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General
of WHO, to whom the Technical Advisory Group will report. “WHO wants to ensure that such understanding and evidence inform every policy, guideline and programme.” 

Following a global call which attracted over 200 applications from 47 countries, some 21 advisers have been selected to represent a variety of countries and expertise in related disciplines, to design and implement policies and programmes –
not only in terms of COVID-19, but on public health in general.

Psychology, anthropology, health promotion, social and behavioural sciences, neurosciences, behavioural economics, social marketing, design thinking and epidemiology are some of the areas of expertise of the members that come from government agencies,
academia, international organizations and civil society – and are now to provide advice to WHO on a range of topics.

While behavioural and social sciences have for decades studied human behaviour, decision making and social and cultural drivers, past years have seen a growing integration into policies and programmes – ultimately translating into increased efficiency
and better health.

“Providing evidence-based advice is central to WHO’s mission, but for that advice to produce results and save lives, we need to better understand the biases and triggers that affect whether or not people act on it,” Dr Tedros said. 

The creation of the technical advisory group is part of a new behavioural insights and sciences initiative, expected to give a more prominent role and louder voice to disciplines that have social and behavioural sciences in common – in the context
of health. In addition to supporting the design of global policies, other outcomes of this sharpened focus are more defined methods, tools and mechanisms to support how WHO’s regional and country offices gather local and contextual evidence
for a better understanding of individual and community behaviour.  

The establishment of the Advisory Group is in line with WHO’s 13th Global Programme of Work for the 2019-2023 period which aims at 1 billion more people benefitting from universal health coverage; 1 billion more people better protected
from health emergencies; and 1 billion more people enjoying better health and well-being.

The image above captures the diversity of disciplines and areas of work that contributes to understanding human behaviour to improve health policies and programmes. The contributions were discussed by the members of the Technical Advisory Group during the introductory meeting on July 20, 2020. Click here to download image in full size