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Social and Behavior Change

Much of MCC’s work to reduce global poverty through economic growth focuses on building and improving infrastructure that helps low-and middle-income countries better access electricity, schools, water, and roads. But infrastructure alone is insufficient unless it is used by the people it is intended to benefit. Therefore, to maximize impact, infrastructure projects must also consider human behavior.

Depending on the infrastructure, the people who might benefit from using it would need to adopt specific behaviors, such as signing up for electricity, enrolling in schools, paying for water, or using new roads. Research has shown that a focus on human behavior is critical to the success of infrastructure projects and can increase the rates at which people access water or electricity or enroll their children in school.

Electrical worker servicing an MCC-funded substation

When MCC explored its past investments, it found that infrastructure improvements that did not consider behavior had reduced project effectiveness. An independent evaluation of the Tanzania Energy Sector Project found that although MCC installed extensive electricity infrastructure in Zanzibar, only 62 percent of expected households enrolled in electricity services. Similarly, an evaluation of the Mozambique Rural Water Supply Activity found that MCC-provided water access points did not decrease rates of waterborne illnesses, since households continued to store water in contaminated containers. Behavioral interventions that increased enrollment in electricity as an alternative to fuel or that encouraged the use of clean containers would likely have been more effective.

From these observations, MCC recognized that the program design process needs to include understanding why people do or do not interact with compact or threshold programs, which can comprise infrastructure, training, or policy and institutional reform. This can result in more effective motivations for people to interact with and benefit from compact investments.

With these insights, MCC launched its social behavior change (SBC) team in 2018. Since then, MCC has designed investments in collaboration with its partner countries that build vital infrastructure to improve peoples’ lives and boost economic growth, and also address the behaviors necessary for its programs to succeed.

The SBC Model

MCC uses the Capability Opportunity Motivation-Behavior (COM-B) model to change key behaviors that lead to poverty reduction and increase economic growth. Capability describes individual characteristics that affect behavior, such as knowledge and skills. Opportunity refers to outside factors that affect behavior, such as social norms and access to resources. Motivation is an individual’s desire to engage in a behavior, measured by constructs such as individual attitudes and perceived positive consequences of adopting a behavior. Each COM concept has sub-constructs, outlined in the table below.
Capability Opportunity Motivation
Locus of Control Descriptive and Injunctive Norms Perceived Relevance
Skills Perceived Access Attitudes
Knowledge Quality of Services Competing Priorities
Affordability Perceived Positive and Negative Consequences
Social Support Self-Efficacy
MCC analyzes whether people who do (doers) or do not (non-doers) engage in a key behavior differ in their capability, opportunity, or motivation. The team then uses this analysis to recommend interventions that target the COM factors that distinguish between people who do and do not engage in the key behavior, to increase the likelihood of people doing the key behavior.

Social and Behavior Change in Practice

Education in Morocco

In Morocco, most teachers use teacher-centered practices (e.g., lectures), rather than student-centered practices (e.g., dialogues and activities) despite extensive research supporting the benefits of the latter. MCC applied SBC in the Morocco Employability and Land Compact to promote teachers' use of student-centered practices. MCC first analyzed differences between teachers who were or were not using student-centered practices (categorizing them as either doers or non-doers) and found that student-centered teachers viewed these methods as more relevant to student success. However, qualitative data indicated that teachers generally believed that their use of student-centered teaching was impeded by students’ lack of motivation and ability.


MCC is working to enhance training for teachers and school administrators as part of the Morocco Employability and Land Compact.

According to MCC’s research, teachers who believed student-centered practices were relevant to their success in the classroom would be more likely to adopt and maintain these practices. As a result, MCC recommended that the compact increase teachers’ sense of relevancy using various behavior change techniques. First, MCC recommended teachers be exposed to testimonials from other teachers who had adopted interactive techniques. Second, MCC recommended the compact create teacher support groups to allow teachers to engage with peers who were also working to adopt student-centered practices. Research and recommendations were given to a design firm that developed trainings for teachers in Morocco. The firm incorporated SBC research and recommendations into their teacher trainings.

Water, Sanitation, and Drainage in Timor-Leste

In Timor-Leste, long standing conflict leading up to independence decimated public infrastructure, including the potable water supply. The Timor-Leste Proposed Compact aims to decrease the prevalence of diarrhea and other waterborne illnesses by giving people access to potable water.

MCC is helping to determine how to get people to maintain clean drinking water. MCC analyzed differences in COM factors between people who do and do not store and treat water correctly. In comparison to non-doers, people who stored and treated water correctly felt more capable of doing so effectively (self-efficacy), understood the link between clean water and susceptibility to disease (knowledge) and believed that others around them were practicing these behaviors (descriptive social norms).


SBC researchers survey households in Dili, Timor-Leste on water and waste management.

MCC also conducted an interactive workshop with the Timor-Leste country and compact development teams to review and discuss its findings and consider intervention options. Participants made recommendations on how to improve self-efficacy, knowledge, and social norms to support community members in properly treating and storing water to decrease their exposure to waterborne illness. These recommendations will be shared in Timor-Leste for public comment and next steps. After incorporating feedback and creating a country-owned path forward, MCC and the government of Timor-Leste will hire a design firm to build specific SBC interventions based on this data and recommendations.