How to use Behavioural and Social Science in Practice
What is behavioural and social science?
Behavioural and social science is an umbrella term used to describe the behavioural and social sciences, which in essence, study the science of why we act the way we do. Many different disciplines form behavioural and social science including, but not limited to, anthropology, economics, psychology (health, cognitive and social psychology), and sociology. Behavioural and social scientists may specialise in a particular discipline, but what they have in common is using theory and models to underpin interventions, as well as using their scientific skills to inform the design, development, and evaluation of interventions.
Take a look at our national strategy to find out more about how public health organisations can use behavioural science.
Where to use behavioural and social science
You can use behavioural and social science across many different topic areas and many different types of work; almost all public health work involves changing the behaviour of either professionals or populations. It might be that you’re focussing on health improvement behaviours, like smoking cessation, physical activity, alcohol consumption, healthy eating, or targeting health protection areas such as vaccine uptake, sexual health, screening uptake. This is only a small example of topics – the list in public health is endless, so if you work in public health then it is most likely that there are opportunities to use behavioural and social science in your work.
Here are some ideas on how you might use behavioural and social science:
- Using research skills – gain insight into what is influencing the behaviour you are looking to change: conducting literature reviews and synthesising evidence; developing and analysing surveys; conducting and analysing interviews or focus groups. You could use behavioural science theories and frameworks to help in the development of research tools, or to help with the analysis.
- Commissioning an intervention or service – ensure that appropriate evidence and theories are used within the service specification in order to maximise the effectiveness of it.
- Applying behaviour change theories/models and evidence-based techniques to the development of interventions, such as service design, communication campaigns, leaflet / poster design, invitation letters / emails. Some examples of techniques include the Behaviour Change Techniques Taxonomy, EAST, MINDSPACE and Behaviour Change Wheel (BCW).
Useful guides have been developed which outline how to use behavioural science.
The following links include more information about different behavioural and social science frameworks and models how to apply behavioural and social science:
- Behavioural Science Models and Frameworks, Dr Emmie Fulton, PHE
- Behaviour change: guides for national and local government and partners
You can also join a regional hub to connect with others in your area and develop your skills in using behavioural and social science.
Additionally, visit our publication to see examples of behavioural and social science used in practice and look out for BSPHN events.