Breakthrough RESEARCH

A Population Council-led consortium using innovative research and evaluation to improve healthy behaviors and norms across key global health areas.

The Issue

High-quality services are critical to improved health. However, even where these services exist, broader factors like social norms and belief systems hinder people from accessing those services. Social and behavior change (SBC) programs raise awareness, reduce misinformation, and address barriers that prevent individuals, families, and communities from practicing health behaviors and seeking health services in a timely fashion.

The flagship USAID social behavior change research project, Breakthrough RESEARCH—a sister project to Breakthrough ACTION—is providing global and country-level technical leadership in SBC advocacy, design, implementation, research, and evaluation. 

The Progress

Breakthrough RESEARCH is supporting countries to improve health and development by equipping governments, implementing partners, service delivery organizations, and donors with the data and evidence they need to integrate proven and cost-effective SBC approaches into their programs. The project pursues four main objectives:

  1. Build consensus around priority SBC research agendas by engaging key stakeholders to establish priorities and identify research gaps to improve SBC programs and approaches.
  2. Generate rapid and high-quality evidence to enhance SBC programs by using state-of-the-art research and evaluation methods to generate data that can be used to inform real-time program adaptation as well as longer term planning.
  3. Package and share what works for SBC programs by translating existing and newly generated evidence into audience-tailored, action-oriented messages in user-friendly language and accessible print and digital formats.
  4. Put evidence into practice by supporting key stakeholders—USAID Missions, country-based program implementers, service delivery organizations, and others—to promote improved SBC policies and programs.

The Impact

Breakthrough RESEARCH, in tandem with Breakthrough ACTION, is generating a global evidence-base for SBC. Current highlights include:

  • The project led a consensus-driven process to develop research and learning agendas for integrated SBC programming and provider behavior change (PBC) programming that identify cross-cutting SBC knowledge gaps and key research questions with broad applicability at global, regional, and local levels and across health sectors.  
  • The project demonstrated the cost-effectiveness of SBC for family planning and developed the SBC Business Case to illustrate that investing in SBC is crucial for improving health and advancing development. This business case is being used to inform USAID’s High Impact Practices (HIPs) in family planning.
  • In Francophone West Africa, innovative research has strengthened programming for youth and generated global guidance for applying social listening and social monitoring techniques to inform program investments. Breakthrough RESEARCH briefs, available in English and French, provide 12 priority indicators and actionable recommendations for improving SBC components of family planning programs in Francophone West Africa
  • The project is identifying and addressing barriers and opportunities to support PBC across a number of settings and health topic areas. Breakthrough RESEARCH’s work on respectful maternity care and PBC in Zambia were adopted by implementing partner SM360+ and provided important inputs into the development of national guidelines for respectful maternal care. These findings and recommendations were also adapted and contextualized for implementation in Liberia by Breakthrough ACTION.

Principal Investigator

  • Laura Reichenbach Senior Associate & Project Director, Breakthrough-RESEARCH, Washington, DC

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Research Publications (18)

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Curricula, Toolkits, and Guides (2)