Adapting Social and Behavior Change Materials in the Time of COVID-19

Thank you to Mary DeCoster and our friends at Food for the Hungry for sharing this valuable tip sheet from their work. We are featuring an excerpt on our blog, you can access the entire tip sheet on our website here.


In fast moving emergencies, such as the current pandemic, we need to make a major shift in our usual ways of thinking about formative research, designing learning materials, and behavior-change communications. Relief and humanitarian assistance staff provide a great perspective on the need to move quickly and keep it simple. This time offers us an opportunity to address what is most important right now, and what the “next right thing to do” will be.

Here are 5 tips on how to quickly and effectively adapt (or create, when needed) Social and Behavior Change materials.

  1. Get very clear on the behaviors you want to promote and the intended participants or audience for your social and behavior change (SBC) intervention. Who do you hope will do what?

Keep it simple, specific and realistic. For example, rather than saying “seek care if you have symptoms of COVID-19”, list the specific danger signs that warrant care-seeking at a health facility.

  1. Mind the gap. Use informal or formal rapid assessments to discover where the gaps are. Ask yourself: What critical behaviors are NOT getting good uptake? What key messages are not well understood or muddled by misconceptions?
  1. Rapidly adapt materials that are similar to what’s currently needed. For example, handwashing modules were rapidly adapted for the cholera outbreak in Haiti in 2010, and for Ebola. Materials on recognizing danger signs and care seeking could also be readily adapted for use in the current crisis.

Edit carefully for current recommendations and any contextual, cultural, and crisis specific adaptions that are needed. Avoid jargon and aim for clear, easily understood messages.

  1. Adapt some materials into a completely different format. In-person meetings and trainings are most likely not be an option in the settings where we work, so traditional workshops will have to be translated into other formats.

Use two-way communications where possible. Participatory radio programming (call or text-in options), conversations by phone or text, videos or recordings with follow up discussions.

  1. Create simple job aids, checklists, scripts, videos and recordings. When it isn’t an option to adapt materials, select formats that can be designed and produced quickly, simply, and at low cost. Remember they may need to be updated soon, with new developments and responses to the pandemic, so it’s best not to over-invest in time or materials. You could:

Create short videos on a smartphone to use as a teaching tool, in combination with discussion questions.


Read more in the expanded tip sheet here. Tip sheets in Spanish and French are also available.

What would you add to these tips?


Mary DeCoster is the Director of Social and Behavioral Change Programs for Food for the Hungry.


These tip sheets are included in Global Learning Partner’s response to the pandemic. You can access additional resources of this kind in Connecting Virtually: A Toolkit for Success during COVID-19.

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