By Faraz Haqqi, Mukta Joshi

The success of social protection programs often hinges on people’s ability to make and act on a series of choices. For example, participants of cash transfer programs have to consider what their financial priorities are, and how best to allocate cash transfer between those priorities. They may also have to decide how to engage in the program’s other components: for example, whether to attend supplemental financial management trainings; how to implement what they learn from those trainings; and how long to sustain the new behaviors or habits that come out of what they learn. In contexts of extreme poverty or instability, these choices can be complex, forcing people to make tough trade-offs between competing needs (e.g. looking after a child versus attending training sessions) and long-term goals (e.g. spending cash on food versus saving it to invest in productive assets). An understanding of behavioral science can help program administrators anticipate the barriers that participants are likely to face throughout the program cycle, and offer behaviorally informed tools and techniques to help participants navigate those barriers and achieve the intended program outcomes, which are generally an improvement in livelihood for individuals and their families.

In December 2021, we launched a new virtual training series as part of our efforts to make behavioral science ubiquitous in the design and implementation of social protection programs—including cash transfer programs—around the world. With support from the Wellspring Philanthropic Fund, our virtual training was designed to equip practitioners and policymakers with a behavioral toolkit so that they can better understand how the behavior of program participants as well as staff can limit the impact of social protection programs. The training shed light on simple behavioral design principles to address behavioral bottlenecks common to social protection programs. 

The virtual training consisted of 10-15 minute pre-recorded video lessons, delivered over two weeks, that covered the foundations of behavioral science and its applications to real-world issues, using relatable examples from everyday experiences. After viewing each video lesson, participants independently completed reflection activities that prompted them to begin applying their learnings to their day-to-day tasks. Participants spent about 20-30 minutes each day during the course to watch the lesson and complete related activities and attend weekly “office hours” hosted by ideas42 experts. 

Our inaugural training cohort included 17 participants from the Nigeria National Social Safety Net Program (NASSP) and the Accelerating Nutrition Results in Nigeria (ANRiN) project who are responsible for implementing ongoing cash transfer and nutrition support programs in Northeastern Nigeria (and are our partners in the behavioral designs for cash transfer portfolio that we launched in collaboration with the World Bank thanks to financial support from the Global Innovation Fund). Through this training, participants were introduced to what behavioral science is, how situations can shape behavior, and how psychological principles such as scarcity, social norms, and identity often drive people’s decisions and actions. It also introduced participants to simple behavioral design tools: allowing them to use their unique vantage points in overseeing these social protection and nutrition programs to identify persistent, impact-limiting behavioral bottlenecks and opportunities to apply behavioral insights to better meet the needs of their participants and staff. 

Participants were enthusiastic about the self-guided training, with more than half of the invited participants choosing to join each session of our optional office hours. During these office hours, we discussed behavioral science concepts covered in our video lessons (such as scarcity and social norms) and answered questions that the training participants had (e.g. what the distinction is between prescriptive and descriptive social norms). Participants shared examples of those concepts from their professional and day-to-day lives and how they may contribute to barriers to action or optimal decision-making. We also touched on different ways to begin applying behavioral science methods to identify viable solutions to these barriers, and the need for those solutions to be tailored to local contexts to be effective. Feedback from participants collected after the training suggested that the content was useful in their work, and our training structure helped them learn key concepts.


“All lessons shared were related to our daily routine and what I liked the most was the approach of the lesson, which made it easier for me to relate it to my day-to-day activities.” –Training Participant, Nigeria, 2021


The feedback we collected from our participants, as well as lessons we learned from this first cohort about how best to structure and share materials with training participants, will help us adjust our materials and approach for future training sessions with social protection teams in other countries. As cash transfer programs continue to expand across economies in the Global South, they face growing demands to deliver greater benefits for social protection per dollar spent. With light-touch improvements to the design of cash transfer programs, behavioral solutions can improve social protection outcomes at little, if any, additional cost. Equipping more practitioners and staff members with new skills through our easily scalable training curriculum, we are making progress toward our goal of increasing an understanding of behavioral science and its usefulness among program administrators and frontline staff in the strongest position to strengthen social protection programs, and by extension, improve lives.

If you would like to learn more about our virtual training series for global social protection programs, please contact Kate MacLeod at