Rapid Evidence Review

The Role of Social and Behavioural Sciences in Emergencies and Crises

23rd April 2024
Author: Catherine Grant

What is the role of social and behavioural sciences in emergencies and crises and what has been the impact of (and learnings from?) its application on supporting emergency responses and on reducing or mitigating the impacts of crises in LMICs, particularly on the world’s most vulnerable people.

Social and behavioural sciences (SBS) have a lot to offer in a crisis situation. This K4DD Rapid Evidence Review outlines what a crisis is and how it changes behaviours and realities during its existence, it gives case study examples of the impact of SBS during crises and why we need these approaches, outlines the key learnings from using these approaches and explains how SBS can be supported by donors.

Through these examples, the main areas that should be drawn out showing its areas of usefulness are:

  • Contextualisation: SBS is essential in a crisis for contextualising the impact within specific cultural, economic, and social contexts, allowing for tailored and culturally sensitive response strategies.
  • Perspectives on political economy: By incorporating perspectives from political economy, SBS enables a comprehensive analysis of how this influences crisis dynamics, guiding policymakers in developing responses that address both immediate and systemic issues.
  • Lived experiences – views ‘from below’: SBS captures the perspectives of individuals and communities ‘from below,’ providing a nuanced understanding of their lived experiences during a crisis, which is vital for empathetic and effective response initiatives.
  • Understanding of social differences: SBS facilitates an understanding of social differences, enabling the appreciation of vulnerabilities and informing interventions that consider the diverse needs and challenges faced by different demographic groups during a crisis.
  • Understandings of illness and help seeking: Insights from SBS contribute to a better understanding of how individuals perceive illness and engage in help-seeking behaviours, aiding in the development of targeted health communication strategies and healthcare services during a crisis.
  • Understanding responses of communities: SBS helps decipher and anticipate the responses of communities to outside intervention, allowing approaches that align with local norms, values, and community dynamics.
  • The healthcare system: In a crisis, SBS is instrumental in assessing the dynamics of the healthcare system, ensuring that responses are aligned with the system’s capacity, addressing challenges, and optimising healthcare delivery.
  • Formal and informal institutions and authorities: SBS provides insights into the formal and informal institutions and authorities relevant for response at the local level, aiding in the coordination of efforts and leveraging existing structures for an effective crisis response.
  • Understanding local capacities for response: By examining local relations, networks, and institutions, SBS helps identify and harness existing capacities for response at the community level, facilitating a more decentralised and community-driven crisis management approach.
  • Acceptability of technologies: SBS plays a crucial role in assessing the acceptability of technologies during a crisis, considering factors such as cultural attitudes, trust, and accessibility to ensure the successful implementation of technological solutions in crisis response efforts.
Suggested Citation

Grant, C. (2024). The Role of Social and Behavioural Sciences in Emergencies and Crises. Rapid Evidence Review 3. Brighton, UK: Institute of Development Studies. DOI: 10.19088/K4DD.2024.005


23rd April 2024


Continent: Global