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Behavioural science & migration

How can behaviour science be used to promote safe migration?

Migration is a relatively new field for behavioural science but it’s a field with a great deal of potential.

People all over the world make choices every day about migration – deciding whether to travel, where to go, how to go and so on. Behavioural science can improve the outcomes of people choosing to travel or pursue local opportunities instead and ensure that the decisions they make are informed by accurate information.

Why does this matter?

More than 20,000 migrants have died in West Africa and on overseas routes from the region to Europe since 2014, according to data from IOM’s Missing Migrants Project.

Research from IOM has shown that people often embark on their journeys without accurate or complete information, and therefore may be unknowingly putting their lives at risk. Migration is also big business for people smugglers who often spread misinformation for monetary gain.

Several projects within IOM leverage insights from behavioural science, particularly in Social and Behaviour Change Communication (SBCC) campaigns, which focus on empowering young people with a desire or plan to migrate in the future to make informed migration-related decisions.

How does IOM apply a behavioural science approach to awareness raising?

Our practice of behavioural science follows the classic methodology:

Identify and define the problems and communities affected

For example with Migrants as Messengers, two problems were identified and defined:

  • Irregular migration to Europe with painful testimonies from returned migrants or rescued migrants.
  • A large dose of misinformation and a lack of information related to migration decisions.

Define the desired behaviour change

In this case of irregular migration, we noted a strong trust in local networks and a weak institutional-level communication about migration.

Develop solutions

  • Migrants as Messengers relies on returned migrants to sensitize communities on the risks associated with irregular migration
  • IOM X encourages community awareness campaigns using C4D to empower target audiences to make informed migration decisions.

Test solutions

Scientifically rigorous impact evaluations are used to assess the impact of interventions, including:

  • The systematic review of the evaluation of awareness raising campaigns in the field of migration;
  • An experimental and quasi-experimental study to test new approaches:
  1. A highly controlled Randomized Control Trial (RCT) in Dakar, Senegal;
  2. A much less controlled and somewhat more realistic community-based cluster randomized controlled trial (cRCT) cluster underway in 4 West African countries;
  3. Effectiveness of using WhatsApp to measure migration behaviour
  4. Effectiveness of Facebook campaigns
  • Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) surveys where representatives of the target audience are surveyed before and after an intervention.

We use our research results to inform more effective project design.


Behavioural science & migration
How social theatre contributes to safer migration
A toolkit designed to tackle migration misinformation

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