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  • 27th May 2022

Leveraging behavioural insights to build lasting peace

The conflict with Boko Haram in northeast Nigeria has claimed the lives of 39,000 people, displacing over 2.5 million from their homes and destroying over $9 billion of physical infrastructure.

The devastation and extreme violence over the last decade has left deep social and psychological wounds, resulting in the need for peaceful reconciliation and reintegration of former members. However, rehabilitation programmes for former associates, such as Operation Safe Corridor in Nigeria, face strong scepticism from community members.

Our previous work in the region, in collaboration with our Smartpeace partners, sought to improve the skills and knowledge of facilitators to encourage constructive dialogue in situations of conflict. Building on this work, our latest trial used behavioural insights to promote the reintegration of Boko Haram associates back into the community. Here’s what we did.

Applying behavioural insights to promote reintegration

We partnered with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to create and test short radio messages to encourage the reintegration of ex low-risk Boko Haram associates.

We conducted interviews with male and female community leaders and former low-risk Boko Haram associates to learn about their experiences. Using the words of these strong local voices, we then constructed three short audio clips in both English and Hausa. In order to protect the identity of interviewees, actors were used for audio voice-overs.

Each clip had the same basic structure consisting of:

  • i) Information about the reintegration process to increase transparency;
  • ii) Community members with relatable experiences talking about how they have forgiven former associates and support their reintegration;
  • iii) Former Boko Haram associates talking about their experience highlighting their repentance and the positive contribution they are now able to make to their communities.

Each clip was then assigned a final vital component i.e. behavioural insights designed to foster support for the reintegration of Boko Haram associates into their community. The insights incorporated were as follows:

Behavioural Insight Description
Social Norms Highlighting that the majority of people are supporting the reintegration. E.g. 9 out of 10 said they would welcome back a repentant ex-affiliate. (included in the Information (Inf), Community Members (CM), and Former Boko Haram associates (FBK) clips)
Positive Contribution Highlighting the positive contribution that former associates can bring once reintegrated into communities. E.g. The community is gaining from the skills they can provide. They now teach some of our children how to make shoes, bags and even tailoring. (Inf; CM)
Relatable Peers/Role Modelling Using the voices of community members, who have been victims themselves of Boko Haram and have forgiven them, to reinforce the perception that other people like them are supporting re-integration. (CM)
Self-Disclosure Using the voices of former associates themselves and hearing their personal stories, including of their hardships and route out of Boko Haram to increase listeners’ trust of former associates. (FBK)
Operational Transparency Increasing transparency about the reintegration process, by providing information on Operation Safe Corridor, to demystify and increase the legitimacy of the process. (Inf)
Highlight Similarities Demonstrating the similarities between former associates and community members, rather than the differences. E.g. we [former associates and community members] eat, joke and pray together. (CM; FBK)

How we evaluated this intervention

To understand the impact of these audio clips on attitudes towards people formerly associated with Boko Haram, we asked a representative sample of 2,498 respondents in Maiduguri and Abuja in Nigeria to listen to one of the three interventions or a control audio unrelated to reintegration, and then complete a 20-minute face-to-face survey.

We found that all three audio interventions significantly improved the support for reintegration, including reported willingness to live nearby or trade with people formerly associated with Boko Haram, with the community members clip having an 18% improvement willingness to engage with ex-affiliates.

So what caused these changes in attitudes to former Boko Haram associates? The underlying mechanisms driving this attitudinal change was dependent on the content of the clip. For instance, the ex-affiliate clip increased people’s belief that former Boko Haram associates could actually change. It also boosted feelings of forgiveness towards former associates. The effect of the community members clip, however, was solely driven by increasing people’s forgiveness towards former associates. None of the clips significantly shifted perceptions of social norms around reintegration.

In terms of behavioural outcomes, over 50% of people were willing to donate part of their incentive to take part in the study to a charity supporting reintegration. However, while we see an increase in donations for people who heard the ex-affiliates clip, this difference is not statistically significant.

The impact 

These audio interventions were subsequently broadcast on one of the most popular radio stations in North-East Nigeria in Hausa and English, as part of a communications plan by IOM to support the National and State governments to disseminate information about the rehabilitation, reintegration, and reconciliation processes. Overall, this evaluation provides evidence that mass media, even in short format, can help shift attitudes in a peacebuilding context.


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