Nothing so practical as theory: a rapid review of the use of behaviour change theory in family planning interventions involving men and boys

Martin Robinson, Áine Aventin*, Jennifer Hanratty, Eimear Ruane-McAteer, Mark Tomlinson, Mike Clarke, Friday Okonofua, Maria Lohan

*Corresponding author for this work

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There is growing recognition of the need for interventions that effectively involve men and boys in interventions to promote family planning behaviours. Research evidence suggests that the most effective behavioural interventions in this field are founded on theoretical principles of behaviour change and gender equality. However, there are few evidence syntheses reporting how theoretical approaches are applied in this context to guide best practice in intervention development. This review sought to address this gap by examining the application and reporting of theories of behaviour change used by family planning interventions involving men and boys.
We adopted a systematic rapid review approach, scoping findings of a previously reported evidence and gap map of intervention reviews (2007-2018) and supplementing this with publication and grey literature searches for primary research and protocol documents between 2007 and 2020. From 941 non-duplicate records identified, 63 were included for review.

Most records referenced interventions taking place in low- and middle-income countries (65%). There were a wide range of intervention theories of change reported, typically targeting individual-level behaviours and sometimes comprising several behaviour change theories and strategies. The most commonly identified theories were Social Cognitive Theory, Social Learning Theory, the Theory of Planned Behaviour, and the IMB Skills Model. A minority of records explicitly detailed gender-informed elements within their theory of change.
The findings highlight the range of prevailing theories of change used, and the considerable variability in their reporting. Programmers and policy makers would be best served by unified reporting and testing of intervention change theories. There remains a need for consistent reporting of intervention theories of change to better understand precisely how complex interventions involving men and boys in family planning lead to behaviour change.
Original languageEnglish
Article number126
Number of pages26
JournalReproductive Health
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Statement: This work was funded by the Centre of Excellence for Development Impact and Learning (CEDIL), supported by UKAID from the UK Government [Grant: S.238].


  • Behaviour Change
  • Reproductive Health
  • Family Planning
  • Rapid Review
  • Men and Boys


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