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BiteSCIze with Sarah Osman
  • Who are you?

I am Founder of Osman Advisory Services, a consultancy firm that primarily works at the intersection of social and behavioural science and international development. 

  • How did you get into Behavioural Science?

Ever since I can remember, I always knew that I wanted to study psychiatry or psychology. I completed my master’s in cognitive psychology at Maastricht University in 2005. I specialised in health psychology and behaviour change. 

  • What are you working on right now? 

I am supporting a large international NGO in developing their global social and behaviour change framework, which will guide the teams’ programme design in more than 100 countries. I am also active in a community of practice that is looking at how AI can be used effectively in the social and behaviour change space. 

  • What do you like most about what you do?

I created my dream job. Since my third year at university, I knew that I wanted to make psychology central to international development. I am doing what I always felt was my natural path and my niche. 

  • What role is there for communications in changing behaviour?

Communication is central to behaviour change. Behaviour change tactics need to be translated into a communication modality that works for the audience we want to engage with. This means we need to have nuanced understanding of what ‘communications’ means in the context we are working in. For example, in one context and for a specific topic, impactful communication channels can mean the informal conversations one has while picking their kids up from school. In another, it might mean the WhatsApp group one is a member of. In yet another, it might mean a mass media campaign. 

For communications to be effective in changing behaviour, we have to understand how our audience is most likely to engage with what we want to share and how the behaviour change tactics we identified are going to be translated into that specific modality. 

  • If you could work on / research any topic what would it be and why?

I would love to work closely with policymakers in Africa to make social and behavioural science a natural part in decision-making processes and in how policy-making teams work together. Many of the challenges we face in African countries are systems and structures driven, so we need to get those levels to work well.

  • What is your favourite behavioural science paper/book/resource and why?

The Intervention Mapping book is my go-to when I feel the need for a boost in scientific methodology and theory. The paper that has had the most impact on my thinking over the last couple of years is Ruth Schmidt’s paper on choice infrastructure where she introduces us to the SPACE framework. And more recently, the Behaviour Change Ontology which I have started digging into is incredibly important for more effective intervention design. 

  • Who do you think is interesting in the general field?

I really enjoy Adam Mastroianni’s blog and the way he uses humour to talk about psychology. 

  • What haven’t we asked you that we should have?

How do you use your behavioural science skills in other parts of your work and your life?

  • Who is one person that we can speak to for our next interview and if you could ask them one question, what would it be?

I’m really interested in the digital determinants of behaviour and there are some interesting research groups in the Netherlands working on the topic. I can’t point you to a single person, but perhaps someone from this research group. I’d love to know whether they think we can expect entirely new ways of thinking about behaviour and behaviour change as a result of the digital world we live in. 

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