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Barrier Analysis


Disciplines > Change Management > Diagnosing change > Barrier Analysis

Define | Develop | Organize | Collect | Analyze | Use | See also


Barrier Analysis is a method for identifying and assessing behavior and determinants of behavior in order to plan more effective communications and other activity.

It has been particularly used in health and community development programs where cultural barriers can hinder local people in adopting healthier behaviors. It is particularly useful in general change for understanding:

  1. Whether a large target group is behaving in a desired way,
  2. The reasons for behaving in a non-desirable way.

A particularly useful part of barrier analysis is in the way it examines both conforming and non-confirming individuals to determine effective behavioral change.


The first step is to set out and set up the project, clarifying the scope and boundaries of what is and what is not included.

Define the goal

Identify the desired overall outcome in terms of what you want to achieve, for example to reduce the number of deaths from a certain disease.

Define the behavior

Describe the specific behavior that is required in order to achieve the goal, for example taking a specific medicine to a given schedule. Include what behavior must be changed or stopped, such as not touching contagious people.

Identify the target groups

Name the groups of people who must adopt the behavior, such as 'adults over the age of 25 in the Markama region'.


Develop behavior question

Develop a simple question to clearly determine whether the person being questioned is behaving in the desired way or not.

Develop determinant questions

Identify questions to ask that will uncover the thought processes behind behaving in a desirable or non-desirable way. Formulate the question to uncover individual opinions and feelings rather than platitudes and 'easy' answers.

These questions should also help identify whether supposed barriers are actual barriers to effective behavior or not. It can be helpful to start with an open question in the general area of the behavior ('Tell me about how you / what happens / etc...').

Determinants of behavior include perceptions of:

  • Susceptibility: Could it happen to me?
  • Severity: Would it have a big impact?
  • Action efficacy: Would the proposed solution work?
  • Social acceptability: What would others say if I adopted the solution?
  • Self-efficacy: Do I have the time / access / skills / money / etc. to do it?
  • Action cues: How will I remember to use it?
  • Divine will: Does my God want /allow this?
  • Negatives and positives: How will it harm / help me?

Questions should carefully worded so they are clear and unambiguous. Note that the exact wording of the questions may change depending on whether focus groups or interviews are used for data collection.


Plan for the data collection exercise. This may be done by face-face interview or focus group. Surveys are much less desirable. If you are using focus groups then have 'doers' and 'non-doers' in separate groups.

In doing this you will need to recruit sufficient numbers of target people, book locations and train interviewers as necessary.

Target people include 'doers' who are exhibiting desired behavior as well as 'non-doers' who are not behaving as desired.


As necessary, train facilitators and interviewers before the actual session. Before the session also ensure people know where to go and how long the session will last.

Implement the rest of the plan, interviewing or using focus groups to collect data on determinants of behavior amongst doers and non-doers.

Do not hurry to an answer. It is often better to explore the wider area and then increasingly probe for specific perceptions. Check for each determinant whether it is a barrier for both doers and non-doers and to what degree this is a problem for them. Also explore their thinking behind the problems they see and what they currently do about it.

If you have already implemented some methods or communications that are intended to address behaviors or perceptions, then explore the effectiveness (or not) of these.

Be sure to write down or otherwise record what is said. Whatever recording method you use, ensure the people involved are happy with this (change your method or allow people to leave as appropriate).


Organize data

Tabulate or otherwise organize the data such that you can classify and count common perceptions and differentiate between doer and non-doer views.

Analyze data

Work to create accurate and complete findings that may be used to drive effective action. Beware of generalizing individual views into widely-held views. When there are different words used, look for underlying commmonalities, for example using coding.

Look at the differences between doers and non-doers, in particular for barriers that are a problem for doers but not for non-doers (these often offer the best way forward).

Produce results

Write up the results in a format that is suitable both for immediate use and future communication to others. Highlight the key behavior determinants that must be addressed and ways that doers approach these.


Solution design

Use the results to design the actions you will take in order to change behavior. Consider the current communications that are used and how effective or not they are.

The design may include such as:

  • Simple written communications about the solution.
  • Discussions and dialog about the solution.
  • Training and other practical education.
  • Feedback of the successes of others.
  • Using 'converts' to help persuade others.

Solution implementation

Implement the solution as planned. If the efficacy of the solution is uncertain, it may be useful to start with a smaller pilot trial.

If possible, include some method of monitoring of perceptions and behaviors to give early and ongoing feedback of project success.

Learn and revise

Observe the behavior and / or repeat the data collection exercise to determine what changes have taken place in practice. As necessary, revise the solution to improve its positive effect and reduce negative effects.

See also

Measurement in social research, Ethnographic Research


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