What is behaviour change?

Behaviour change is a relatively new discipline, sometimes called behavioural science, which works from a more realistic understanding of what makes people tick.

  • We all know that the decisions people make are rarely the result of a rational calculation
  • However, this irrationality is in itself quite predictable and we have a growing understanding of the rules of thumb that govern behaviour
  • This can help us design interventions that encourage people do the right thing
  • It’s also about moving from telling people what to do to helping them do it. So not just using communication but thinking about the whole range of ways we might change the environment which influences people’s behaviour

Behavioural scientists are assembling a powerful body of evidence of what works when it comes to changing behaviour.  Many of these academic case studies have become familiar – things like using hotel towels again or people missing Doctor’s appointments.  Others have started to find their way into public policy in areas like auto-enrolment pensions and organ donation.

At Behaviour Change we’re seeking to build our own bank of knowledge of what works, taking what has been learned in academia and translating it into on the ground practice.  Unlike government or academics, we often find ourselves working in challenging circumstances where we do not control the processes we are trying to influence and cannot guarantee people will want to engage with us.  Our clients range from small charities to large multinationals.

We use a three-stage process on all projects to help us get to the right answer

7 lessons we’ve learned:

1. Be clear about your objectives

When tackling antisocial behaviour on nights out in York, we defined the specific behaviours we needed to target and how we could help people change them

2. Be sensitive to your audience

In our work with housing associations to help residents with debt problems, many existing engagement efforts were proving counterproductive and a new approach was needed

3. Do you need to change the language?

To make energy efficiency appealing, we needed to discard tired and unhelpful language and reframe it in a positive and empowering way, which makes people far more likely to engage

4. Don’t tell people what to do, help them do it

Working with the National Trust to encourage children to enjoy the great outdoors, we created 50 Things to do before you’re 11¾ to give families a structure and a set of goals to work towards

5. Show that the desired behaviour is normal

To encourage people to share the path in the South Downs, we found that celebrating friendly and responsible behaviour as normal was far more effective than telling people what they should or shouldn’t do

6. Be in the right place at the right time

In our work to encourage drivers to switch to the bus, we focused on moments of pain when taking the car into town might not have seemed such a good idea, offering them a free ticket to try the bus next time

7. Amplify your impact through partnerships

Since 2009, our Eat Seasonably project has relied on influential partners, including Tesco, Compass and the Women’s Institute, to take the content we create centrally and use their own channels to share them with the public

If you’d like to find out more about our approach to behaviour change, get in touch.

And in the meantime, here’s a nice film we made…