behaviour change theories

All About Change! Discussing pro-environment behaviour change with psychologists

All About Change! Discussing pro-environment behaviour change with psychologists

It was great to spend a day with environmentalists and psychologists, at the IEMA/British Psychological Society conference on pro-environmental behaviour change. People with real insight into what's going on inside our funny old heads are bringing that expertise to these problems. 

Changing travel behaviour

Here are some fascinating examples of staff behaviour change initatives, particularly about travel, which have been carefully thought through, using creative responses to the elements which might enable and discourage the new desired behaviours.  I've analysed them using the six sources of influence framework which still feels very intuitive and helpful to me, a few years after I first came across it.  (There's a very useful summary here.) This article was published in the environmentalist on paper and on line, last month. The article didn't have room for the table below, so when you've read it, come back and see this more systematic matching of actions to sources of influence in the case of Akzo-Nobel's sales team car travel.

Motivation

Ability

Personal

Using the sales forces’ existing strong competitive instincts and love of gadgets.  Not using eco-awareness as a motivator.

Provide targeted training.

Social

Popular simulator game, competing for highest mpg.

 

Not used for this behaviour change.

Structural

One for the future – considering how to incorporate a fuel-efficiency aspect into the reward scheme.

Fuel-efficient choices and real-time mpg displays in cars.

The article was written some weeks ago, before the encounter with a disgruntled staff member which I blogged about here.  (Neither of the organisations in the article is the one in that blog.)

Pondering on the approaches take by Lloyds and Akzo-Nobel would have avoided this response, I'm thinking that this is probably less about the specific initiative, and more about the sense of alienation that staff have from the organisation they work for.  If you're grumpy generally about your workplace, then an initiative like the low-carbon diet will exacerbate and provide a focus for that anger.

Greenwash or win-win?

Trewin Restorick at eco-behaviour NGO Global Action Plan has also blogged recently about staff travel.  A good period of internal engagement prior to setting up systems and initatives - to make sure that incentives and polices are aligned rather than contradicting each other - seems needed, given some of the insights he describes.  He makes an interesting point about greenwash - in this case, dressing up a travel reduction initative as an environmental benefit when it is 'really' a cost-saving measure.  This is in contrast with Paul Turner's experience, described in my article, of seeing the dual-benefit as a win-win which enables Lloyds' to appeal to different groups of staff.

 

(Dis)engaging staff

"Who do they think they are preaching to?"

A visit to a client's canteen earlier this week brought me face-to-face with one extremely disgruntled staff member. In the queue, my contact pointed out the points-based reward system staff can now choose to join, which incentivises choosing a meat-free or meat-and-dairy-free meal. Like a coffee-shop loyalty card, you accumulate points and get mystery prizes. The explicit motivation is calorie-reduction and carbon-reduction: a vegan meal has, it is explained, a lower carbon footprint and is better for you.

Bottled up discontent

I asked whether there had been any controversy about the scheme, knowing that promoting a lower-impact or reduced-meat diet is considered very hard in this Defra research.  Behind us, a member of staff neither of us knew spat out

"Well you're not allowed to disagree around here!"

She continued:

"Who do they think they're preaching to?  What makes them think they're always right? What do they think they're doing interfering with our private lives?"

She was clearly very angry about it.

The organisation in question is one which has a public and explicit commitment to a low-carbon future, and it could be expected that a high proportion of staff are personally committed to reducing their environmental impact.  So this reaction was surprising.

Unpacking the outburst

I think it's worth unpacking the points, to see if there's something to be learnt about engaging staff in this kind of impact-reduction activity:

  • 'Preaching' is a word often used when the recipient of the message considers themselves to be at least as 'ethical', if not more, than the person transmitting the message.  Perhaps this staff member considers herself to already have a strong personal set of ethics and practices, and resents the perceived implication that she needs to be told to do more.  Perhaps she is unhappy about the way the organisation approaches its corporate impacts, and resents being asked to make a personal change when she thinks not enough is happening at the bigger level.
  • 'What makes them think they are always right?'  I wonder if there was an opportunity for knowledgeable people within the organisation to challenge the underlying generalisation that meat-free is healthier or better from a carbon perspective, or to contribute to developing the project. Perhaps this person has specialist knowledge which leads her to be uncomfortable with this simplification?
  • 'Interfering with private lives'.  This is an interesting one. The setting for this initiative is a staff canteen, possibly (I don't know) subsidised by the employer.  People are not obliged to eat there, although it is cheaper and more convenient than going to local cafes.  The scheme is voluntary, and around 1/3 of the staff have joined it. the scheme includes small incentives for 'better' choices, but there are no disincentives for 'poor' choices.  Previous initiatives include asking people to use the stairs rather than the lift, and switching off equipment when not in use. These have been successful in reducing energy use in the buildings.  What is it about eating, which makes it feel part of this person's 'private life'?
  • 'You can't disagree around here'. This is a big problem in any organisation. When disagreement is counter-cultural to the point where a member of staff blurts it out to a stranger...  There's something unhealthy about a level of top-down orthodoxy which means that it does not feel safe to say no.  Every organisation needs mechanisms and culture which enable authentic conversation (this does not mean that every decision needs to be unanimous).

One dissenter?

Perhaps it doesn't matter that this one person feels this way.  After all, staff take-up of the initiative seems pretty high, and the person I was meeting was an enthusiastic user of the points scheme.

Or this one person could be giving voice to concerns and needs which are shared more widely.  If it's really the case that people find it very hard to tell colleagues that they disagree, then it will be hard to know.

Engage with resistance

Peggy Holman maintains that we serve our goals best when we engage with those who disagree and dissent.  Seek out difference, listen harder, enquire into the needs and concerns which are being offered as a gift into the conversation, understand the common aims and see where a 'yes, and' response might lead.

Richard Seel similarly champions diversity as a critical condition for emergence of new ways of doing things.

Let's reflect together

What else might have been going on here? What could the scheme designers have done to avoid this? And what can they do now, to respond?

Let me know what you think...

 

 

Good for your skin, your figure and the planet!

If you're trying to get fashion-crazy teens and young people interested in climate change, it makes sense to start where they are.  And that's what Global Cool have done, in their Eighteen Degrees of Inspiration campaign. But isn't it superficial, missing the point, and above all not going to get the scale of change we need at a systemic level?

Well, according to Chris Rose's VBCOP theory, starting where people are and eliciting changed behaviour for non-'green' reasons is the most effective way to build up political space for systemic change.

Want to know more?

I've written about this in the environmentalist, and you can read that article here.

Community and behaviour – when critical mass makes all the difference

I was pointing people towards the six sources of influence in some behaviour change training recently, and went back to some original sources to remind myself about the distinctions between the six sources. To recap, the six sources are arranged into a two-by-three table, with ‘motivation’ and ‘ability’ divided into personal, social and structural.  In this explanation on the VitalSmarts blog the two ‘social’ sources of influence have been merged.  This bothered me – is there really so little distinction between social motivation (peer pressure) and social ability?

It seems to me that the distinction is brought most sharply into focus when critical mass is needed to make a behaviour viable.  Want to buy more locally-produced food?  A farmers’ market or a local veggie box scheme needs a critical mass of producers and customers to be viable.  Setting up a lift share scheme?  You’re going to need more than two members.  Freecycling?  Hackney Freecycle has over 17,000 members (yes, really) generating about 1,500 messages about free stuff for giving and taking a month.

Now this kind of critical mass isn’t going to be important for all the behaviours you want to change, which is probably why the distinctions isn’t so clear in some of the descriptions.  But where it is, then special attention needs to be given to recruiting the mass.

  • How will you make it as widely-known as possible?
  • How will you make it simple for people to let you know they’re up for it?
  • How will you make it easy to store information about a pool of people and then ‘activate’ them you have enough mass to start things?
  • And how will you use their good ideas and information to shape the system, so that it works for enough of them?

There’s a virtuous circle which can come into play here.  This was brought home to me by a stakeholder engagement planning meeting which I ran last week with a community organisation which has been awarded substantial funding through the Low Carbon Communities Challenge.  We did a quick brainstorm of all the non-carbon related ‘social capital’ in their village – the formal and informal organisations which bring people together and build a sense of community.  The population is about 2,000 and the group came up with over thirty formal groups, clubs or regular events (one for every 67 people!) and a host of informal groupings.  Active community organisations build community channels and hubs for conversation.  Members will have more connection with each other, and more trust, than people who are merely residents of the same place.  So a critical mass of ‘warm’ people is much easier to find.

I was bowled over by how many active societies there are, and we all felt very positive about the potential for drawing on this wonderful resource for the low-carbon activities the group has planned.

Actions we take which help build community – in our neighbourhoods or workplaces – all add to the web of interconnections which form fertile soil for future behaviour change.

Community and behaviour – when critical mass makes all the difference

I was pointing people towards the six sources of influence in some behaviour change training recently, and went back to some original sources to remind myself about the distinctions between the six sources. To recap, the six sources are arranged into a two-by-three table, with ‘motivation’ and ‘ability’ divided into personal, social and structural.  In this explanation on the VitalSmarts blog the two ‘social’ sources of influence have been merged.  This bothered me – is there really so little distinction between social motivation (peer pressure) and social ability?

New Year, new you?

I've been mulling over the meaning of  'resolution' as the New Year crept up on me.

Plot resolution

Sometimes, a resolution can be the end of something - like when Poirot gathers everyone together to explain who the murderer is.  The threads are drawn together, the loose ends are tied up.  The plot is resolved and that chapter of the characters' lives closed.

Perhaps, as Auld Lang Syne is sung, some New Year's resolutions are to do with leaving family feuds behind as people close the old year neatly.

Resolving dilemmas

In the field of stakeholder engagement - particularly the part of the spectrum I'm happiest in, where the aim is co-enquiry and co-creation, and the approach is closer to dialogue - resolution is often about understanding dilemmas and choices, and finding the win-win.

I'm not sure how this might apply to New Year Resolutions.  I guess there would need to be a lot of exploration and reflection in the autumn and winter months in order for a resolution of this kind to emerge bang on schedule on 31st December.  This kind of self-imposed yet public deadline can help coordinate the efforts of the various people involved - although it doesn't seem to have been useful at Copenhagen.

Making your mind up

Related to resolving a dilemma is the idea of coming to a conclusion about a choice or decision.  When you resolve to do something, you are consciously committing to a particular course of action.   When Lady Macbeth urges her wavering husband to "screw your courage to the sticking-place" she's encouraging him to strengthen his resolve and take an action which is irreversible.   The scene ends with Macbeth reassuring her "I am settled".

This kind of resolution must surely lead to significant and rapid action - delay might 'unsettle' the resolution.

Conference, I move

Many years ago, I had the dubious honour of being part of a team organising the formal annual conference of a UK NGO.  Its particular semi-democratic structure meant that every year we had 'motions to conference' which, if passed, became 'resolutions'.  Some people took the standing orders of the conference very seriously, and were helpful in making sure that we stuck to our rules.  Others found the debating and voting process old-fashioned and restrictive, frustrated by the way it turned interesting choices and genuine puzzles into win/lose combats.

These sorts of resolutions bind an organisation - they settle arguments and commit people to action.  Some organisations are very good at wriggling out of the commitments quietly at a later date.  Perhaps the resolution was worded loosely, and is open to interpretation.  Perhaps the process was flawed allowing the resolution to be set aside.  Perhaps the people charged with actioning the resolution have new information which wasn't available at the time, and feel justified in ignoring it.

These are excuses - if the people implementing the resolution really agreed with it, they wouldn't find ways of wriggling out of it.  They'd find ways of pushing it through.

This is beginning to sound a bit more like most people's experiences of New Year's resolutions : commitments which aren't really commitments, where even weak excuses are seized on as explanations and justifications for broken promises.

New Year's resolutions as explicit commitments to change behaviour

I'm working with two different clients on behaviour change at the moment, so I'm particularly interested in the parallels between New Year's resolutions and other ways of encouraging or supporting changed behaviour.

There's an important point to notice here:  New Year's resolutions are, in theory, voluntary.  They are related to a change in behaviour of the person making the commitment.  For both my clients, the behaviour they want to change is other people's behaviour (staff, contractors, consumers).  This seems to me to be a crucial difference, and one which I'm keen to explore more with them and in my wider practice.

Having acknowledged that, what are the parallels between New Year's resolutions and behaviour change programmes?

One striking parallel is the relatively low chances of success combined with a kind of complacent optimism!

I notice over and over how people go into behaviour change work as if they believe that making a commitment and announcing it means that it will happen.  Too often, very little effort is put into preparation, planning and prior engagement. The supporting activities, positive feedback and physical resources are missing.  (See here for a posting about the six sources of influence which help catalyse and reinforce new behaviours.)

Fortunately for us all, the appropriately named Prof. Richard Wiseman, psychologist at the University of Hertfordshire, reveals the secrets of keeping your New Year's resolutions.

Prof. Wiseman's four top tips are:

  1. Break your goal into a series of steps, focusing on creating sub-goals that are concrete, measurable, and time-based.
  2. Tell your friends and family about your goals, thus increasing the fear of failure and eliciting support.
  3. Regularly remind yourself of the benefits associated with achieving your goals by creating a checklist of how life would be better once you obtain your aim.
  4. Expect to revert to your old habits from time to time. Treat any failure as a temporary set-back rather than a reason to give up altogether.

There are six more tips on his blog.

Incidentally, it's worth noting the two categories of resolution: acheiving a goal (in our case, let's use the 10:10 campaign goal of  'cutting carbon emissions by 10% in 2010') and changing a behaviour (for example, not eating meat on Mondays).  Paul Maisey's blog on New Year's resolutions concentrates on setting well-formed, congruent and authentic goals.

One of the comments on the Prof.'s blog astutely observes:

You have to really want the new behaviour, not just the ultimate outcome.

So it's crucial to find behaviours which you enjoy (or could come to enjoy) which contribute to meeting the goal.

My resolution

So I'm off to do my dull old exercises which will, in time, allow my knee to recover sufficiently that I can get back on my bike and feel the wind in my hair as I travel fast and carbon-neutral to meetings.

  1. SMART - do them five times a week.
  2. Tell people - well I'm telling you now.
  3. Remind myself of the benefits - hang my cycle helmet on the back of the office door.
  4. Treat lapses as temporary set-backs not as a 'broken' resolution - I resolve to do this.

And the bonus - how can I want to do the exercises for themselves, as well as wanting the ultimate outcome?  Listen to the radio, award myself a star each day.

And I further resolve to share the Prof.'s research with my clients, when we come to develop approaches to behaviour change.

Happy New Year!

Update

25th Jan - and I'm keeping up with the exercises.  The stars I put in my diary each time I do the stretches are proving motivating.  So far I'm slightly ahead of my goal, which was to do the routine five days out of seven.  And the outcome?  I cycled up to the farmers market on Saturday!

Psychology to save the planet

A recent report by the American Psychological Association, featured in the New Scientist, brings together some of the evidence and theory behind the 'positive thinking' approach to communicating about climate change. It goes something like this: people will block up their ears if you tell them the scary facts and make them feel bad.  Instead, discover what already motivates them and makes them feel good, and use that knowledge to promote the new behaviours you'd like them to adopt.  You might not mention the climate change links at all.

The areas picked up the NS article are:

  • social networks
  • immediate feedback
  • competitive instincts
  • fitting in with the crowd

I'm very excited that this kind of psychological analysis is seeping into the world of technical experts and physical sciences.   How have you been using psychology to help engaging people more effectively?

Cutting the carbs

When I wanted to lose weight and get a bit fitter, I did what millions of women and quite a few men have done around the world - I joined Weight Watchers.  In doing so, I got interested in the parallels between the support and motivations that work for slimming, and the ones we use to promote a low-carbon lifestyle. So I used them to write an article for the environmentalist in November 2006.

Behave!

Changing behaviour, encouraging and enabling pro-environmental behaviours in particular, is endlessly fascinating.  There are lots of theories of behaviour change, and lots of practitioners getting out there and trying to make it happen.  And some of them even succeed from time to time!  This article - Behave - which I wrote in 2007 - covers some approaches.  There are also other models, like the six sources of influence which I came across recently. Start your exploration of that model with this great video!


The UK Government's Defra (Department of Food and Rural Affairs) has its own behaviour change models, which I wrote about here in the context of audience segmentation.  NESTA also produced a great report on the use of established social marketing techniques to sell 'low carbon' living.  My September 08 column in the environmentalist covered that.

Which approaches to behaviour change do you see being used by environmental organisations?  And which are used by multi-national FMCG organisations? (That's Fast Moving Consumer Goods to you and me.)  Clue: the behaviour FMCGs want to influence is purchasing behaviour.