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

Pistacchio cupcake,  Marjolein Knuit

Pistacchio cupcake, Marjolein Knuit

It was great to spend a day with environmentalists and psychologists, at the IEMA/British Psychological Society conference on pro-environmental behaviour change.  All of the presentations and associated materials are here.

The British Psychological Society (BPS) has an Occupational Psychology chapter, and that's where its Going Green working group lives.  They are on twitter too, here. It's great that people with real insight into what's going on inside our funny old heads are bringing that expertise to these problems.  I wish we'd heard more from the psychology experts, like Jan Maskell, alongside the inspiration offered by a scan of macro level massive changes (from Andrew Simms) and a personal story of redemption and individual action (Simon Jordan of #5ThingsClear).  From IEMA/GACSO network, myself and Vincent Neate led more interactive sessions, where people got to have some fun talking together and applying the frameworks.

Jan Maskell showed this diagram: see Susan Michie, Maartje van Stralen and Robert West in 2011 in the journal Implementation Science, and

Jan Maskell showed this diagram: see Susan Michie, Maartje van Stralen and Robert West in 2011 in the journal Implementation Science, and

Jan briefly touched on how a psychological approach fits in with interventions and categories of public policy.  Really interesting territory - bridging the gap between 'leaving it up to us' and 'leaving it up to them'. I'd have enjoyed exploring this in more detail.

Creating change through individual behaviours

Not all of the sustainability outcomes we want to bring about are best approached through individual behaviour change, and to suggest so can mean that those with substantial power (political leaders, organisational leaders etc) are let off the hook.  But assuming individual behaviour change is likely to be helpful or necessary, then here are some criteria for pin-pointing the behaviour you want to influence.

  • Enthusiasm - there should be a buzz of enthusiasm about the kind of changes you are looking to bring about. Everyone is trying to reduce plastic use at the moment.

  • Agreed - there will be experts who can give a view as to whether the new behaviour is viable, and stakeholders who need to agree to support it. There's no point getting everyone to bring in reusable cups, if the people who run the catering in your office can't fit them into their machines or haven't been given the go-ahead to use them.

  • Simple - the new behaviour should be simple to describe and to do.

  • Improves Impact - the new behaviour should actually make a psoitive difference to the outcome you are working towards, without big environmental or social downsides.

Think you might have trouble remembering this checklist?  It's EASII.

Six sources of influence

I offered this satisfyingly neat model, originally developed by Grenny, Patterson, Maxfield, McMillan and Switzler and described in detail in their book Influencer: The New Science of Leading Change.

Having run through the model, people got into groups, chose a behaviour that they wanted to encourage, and worked on how they could use the six sources of influence to maximise their changes of success.

I have written about this model and how it's been used elsewhere, including here and here on changing travel behaviour, and here on the role of 'critical mass' for some pro-sustainability behaviours.

The handout is here, so do use this model to help you change behaviour where you are.