Behaviour change campaigns are often based on the premise that changing behaviour is all about changing minds. Influence people’s fundamental attitudes and beliefs and you will change how they act. These kinds of interventions grounded on ‘information provision and control’ approach are being used in a wide range of domains – from health and medicine through to finance and recycling – to varying degrees of success.
New research and analysis (Miller & Prentice 2014), however, reminds us of the importance of understanding the motives behind people’s behaviour, in addition to attitudes and beliefs. An appreciation of the underlying motivational dynamics is particularly important if we want to secure long-term behavioural effects. The prime difficulty is that while most people can articulate what they think about a particular issue, most people are relatively unaware of why they are thinking and acting in specific ways.
Basic research, such as an online survey or telephone interview, is unlikely to throw sufficient light on the motivational dynamics. Instead, a thorough analysis of individual circumstances and the external context is required.
Essentially, individuals experience multiple pressures and forces when deciding how to act in situations (Lewin 1951). These forces that are either driving movement toward a goal (helping forces) or blocking movement toward a goal (hindering forces).
Thus we can incentivise people to change (helping forces) but it may be that their behaviour is held in place by hindering forces. The analogy is a spring held in place by a block. You can exert pressure for change and the spring will contract, but cannot move very far because of the block (and as soon as the forces are removed or lose their potency the spring goes back to its original setting). To get bigger and more long lasting change you need to reposition the block i.e. focus on the restraining forces.
Successful behaviour change campaigns identify and understand the interplay between these different forces.
For example, Ideas in Motion, our award winning campaign for Southend-On-Sea Borough Council, is helping to reduce congestion in the town centre and increase the use of sustainable transport (encouraging people to cycle, walk and take a bus rather than drive their car). The change programme addresses both helping forces and hindering forces.
The research highlighted that ‘Go Green’ messaging is unlikely to help people towards sustainable transport (in fact, it may well have the opposite effect). Instead, we highlight reduced travel times, money savings and health benefits of cycling and walking. In terms of hindering forces, we address safety concerns associated with cycling and walking head on, providing training, support and guidance on optimum routes. We are also working with the council to implement infrastructure changes such as the introduction of cycling routes and cheap showering facilities for cyclers – previously identified as key hindering factors.
A related, but critical, element is influencing perceptions of social norms, where anything other than driving is seen as odd. We worked hard to champion a range of different role models, all of whom have successfully adopted (and benefitted from) sustainable transport behaviour.
We believe the lessons learned from Ideas in Motion, based on a thorough understanding of the motivational dynamics determining behaviour, could be applied to other transport challenges across the UK.