Posts filed under ‘behaviour change’

From cash to commitment

Amy Tomkins writes:

Tackling climate change requires collective action. Yet inspiring consumers to change their behaviour is tough. Lack of engagement, lack of understanding and a sense of powerlessness can all prevent people from taking steps to reduce their carbon footprints.

So I was interested in the presentation that Hermione Taylor, founder of The DoNation, gave when she came into the London office recently. Her new sponsorship site seeks to replace cash with action and help people inspire their friends to live more sustainably. By harnessing the social and viral nature of sponsorship, The DoNation encourages people to engage with environmental issues and take action to change their behaviour. As her diagrams above show, this changes the traditional sponsorship model and makes the whole transaction more direct and efficient. To sponsor a friend, you have to commit to at least one of a number of Do-Actions, or carbon-saving pledges, instead of giving money. Actions can be small steps, such as reducing the amount of meat you eat each week, or more significant, such as committing to installing solar panels.

By using friends seeking sponsorship as messengers, The DoNation aims to reach people who know they should do more for the environment, but need a nudge to inspire action. Sponsors have to commit to their action for two months, with the hope that it will become an ingrained habit. Early indicators suggest that some longer term behaviour change has been prompted, but time will tell if Hermione’s vision is realised.

Looking to the future, The DoNation raises an interesting challenge – does the key to environmental behaviour change lie in making it personal? Whether it be supporting a friend; saving money through energy efficiency or improving your immediate living environment, providing a personal connection point seems essential if people are going to reappraise their own behaviour and start to live more sustainable.  Governments, companies and third sector organisations need to understand better the personal motivations to being more environmentally aware if they are to help achieve a sustainable global future.

You can visit The DoNation at

19 August 2011 at 4:19 pm Leave a comment

Climbing Mount Everest one stair at a time

Amy Esser writes:

Prompted by recent work with clients on changing behaviours  in the area of physical activity, I decided to enrol London office employees in a fitness challenge; to collectively climb the height of Mount Everest in four weeks by climbing the stairs at work.

So, doing the sums, Mount Everest is 29,029 feet high, or 8,848 metres, which equates to 58,070 steps or 3,871 flights of stairs. There are 10 flights of stairs leading up to our office, which means in order to complete the climb in four weeks (20 working days) we need to complete a total of 388 climbs – an average of 19.4 times a day. There are around 40 people in the office on a typical day which means that each individual needs to climb the stairs every other day – but will they? …

So far I am feeling positive – by Day 2 we had already reached the height of Ben Nevis, and if we continue like this we will reach the top of Mount Everest in half the time, although I sense enthusiasm may decline as the days go by.

My theory is that we need to change people’s habits so they fit exercise into their daily routine. Our challenge is about getting people to ditch the elevator for the stairs. And it’s tougher than it should be – our office building has been designed to lure you straight into a lift as you enter whilst the stairs have been hidden behind doors and corridors. One of the first questions I was asked about the challenge was, ‘where are the stairs?’! The actual experience of climbing the stairs is poor and uninspiring. The walls are grey, there are no windows, and our building managers prohibit us from putting up any motivational posters in the stairwells.

What we have been able to do is to encourage people and to communicate the benefits of taking part. One stair climb burns 30 calories, climbing the stairs will tone your legs and bum, and increase your confidence. Having a visual representation of the climb also really helps people engage. We have a log sheet where people sign their names after they have finished a climb, and this act of making your mark gives a sense of achievement and a sense of being part of a group activity.

Personally I’ve found this rewarding: I started a small social movement, and people are thanking me for it, so it seems that some people did want to be prodded to act. And I’ll be interested to see what happens once the challenge is over – will people continue to take the stairs instead of the lift?

11 May 2011 at 2:12 pm 4 comments

From fear to pleasure

Alex Oliver writes:

Looking for better sex? Interested in ways to save money and lose weight? Want to be a better parent and live a long and happy life?

If these questions got your attention, they certainly grabbed mine at the recent Global Social Marketing Conference held in sunny Dublin last week, where Josh Hunt and I spent an intense couple of days presenting our recent behavioural insight work, chatting to academics and practitioners from across the globe, and attending seminars on the latest thinking in social marketing theory.

The conference covered a range of social policy challenges from contraception in African sex workers to breast feeding amongst Texan minority ethnic groups, to reducing extreme racist behaviour in deprived inner city London councils, and a whole bunch of interesting subjects in between.  But in amongst the many theoretical debates, one basic but hitherto understated insight was repeatedly reinforced for me.  That traditional social marketing theory has relied far too heavily on fear as the lever to challenge behaviour, rather than using pleasure or happiness as a motivator to drive change.

Academic research does show that fear can be a highly effective lever in motivating behaviour change. When it comes to men and drink driving, for example, the more that risk of death is highlighted, and the more grisly the description of death, the more likely the subjects are to report a change in attitudes.  And it’s not difficult to think of any number of government campaigns across the globe that have applied the same principle – the famous AIDS campaign of the 1980s, the motorcycle campaign (which I still can’t watch – my husband being the owner of a BMW 850R), and the ‘Heroin Screws You Up’ campaigns of the 1980s and 1990s. (The posters for these became fashion statements, opening up the idea of ‘heroin chic’.)

But it’s possible that over-exposure to these many frightening messages over time has de-sensitised us, or worse, made us angry and caused us to reject the moralising messenger? This was the compelling case argued at the conference by Professor Nadine Henley from Edith Cowan University Western Australia.

She proposed an alternative: that social marketers should make their subjects the heroes of the campaigns rather than the villains or victims.  So, instead of scaring people with the consequences of diabetes and heart disease, we might celebrate weight loss through game shows like The Biggest Loser. Or we accept that teenagers will have sex and tell them what types of contraception fit best with their lifestyle, however debauched it may be.

In practice, good social marketing campaigns will always use a range of levers and messages. But whether supported by academic research or not, intuitively it makes sense that we need to feel good about ourselves and the world we live in – a lesson that commercial marketers have certainly learnt, but governments perhaps need to think a bit more about.

18 April 2011 at 9:13 am 1 comment

The green consumer

Josh Hunt writes:

The Futures Company’s recently-launched  multimedia report, Greenprint, looks at the UK public’s engagement and behaviour in sustainability. The research, based on both quantitative and qualitative data, shows that while people report relatively high levels of engagement, this does not necessarily translate into changes in everyday behaviour.

Consumers, it appears, have a ‘costs and benefits’ view of sustainable behaviour, in which they assess trade-offs involved. Direct benefits to home and family have most influence, perhaps unsurprisingly, followed by benefits for neighbourhood and social networks. More general benefits, for example to the planet, have the least sway.

Consumers also find it difficult to conceptualise complex issues such as ’embedded carbon’. There’s little understanding of why eating less meat improves sustainability outcomes, for example. Finally, consumers generally underestimate the benefits of more sustainable behaviour. But when they do change one aspect of their behaviour they tend to find that it leads to other benefits elsewhere in their lives.

The quantitative analysis led to the development of our Greenprint segmentation. The segments are differentiated by the extent to which people feel able to live an environmentally-friendly lifestyle, or are constrained, and the extent to which they are motivated by the idea of an environmentally friendly lifestyle. There are six segments, shown below: two engaged groups (Pioneers and Adopters), two interested but uninvolved groups (Strugglers and Confused) and two unmotivated groups (Sceptics and Passives). It’s also worth noting that – to a significant degree – consumers find sustainability messages confusing, and not sufficiently relevant. But there is considerable scope to change behaviours with the right messages.

The right messages are those that tap into genuine consumer motivations for change, and those that work across segments, rather than assuming that people will be moved by a desire to live more sustainable lives.  Thus, encouraging people to pump up their tyres is more likely to be motivating if people are made aware of the potential cost savings as well as the environmental benefits (rather than reducing their carbon footprint).  Equally, people are suspicious of the motives of marketers and wary of greenwash, so communications which explain how sustainability can benefit multiple parties can cut through this.  Finally, we don’t want to be preached to:  messages which provoke thought and encourage re-evaluation are more likely to be seen as relevant rather than those which take a position and assert it, loudly.

The Futures Company’s Greenprint Insight Package (opens pdf) is a paid-for resource which explores UK consumer attitudes to sustainability. It comes on on a USB pen drive. It includes includes multimedia presentation and video resources to help you bring the opportunities and challenges of sustainability to life within your business.

28 September 2010 at 3:22 pm 1 comment

More books… and a film

A couple of late arrivals for our review of favourites from 2008.

J. Walker Smith, Chapel Hill:


Let’s say you develop some idea of what the future is likely to hold. Do you then know what to do about it? That’s the question that University of Chicago law professor and prolific public intellectual Cass Sunstein tackles in his thorough discussion of planning for Worst-Case Scenarios. This has obvious relevance for the most frightful worries of our age like climate change, suitcase nukes, anthrax, avian flu and GMOs. But it is relevant as well to every policy action and business decision. Sunstein critiques the Precautionary Principle and Cost-Benefit Analysis to recommend an alternative that he believes better balances risks and benefits. This book is another must-read from Sunstein for anyone doing strategic analysis or scenario planning.

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think, Brian Wasnick (Bantam Books, 2006) Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do, Tom Vanderbilt (Alfred A. Knopf, 2008′)mindless_eating_cover1

Behavioral economics is all the rage these days, and the bestsellers Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely and Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein have helped popularize this branch of social psychology. But do we really understand how these classic psychology experiments and even the more recent work in economics apply to real life, particularly to business and marketing? Two recent books make this connection for eating and traffic. Brian Wasnick teaches marketing and nutritional science at Cornell where his lab has done pioneering work deciphering the workings of theTraffic. Wht we drive the way we do ‘mindless margin’ that lies between healthy and unhealthy food choices. Tom Vanderbilt is a science and culture journalist who embedded himself for three years with traffic researchers and engineers to answer questions like ‘why does the other lane always seem faster’ and ‘why are dangerous roads safer’ and ‘why do women cause more congestion than men.’

Larissa Persons, New York:

5x2b5×2 is the story of an unhappy marriage told backwards in five parts. It begins with the divorce. And it ends with the couple, Marion and Giles, meeting for the first time. Each of the five ‘chapters’ focuses in on a particular scene from their lives together. We see the couple hosting a dinner party while their young son sleeps. We see the birth of their child. We see their wedding. Each scene peels away another emotional layer and offers another insight into the individuals and their relationship.

Ozon exploits the construct of reverse chronology to the full. So the film is not about what happens – after all we know the end from the beginning – but rather is about why it happened. And by the time you get to the end (of the film) it is clear that the roots of the couple’s demise are there, plain for all to see, right from the start of the romance. You can see the drivers that created the future.

And while the construct turns the viewer into a clinical observer of the dissection of the marriage, the details revealed and the style of the narrative are almost disconcertingly intimate. This serves to ensure that you become intensely involved in the story itself and with the two main characters, rather than simply remaining an innocent bystander. The film therefore manages to be gripping, despite its removal of conventional suspense.

It’s not exactly an enjoyable 90 minutes, but I found 5×2 powerful and memorable. It’s also got an excellent soundtrack, courtesy of Philippe Rombi.

24 January 2009 at 5:52 pm Leave a comment

The ‘five gaps’ around behaviour change

Courtesy of DEFRA

Courtesy of DEFRA

Rebecca Nash writes:

Behaviour change is much talked about, but still not well understood, which is why it seemed a good subject for the IIPS – the Institute for Insight in the Public Services, the think tank jointly run by Henley Centre HeadlightVision and BMRB – to take on in its third breakfast briefing of the year at the ICA in London. The challenge is how to link the ambitions of behaviour change in policymaking with the various levers which can influence it, such as legislation, incentives, taxation, policy, fines and, most specifically, communications.

The event was unique in explicitly positioning policy making and communications within a shared ‘behaviour change strategy cycle’, and approaching strategy planning (top down) and communications planning (bottom up) from a coordinated perspective.

The speakers were Alex Oliver, who’s recently joined the IIPS from the Cabinet Office, who made the connections between behaviour change and Whitehall’s ‘Public Service Agreements’, and BMRB’s Helen Angle, who’s an expert at campaign evaluation.

In their presentations, they identified five key challenges or ‘gaps’ faced by both ‘sides’ of the cycle: the gap within and between policy areas, the gap between high level strategy and implementation, the gap between success factors and evaluation measures; the gap between government action and public reaction; and the gap between incremental insight and strategy.

Bridging the gaps is hard but not impossible. Success requires, among other things, internal coherence, cross-policy alignment, and agreement about common success factors. The panellists, Sam Davis of the Central Office of Information, and Dr. David Halpern of the Institute for Government suggested that behaviour change theory informs both halves of the strategy cycle. And picking up one thought from the audience comments: that the government’s behaviour change efforts should be linked, explicitly, to a broader project of political and social renewal.

For more information about IIPS events, please visit the IIPS website.

7 October 2008 at 8:32 pm Leave a comment

Nudging language

Russ Wilson writes:

Following on from the earlier post on the subject of ‘nudging’, I was recently in Dublin and Limerick and found the variable dominance of Gaelic and English intriguing- It appears that there has been some attempt to promote the use of the Gaelic language in both public and private life – similar to the Welsh renaissance and the protectionist policy in France.

The result of this seems to be that the majority of public information signs are now either exclusively in Gaelic, or with both Gaelic and English present but the Gaelic very much foregrounded.

However, where it was more important that the sign was immediately accessible – warning signs, security messages, or temporary diversions on the motorway, the signs were exclusively in English. So it seems that the policy of promoting Gaelic is secondary to public safety.

Although there might be some teething problems, I’d have thought that a policy of making all the really important signs exclusively Gaelic would be a pretty strong incentive for people to  to learn and use the language.

3 October 2008 at 6:32 pm Leave a comment

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The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

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