The buzz term: ‘behaviour change’ – what does it mean?!

Behaviour change – what does it mean?

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In our last blog, we discussed the benefits and pitfalls of carbon tools to engage and inspire people to act and reduce their carbon footprint.

This week, we look at another highly prioritised area in the lead up to COP26 – behaviour change.
Ultimately, it is at the heart of what we are all looking to achieve. However, behaviour change has become a buzz term, too frequently used without understanding its meaning and how it can be achieved.
To ensure that your climate change campaigns realise their desired outcomes, it’s important to understand the fundamentals.

Raising awareness isn’t behaviour change

Too often, the term ‘behaviour change’ is a label tagged onto a campaign, whereby a topic or message is simply placed in the public domain. This can be through social media, a mobile app, website, or more traditional offline channels.

Campaigns delivered by these methods can provide some short-lived positive outcomes, but rarely does it result in a person adopting habitual change to their everyday lives. This isn’t behaviour change; this is raising awareness.

You can have a well-meant campaign, shiny website, or mobile app, but people won’t instinctively go to them, engage, or more importantly return unless there’s something in it for them.

Put simply, we can push messages out, but how do we truly know that people have listened, understood and are changing what they do as a result?

George Bernard-Shaw quote
George Bernard-Shaw quote

So, how do we define behaviour change?

Behaviour change is encouraging a person to consider their actions and taking on a new lifestyle change. It’s not achieved through a one-off action it is a gradual, sustained process through which you rationalise a change that’s been asked, until those actions become engrained and habitual.

Very few people wake up in the morning with the environment or sustainability issues as the first thing on their mind. People lead busy lives, so we need to consider that and fit into them. It’s gently nudging people in the right direction until the actions we want them to adopt become second nature.

What are the key ingredients to achieving behaviour change?

Behaviour change is achieved through a series of techniques which complement or differ depending on the audience you are communicating with. All with a means to nudge behaviour over a sustained period.

These are the key ingredients & considerations:

  • An understanding of the audience(s) that you are trying to communicate with

  • Accessible channels of communication available to all

  • Messaging needs to be relevant, personal, and easy to understand

  • Messaging needs to be consistent, sustained and delivered over time

  • A recognition that people have different motivations to encourage a change in behaviour

  • Reward positive action & provide feedback

  • Healthy competition and feeling part of a like-minded community

  • Ability to measure and report against engagement and baseline improvements

  • Communications should be insight driven based on what content people like

  • Adapt your messaging, to keep campaigns fresh

However, it’s the frequency of contact, nudging people to take notice and act which is most important. It’s only when all put in the mix together that these ingredients form the perfect recipe to achieve behaviour change.

Our insights gathered over 12-years of creating behavioural change campaigns, reveal that the most effective frequency of contact to change a person’s behaviour, is weekly.

Behaviour change - keeping audiences engaged (1)
Behaviour change - keeping audiences engaged

Think of behaviour change like moving water uphill

We often explain behaviour change as trying to move water uphill.

If we need to move water uphill, gravity is against us, so how do we do it?

To get water from the bottom to the top of the hill requires a pump. We feed that pump with energy, and then we start to move the water gradually up the hill to its end goal at the top.

But what happens if we turn off the pump?

Naturally water will return to its starting point, and that’s the same for behaviour change.

Until we can make change habitual and something that people instinctively do, there’s a risk that if we stop, then the journey stops with it.

In the weeks leading up to COP26, we will look more closely at how we can implement the key ingredients to achieving the frequent connections required to deliver behaviour change.

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